DR Survey: Security Pros Scrounge for Cash

Part three of our survey shows security pros developing, um... interesting methods for adding to salaries, budgets

6 Min Read

What would you do to get a raise? What would you do to get a bigger budget? If your answer is "almost anything," you may have what it takes to be an IT security professional.

Okay, maybe things haven't gotten that bad yet. But as we collected the data for the third and final part of our Dark Reading salary and spending survey, we were pretty surprised by some of the answers we received.

Some 768 security pros answered our poll, and they've offered unexpected insights into what's happening across the industry. Two weeks ago, they told us that the growth of their salaries isn't keeping pace with the growth of their budgets or the market as a whole. (See DR Survey: Security Hot, Paychecks Not.) Last week, they told us they could live with those salaries, as long as their jobs are fun. (See DR Survey: Bring On the Challenges.)

Now they tell us that when it comes to money, a lot of them aren't above lying or cheating to get a little more.

OK, we're not talking about fraud or embezzlement here. But when we asked security pros to tell us the most effective strategy for getting a salary hike in their field, nearly a quarter of the respondents -- 23 percent -- said "suck up to the boss." That answer outpolled "maintain consistently good security" (22 percent) and "save the company from a major bug or vulnerability (11 percent).

And people tell us we're cynical. Sheesh.

While none of the respondents we interviewed subsequently would admit personally to being a suck-up, many explained that success in security depends largely on the support of management -- or lack thereof.

"We [security] have been buried in the organization and are reporting to the CFO, who is the penny-pincher his title suggests," said the systems security director at a large telecommunications service provider. "Given our druthers, we would report directly to the CEO, and he would advocate security with his peers. That would make our biggest problem go away."

Other respondents are enjoying the opposite scenario. "The senior VP and executive VP over our group fully understand our importance and work very diligently to get as much of the budget as they can, so that we can provide the best protection for our customers," said a security analyst at a large U.S. financial services institution.

Call it sucking up or getting management support, it's clear that gaining the backing of top brass is an essential element to the success of a security pro's career. If you've got that backing, you've got a good shot at getting a raise next year, respondents say. If you fail to get it, you might as well be "lumped in with the janitors," as one respondent said has happened to his IT security team.

Are there other, less weasely ways to get a raise? There is one, respondents said: specialization. A third of those surveyed said that gaining special skills in a particular aspect of security, such as email defenses, is the best way to get a salary increase.

"I have found that forensics, risk-based security management, and expertise with standards are particularly valuable specializations," says Dave Bixler, CISO at Siemens Business Services . "While my personal preference still leans toward talented security generalists, there is certainly a market for subject matter experts."

Interestingly, however, only 11 percent of respondents felt that "collecting a lot of certifications" was the best path toward a higher salary. Although 56 percent of respondents felt that people who have letters like CISSP after their names make at least a little bit more money than those who don't, most of those surveyed felt that specialization was more valuable in the wallet than certification.

On the budget end, political maneuvering is a popular strategy as well. Some 40 percent of respondents said that the single biggest driver behind increases in security spending is not security at all, but compliance with emerging regulatory requirements. That figure is more than external threats (33 percent) and internal threats (3 percent) combined.

So are security managers using compliance as a lever to get all the people and technology they wanted in the first place? We couldn't get anyone to admit on the record that they are intentionally using compliance as a means to fudge their security budgets, but nearly every security pro we spoke with conceded that their budgets have increased since compliance became an issue.

"Compliance, especially after 9/11, has been a godsend to the [security] industry," says Brian McGauran, information security analyst for the County of Pinellas, Fla. "Now, if management wants to ignore the warning signs, they may be held legally responsible. Compliance is the velvet hammer hanging over those who shrug off security."

One security pro at a Midwest manufacturing company was even more blunt. "It's all one big ball of money," he says. "Management doesn't have a clue about where the money goes. It's our budget, and we can spend it how we want, regardless of what services purchasing or HR demand."

While most of the respondents we spoke with said compliance is a great way to boost their security budgets, there were an unfortunate few who are experiencing just the opposite effect. They are being forced to take money away from critical security projects in order to fund their compliance efforts.

"Compliance is driving a lot of the security budget, but unfortunately, it is at the expense of day-to-day activities that still need to be done," says a security manager at a large Canadian government agency. "Senior management is looking at compliance as a one-time expense. By not realizing that it is an ongoing part of the process, they are going to cost us big time."

Whether they are suck-ups or budget-fudgers, however, almost all of the security pros we interviewed said that end users, not managers, are the real bane of their jobs.

"I am constantly reminding my users to please log off when they are finished with their work, but I routinely find unattended, unlocked systems running," says a computer scientist at a U.S. federal agency that maintains highly sensitive data. "My message: Security protocols are there to protect your systems, your projects, and your data from damage and/or corruption. They are not intended to be a hurdle for you to circumvent."

Almost every respondent that we interviewed had a similar tale of woe. "Just about anything I say is routinely ignored until it hits the wallet," said the source at the Midwest manufacturer. "All my warnings and prognostications of doom are really a cover-your-ass maneuver until I have to clean up the mess. At least I can say 'I told you so.' The one message I wish everyone would hear is 'Think about what you're doing on the computer.' I've got many a user who never met a 'yes' button they didn't jump on."

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


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 of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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