If my job is so hot, why is my paycheck so cold?
It may sound like a blues song, but if you're an IT security pro, you may know the refrain well. Because while security technology continues to reign as a top enterprise priority -- and one of the fastest-growing areas of IT spending -- a new Dark Reading survey suggests that the people riding the security wave aren't exactly raking in the dough.
In an email survey of 768 security executives -- nearly half of whom work at companies with annual revenues of $100 million or more -- Dark Reading found that more than half of security specialists earn a salary somewhere in the mid- to high-five figures. (See Figure 1.)
That's about the same as -- or maybe a little less than -- the average starting salary for a software engineer or network engineer, who got between $61,000 and $93,000 right out of the box in 2005, according to human resources research firm Robert Half International.
Just as significantly, Dark Reading's survey indicates that more than 80 percent of security specialists received salary increases of less than 10 percent last year. Some 22 percent received no raise at all; about 5 percent actually took a pay cut. (See Figure 2.)
This finding seems at odds with studies on overall IT security spending, which consistently ranks as a top priority in large enterprises, increasing at a rate of about 15 percent annually, according to Infonetics Research.
Do enterprises value security technology more than security personnel?
"Yes, companies are being stingy," says Claude Gigoux, manager of networks and telecommunications at Princess Cruise Lines. "They tend to look at technology as a quick fix, and this is not justified. Technology is only one of three core areas of security: people, policies, and technology. Training staff, to me, is the most critical."
Herb Mattord, a former IT security executive who now teaches the subject at Kennesaw State University, agrees. "My experience is that too many management-layer decision makers rationalize spending on hardware and software as a sound investment at the expense of qualified staff," he says. "Sometimes it's because the corporate culture makes spending on hardware and software easy, while hiring, even for contract labor, is difficult. I have seen settings where purchased [security] equipment and software sits idle because the company could not get approval to hire the staff to implement it."
Some high-level security experts say that slow economic times make it difficult to justify big raises, even in departments where budgets are growing rapidly. "I believe any company has a difficult time justifying increases of more than 10 percent," says Dave Bixler, CISO at Siemens Business Services. "I also believe many security professionals are not asking for pay increases that large." And given the myriad security challenges many enterprises face, many security professionals would rather see investments in tools and additional staff, rather than an extra 5 percent added to their base pay, Bixler claims.
But some survey respondents aren't so sanguine. "Pay raise? What pay raise?" says a security specialist at a Midwest manufacturing company who asked to remain anonymous. "You can spend all you want on technology, but technology needs to be applied by people for people. A box won't protect the enterprise against the fiendish stupidity of Joe in Purchasing. You need good people for that."
More than just money
Many respondents feel that the salary issue is indicative of a deeper problem: Security, despite its high profile, doesn't always get the respect it deserves. When asked to rate their enterprises' attitude toward the security group, 42 percent of those surveyed chose the statement, "We're generally viewed as a necessary evil, and users reluctantly do the things we tell them." Nearly 20 percent say the situation is even worse than that -- they are frequently ignored and their companies are at risk because of it.
"Our IT security department feels it doesn't have the support of its colleagues to implement security measures," says Duncan Sherwin, systems security director at SaskTel, a Canadian telecommunications services provider. SaskTel's security team has developed a system to inform users of vulnerabilities based on software and platform, he says, "but our Unix alerts are routinely flushed to the bit bucket."
As with the salary issue, it seems odd that security people should see themselves as disrespected or ignored when enterprises routinely rate security as a top IT priority. But the response isn't a fluke -- many respondents feel their groups are being shortchanged, not only in the corporate attitude, but in their budgets as well. In fact, while previous surveys of general IT management have frequently shown security to be the enterprise's single most important issue, 72 percent of respondents to our survey -- the actual security pros themselves -- indicate that security is somewhere in the middle or lower half of the spending priority list.
"It's a daily fight: security versus access," says Bill Porter, network systems manager at Rapid Response Monitoring Services, an alarm monitoring company. "The needs of business rule, and we in security have to do what we can on the back-end to try and fight it."
And although security has continued to increase its share of the IT budget over the last few years, many security pros indicate that it still isn't a huge part of the overall budget. About 36 percent of respondents said that security makes up less than 10 percent of their overall IT budgets.
"The value and urgency of security is still not considered as strongly as it should be," says a security manager at a major petroleum company who asked to remain anonymous. "IT security doesn't have the same credibility as safety yet. Our non-IT groups -- Safety, Environment, Production -- have major business drivers behind them. Lower down on the priority list is everything else, like IT security."
The bottom line: Although much lip service -- and significant dollars -- are paid to security in today's enterprises, many security pros still feel they are struggling to get the respect, budget, and salaries they deserve. While outside observers, and even IT pros in general, see security as a rapidly building wave, many of those directly involved in its functions still feel wet sand sucking at their feet.
"The enterprise definitely places a higher value on toys than staff," says a manager in the IT security department of a large Canadian government agency. "They can accept spending money on things they can touch or read about in a magazine. Staff are just people they hire."
Next week: A look at job satisfaction in the IT security department, and the criteria for achieving it.
- Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading
Organizations mentioned in this story