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CA Exec: Security Pros Need to Be Unburied From the Org Chart

To succeed, IT security must raise its profile in the business, says former CIO

SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA Conference 2008 -- Security pros need to stop fighting fires in the data center and start getting themselves noticed in the boardroom, a former CIO and top-ranking security executive said here last week.

Many IT security people see themselves primarily as technologists and problem-solvers, said Dave Hansen, former CIO at Computer Associates and currently senior vice president and general manager of CA's Security Management business unit. But as security becomes more critical to the business, CSOs need to delegate some of the operations functions and get more tied into the business, he said.

"Right now, 46 percent of CSOs spend up to a third of their day just analyzing security event reports," Hansen said. "That’s not the way to maximize value to the organization -- and it needs to change."

To help make his point, Hansen showed the audience a humorous video that demonstrates how deeply the security function may be buried in some organizations.

"If you’re a CIO and you don’t know where your CSO sits, you’re probably missing a critical component in your strategic planning," Hansen said during the keynote and in a subsequent question-and-answer session afterwards. "When I was a CIO, I wanted that CSO close by, because I was ultimately responsible and I needed to know what was going on."

For their part, security pros need to do a better job separating operational issues from strategic business issues, Hansen said. "You are serving as a security strategist in the organization. Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by the day-to-day tactical demands of the job. Build a strong team so that you can deliver value to the C-suite. Build a security framework that matches the goals of the business."

Security people need to build their visibility within the organization, but not solely as the "cops" who say no to everything, Hansen said. Security teams should look for ways to enable the business to do more, rather than just disallowing activities that might pose a risk.

"Security people know they have tasks for the business or compliance, but they don't always understand the reasons behind them. If you can get a grasp on what the business is trying to do, you can suggest ways to do it better and safer."

At the same time, security should become a more integral part of what companies are doing in IT operations, Hansen said. "Historically, the network and systems management people didn't work together, but that's changing, particularly because security issues can have such a huge impact on the business."

There's a lot of debate currently over the CSO's role in the organization and where he/she fits in the org chart, Hansen observed. "I've heard some CSOs say they shouldn't report to the CIO, because they should have unilateral ability to shut systems down if there's an issue. I think that's taking it too far -- a decision like that should involve the CIO and the business, too.

"But the CSO definitely needs to become more visible," Hansen said. "The only way that's going to happen is if he or she has a better relationship with the rest of the business."

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Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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