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Bootstrapping Security Programs: How to Gradually Implement an Enterprise-Level Security Program at a Fast-Growing Startup

You can't expect to build an adequate security program without investment in both people and security tools.

Marzena Fuller

May 2, 2019

3 Min Read

Given my experience with building and managing security programs at fast-growing, successful startups, I am often asked how to "bootstrap" security programs.

Investing in people and tools
You can't expect to build an adequate security program without investment in both people and security tools. The level of investment will vary based on a company's risk tolerance, customer verticals served and data processed. Ideally, a company should hire a senior technical security leader as part of their core team. Designing a product with security in mind, incorporating product security features aligned with go-to market strategy, making security a key element of development and testing processes and implementing security best practices early is a non-negotiable element of a solid security program.

However, that scenario is far from ideal for most startups.

Building a security program from the ground up

  1. Create a core security team. As I stated above you can't build an effective program without a dedicated security team. For a startup that means a senior security leader, an infrastructure security engineer, an application security engineer and a compliance professional. Each of these roles should be filled with an experienced professional who can develop a security roadmap, prioritize initiatives based on risk and implement processes and practices that will scale with a company's growth and can hire and develop their respective team. At the same time, the founding members of a security team must be hands-on and be able to execute on the critical elements of the roadmap themselves.

 

  • Create a partnership with engineering. A strong partnership with engineering teams is critical to building a successful security program. Firstly, engineers who work on the product can point out known product design security gaps and opportunities for improvement. Secondly, engineering time and commitment are required to implement a secure software development lifecycle, address pen test findings and implement customer-facing security features. This not an easy task especially at a startup where engineering has to execute on the product roadmap quickly while under resource constraints. However, it can be done successfully by demonstrating that addressing security early in the deployment pipeline will ultimately save time. This is a great example of how security can accomplish its objectives via influence rather than control.

 

 

  • Leverage automation. Leveraging security automation from infrastructure security monitoring and auto-remediation through static and dynamic code analysis and vulnerability management is essential. Implementing automation where possible will make security an inherent part of each process and ultimately allow engineers to save time.

 

 

  • Open source investments There are a number of very good open source security tools; however, it is important to remember that while they do not require a license fee these tools require time to implement and configure, which is not free. With a small security team in place investing in tools that can be implemented and configured by the vendor is often a more effective approach.

 

Implementing a successful security program from the ground up takes time and requires prioritizing initiatives based on risk and a company's risk appetite. A security roadmap should always be aligned with a company's go-to market strategy and expected growth.

— Marzena Fuller is the chief security officer at SignalFx.

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About the Author(s)

Marzena Fuller

Chief Security Officer, SignalFx

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