How a rocky relationship between IT operations and cybersecurity teams can compound security risks.

Kelly Sheridan, Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

May 2, 2019

4 Min Read

IT operations and security teams share the bulk of responsibility for protecting organizations from digital threats. Unfortunately, lack of trust between the two can compromise security.

As part of its "Getting Your House in Order" report, commissioned by 1E, Vanson Bourne analysts polled 600 senior IT decision makers: 300 from IT operations and 300 from IT security across the US and UK. Their idea was to evaluate cybersecurity challenges from both teams. What they found is a "crisis of trust" causing existing security problems to grow more serious.

Sixty percent of respondents say they had suffered a "serious" security breach in the past two years; 30% have experienced more than one. The leading causes of breaches are lack of clear security protocols (52%) and unpatched software (51%), followed by a lack of collaboration between IT operations and security (42%), and a lack of patch automation (40%).

Most (93%) practitioners polled say they face challenges. Securing new technologies is at the top of the list, with 48% of respondents saying it was an issue, followed by restrictive budgets (39%) and a lack of understanding between IT operations and security (35%), which tied with legacy systems. Eighty percent of those surveyed say digital transformation drives cybersecurity risk, with 73% reporting they are now more dependent on software than they were 12 months ago.

Less than one-quarter of respondents think IT operations and security teams work well together to secure the organization. Experts point to poor cohesion and disparity in objectives: IT ops will typically push forward with projects, which are then slowed by security's precautions.

In most organizations, the change management process is owned by IT ops, which considers the business use case, effects on business processes, and how to make necessary changes. It's security's job to point out problems and IT's job to fix them. But data shows lack of trust here is causing friction: Nearly half (49%) of security pros say they can rely on IT to cover security alerts; even fewer feel IT can cover data breaches (48%) or keep software up to date (47%).

Software updates are a primary concern: Two-thirds of organizations' software is current, while 34% of endpoints remain vulnerable to threats; on average, respondents say they only have visibility of 64% of their total software estate. Further, 68% have migrated devices to Windows 10, which is now 4 years old. Windows 7 is reportedly losing support on Jan. 14, 2020, and 58% of respondents think failure to meet the cutoff will mean "significant security risk."

"If you don't have visibility into one-third of your endpoints, then how is security meant to trust you in patching all those machines and making sure they're safe?" says 1E CEO Samir Karayi. He's especially concerned about how teams struggle with visibility and software updates. "Those are a pretty fundamental sort of thing that operations need to be doing," he adds.

The rocky IT-security relationship affects the perception each team has of the other. Three-quarters of respondents think IT has a "keep the lights on" attitude that prioritizes availability over security. Nearly two-thirds say the security team knows how to keep the business secure, but IT operations teams make securing the organization more complicated. Nearly all (97%) said their businesses as a whole would benefit from better collaboration between IT and security.

"The steps in working together are pretty simple," Karayi says. "I think it's a mindset thing." Because they distrust one another, IT and security often end up buying and using different tools, which contributes to conflict. He suggests starting with transparency: getting the two groups together to discuss their goals and objectives, so everyone is on the same page.

It's also important to get the board involved. When it's time to talk budget, 90% of respondents say their organizations prioritize other issues over cybersecurity. Better reporting practices and performance measurements could help drive both funding and awareness for security.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Sheridan

Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

Kelly Sheridan was formerly a Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focused on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial services. Sheridan earned her BA in English at Villanova University. You can follow her on Twitter @kellymsheridan.

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