6 Tips For Doing More Security With Less

Security ranks as a top priority in many IT budgets, but this year the money may not be there for many organizations -- here's how to get creative

Cybercrime is on the rise as organizations face the tough realities of a poor economy putting the squeeze on their security spending. But don't panic -- some creative ways to defend your data on a tight budget do exist.

The discrepancy between security priorities and the money to fund them is becoming painfully obvious. According to a recent survey of Forrester Research enterprise clients, 68 percent of IT security decision-makers consider the security of their data to be the most important issue, ahead of compliance and mobile security. The catch: Their security budgets are basically flat for this year (12.6 percent of their overall IT budgets) over last year (11.7 percent), according to Forrester.

"Can they afford to fund all the security they want? The answer is, 'no,'" says Andrew Jaquith, senior analyst with Forrester. Those days of having the money to throw at the newest threat are long gone. "Now that times are not so good, they still have to face expanding threats, but their budgets must stay flat and, in some cases, decline," he adds.

Mike Rothman, senior vice president of strategy at eIQnetworks, says the gloomy economic crisis doesn't mean spending on security will be suspended altogether -- just that budgets won't be increased. "It's about how to make the best use of funding that's already there, with the tools, people, and processes that are in place," Rothman says.

So how can IT security survive these tough times? Security experts point to several ways to make do with less, everything from a little budget-shuffling with other business groups to outsourcing IT security functions to internal groups or the outside. And the well-kept secret is that this is a buyer's market in which some security vendors are willing to negotiate better deals -- all you have to do is ask for discounts. Really.

Here are six ways to do security with less:

1. Get out of the deployment business.

IT security should definitely be involved in selecting data protection tools, but shouldn't be dealing with provisioning tools that require heavy customization, Forrester's Jaquith says. That can drain already-limited resources.

"We think the best approach is for IT security to primarily be involved in provisioning tools that don't require a lot of customization and involvement like full-disk encryption," he says. "Share the workload and make sure the business units are involved."

2. Spread the cost of security with other groups.

Not only should full-disk encryption (FDE) not be the security staff's rollout project, but it also doesn't have to be a security expense. FDE could be funded with your organization's laptops under the IT group, Jaquith says.

And that Web application firewall (WAF) purchase doesn't have to be funded under security, either -- it can just as easily be a network expense.

"A great many organizations are considering [WAFs], but the commercial ones can be pricey. So some of our savvy customers have found they can get them budgeted [under] IT infrastructure instead of IT security, the former being much larger," says Jeremiah Grossman, CTO of WhiteHat Security. Some are getting their WAF purchases paid by IT by bundling them as part of a larger load-balancer procurement, he says.

NEXT: Everything old is new again. 3. Get more out of your existing security tools and systems.

Look at your organization's existing Citrix or other terminal servers, for instance. "You might [realize] you've got this wonderful resource called Windows Terminal Server...where you can put some of your sensitive assets and eliminate the need to buy a separate product," Forrester's Jaquith says. Rather than purchasing an expensive data protection suite for your endpoints, you can use a Citrix box to help with data protection, he says.

"If the business requires users to be able to process bulk quantities of sensitive information on endpoints, you will still need either encryption tools or [data leakage prevention]," he says.

Consider reorienting the more labor-intensive tools, such as those for data leakage prevention (DLP), he says. Forrester recommends using DLP products mainly for monitoring activity rather than for blocking the leakage of data. And enlist the help of your business units to get the big picture on where data is flowing in the organization. "If you are looking at DLP to stop a data leak, you're probably a little too late. You need to understand how users are using the information they have, what they are downloading, [etc.]," he says.

Meanwhile, some security purchases are definitely non-negotiable. You can't skimp on purchases tied to compliance, regulation, or any auditor red-flagged issues, experts say. "For the most part, your compliance budget is not negotiable," Jaquith says.

4. Tie a security purchase to your compliance mandates.

Speaking of compliance, it can come in handy for helping fund security. Many organizations already employ this tactic, and it's an effective way to get a security purchase through. "The key is finding an angle that clearly ties it to a compliance mandate. That means getting specific," Jaquith says. If you handle payment data, for example, use PCI.

"A Web application firewall is a good example here because PCI DSS specifically calls out for code audits, code review, or WAF as a way to mitigate risks in application security," he adds.

5. Outsource or automate some security functions.

Security doesn't have to do it all in-house. Automating or outsourcing things like data provisioning or data entitlement can save big bucks. Johnnie Konstantas, vice president of marketing for Varonis, which sells automated data entitlement tools, points to the high cost of manpower in data governance tasks.

"A lot of where the money is being spent is in people, and it's being done inefficiently," says Konstantas, citing organizations that have people manually mapping users to data on file shares as an example. "That's a huge pool of data, and they're spending tons of money on IT people manually assigning permissions for who can get to what."

WhiteHat's Grossman says it makes sense to divvy up labor. And that can include farming out some security tasks if doing so is cheaper. "Often, outsourcing particular security functions, such as vulnerability assessment or intrusion detection, can lower the total cost of ownership of a particular action," he says.

6. Take advantage of a security buyer's market.

Enterprises aren't the only ones feeling the pinch of the economy. Security vendors are, too.

"Reasonable security vendors will be flexible on pricing and payment terms, especially when they know you are well-informed about competing solutions," WhiteHat's Grossman says. "Ask for additional discounts if purchasing decisions are made quickly, or by committing to multiyear contracts. Then once you've selected a solution you really love, forge close relationships and help the vendor evangelize by serving as or reference or case study."

That can pay off in the long term, too. You can get speedier support, influence on their product road maps, access to their more "seasoned" engineers, and more discounts down the line, Grossman says.

So far, few enterprises are taking advantage of this buyer's market, however, because they don't realize some vendors are willing to wheel and deal. "People are crossing off solutions they 'can't afford' without first investigating and trying to negotiate," Grossman says.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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