WASHINGTON -- Gartner IT Security Summit 2007 -- Security's rise to the top of the IT priority list -- and the top of the IT budget -- has peaked, and a gradual fall has begun, experts said at a Gartner conference here. But the technology and business challenges remain, and in many cases they will be assimilated into broader corporate, market, and product initiatives that will continue to grow.
"What we've been doing up until now has been a gigantic game of whack-a-mole," said John Pescatore, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, in his keynote. "A problem pops up, and we try to push it back down. Then another one comes up, and we push that one down, often with a different hammer," he said, referring to the broad array of point products on the market.
"We're about to transition to a game that's a lot more like chess," Pescatore said. "The bad guys are like the white pieces -- they always get to move first. But just because they go first doesn't mean they always win. We need to create a situation where we are forcing them onto parts of the board where we know we're strongest."
In a lunch presentation, security expert Bruce Schneier of BT Counterpane also predicted a sea change. "Long term, I don't really see a need for a separate security market," he said, calling for greater integration of security technology into everyday hardware, software, and services.
"You don't buy a car and then go buy anti-lock brakes from the company that developed them," Schneier quipped. "The safety features are bought and built in by the company that makes the car." Major companies such as Microsoft and Cisco are paving the way for this approach by building more and more security features directly into their products, he noted.
"That doesn't mean that security becomes less important or that there won't be innovation," Schneier said. "But in 10 years, I don't think we'll be going to conferences like these, that focus only on security. Those issues will be handled as part of broader discussions of business and technology."
Gartner's numbers support the bold predictions of the speakers. Security, which had been Gartner clients' top priority in 2005 and number two in 2006, dropped to number six this year, Pescatore reported. And after breaking into the top 10 business priorities for the first time last year (it was number seven), security has once again fallen out of clients' top 10 lists.
The change in priorities will necessarily bring about a change in security spending practices, Pescatore predicted. Security organizations in coming years will be encouraged to cut spending and "operationalize" security practices to increase automation and improve efficiency, he said.
For the last couple of years, security spending has been growing twice as fast as overall IT spending, reflecting a broad, "reactive" trend that was spurred by news of security breaches, Pescatore observed. "Unfortunately, most organizations have found that there's very little correlation between spending and actual security, and a lot of businesspeople are now asking where the benefit is." Gartner is predicting a 9.3 percent increase in security spending for 2007, but the spree is cooling off from previous years, he said.
As attacks become more targeted, there is a drop in the number of wide-ranging attacks, such as worms and spam-based phishing exploits, that attract the media's attention, Pescatore noted. "This makes some people believe that the threat is decreasing, when in fact, the actual damage caused [by security breaches] is increasing."
But security spending is becoming harder to track as well, Pescatore said. For example, many companies are now building more spending into their application development process, "so the money is coming out of the app dev budget, not the security budget."
Regulatory compliance, which has been a key driver for security technology spending over the last couple of years, is also cooling off, at least on the IT side. "What we've seen recently is that nearly half of the compliance deficiencies that companies encounter are on the accounting side, while less than 5 percent are IT systems related," Pescatore said. That auditing experience may help break the wave of companies spending heavily on security technology in order to speed compliance, he predicted.
But unlike Schneier, Pescatore rejected the notion that the security industry will consolidate into a few large players or disappear altogether. He showed a graph of security-related mergers and acquisitions over the past six years, and it shows valleys and peaks, culminating with almost 30 deals in 2006.
"What that tells us is that the market is very cyclical," Pescatore said. "We think the activity will level off this year, and there will continue to be startups that come in with new products."
Consolidation at the enterprise level is overrated, he stated. "In reality, very few companies would be better off if they only had one security vendor," Pescatore said. "They might save some time because they wouldn't have so many vendors to call, but a lot of the innovation continues to come from smaller vendors."
Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading