Seeing Security from the Other Side of the Window

From the vantage of our business colleagues, security professionals are a cranky bunch who always need more money, but can’t explain why.

Joshua Goldfarb, Global Solutions Architect — Security

May 3, 2017

6 Min Read
Image Source: aprilante via Shutterstock

As I sit here writing this piece, there is a bird that is repeatedly flying into the window next to me.  This is something that has happened each day for quite some time now. Yet, until recently, I couldn’t figure out why the bird would fly into the window over and over again. That is, until I found myself on the other side of the window one day, seeing things from the perspective of the bird.

What I saw from the other side of the window was that the bird cannot see inside my home.  Rather, the bird sees its reflection, which I presume it thinks is another bird. Repeated efforts to be friendly and greet this bird, of course, result in repeated collisions with the window.

What does this have to do with security?  Allow me to elaborate.

I’ve noticed over the course of my career that those of us in the security world struggle to understand what our world looks like from the other side of the window.  Because we live and breathe security, we struggle to understand those who do not. Often, our frustration with those on the other side of the window grows. What we may not understand, however, is that those on the other side of the window also struggle to understand us and, likewise, are increasingly frustrated by us. Here are two examples that I come across frequently.

The Mockers and the Mocked
It would be an understatement to say that there are many in the security field who have a tendency to mock those who make mistakes or poor decisions. I don’t know about you, but I most certainly make mistakes. When I realize I’ve made a mistake, it generally doesn’t feel so great. Do you think that if someone were to mock me, it would make me feel better about the mistake I’ve made, or somehow encourage me to learn from it?  In fact, the opposite is true.  Mocking people causes them to dig in deeper, and to avoid listening to anything the mocker says at all costs.

For example, after a breach or otherwise high profile security error goes public, I rarely see very many helpful suggestions or analysis in the subsequent public discussion.  Most of what I see on social media and in the news doesn’t neatly and concisely summarize the mistakes that were made, offer lessons learned, or advise on how a similar situation can be avoided elsewhere.  Rather, I see a bunch of mocking: How could they have been so stupid?  Do these people know nothing about security?  What is wrong with these people?  You get the idea, and I know you’ve seen it as well.

Well, guess what? The victim and other organizations that may empathize with the victim don’t find this very motivating. Rather than provide them with helpful suggestions to improve their security postures, we mock them. To the constructive masses on the other side of the window, that isn’t particularly helpful. And it certainly doesn’t help them understand  the issues and challenges faced by security professionals any better.

The Business of Security
In most organizations, security is a cost. To a business, costs are seen as somewhat of a necessary evil. There is a general understanding that it takes investment in various different areas in order to run a business properly.  Of course, as you might expect, those running the business and making those investments generally want to know what return their investments are bringing, and whether or not continued investment is justified and at what level.

Let’s look at another business cost unrelated to security for a moment. Say my business sells widgets that I need to ship. Obviously, shipping these widgets costs money, but it is an integral part of the business. After all, customers need to receive the widgets they order.  From the business side, I know what I sell each widget for, and I can calculate the costs involved in their production, including the shipping costs. Further, beyond just cost of shipping, I have metrics available on average delivery time, percentage of deliveries that resulted in delivery to the wrong address or of damaged goods, and many other such data.  There is quite a bit of information available for the business decision maker who wants to evaluate whether or not the shipping choices that have been made are the right ones for the business.

Let’s transition to a look at security as a business cost. Some in the security world spend lots of energy complaining about how people just don’t get it. But how much energy is spent trying to see things from the business perspective, or help business managers see things from ours? Business leaders ask logical questions that most areas of the business have no trouble answering.  But for security organizations, this can be a tricky exercise.  Let's take a look at a few examples."

  • How do I know that my security team is qualified?  Well, we are a profession with innumerable numbers of confusing certifications, none of which prove competence or provide any sort of licensing. 

  • If I invest $X in security, what will it get me? Unfortunately, we don’t have a very good handle of return on investment in the security field. 

  • How do I know if my security program is performing to the level it needs to?  Again, we as a field don’t have great metrics to show that we are getting the job done.

So looking at security from the other side of the window, it would appear that we are a cranky bunch who always need more money but can’t explain why. I’m not saying that security should be handled like shipping. I am saying, though, that we should consider how we look from the other side of the window, particularly to a business leader.

As time goes on, security is becoming more and more mainstream. Gone are the days in which we were an obscure profession shrouded in secrecy and mystery. As a result, we need to understand that we are now a business function, and we need to get better at functioning as one. Seeing how we appear from the other side of the window is an important step in getting there. If you haven’t already, you should try it sometime.

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About the Author(s)

Joshua Goldfarb

Global Solutions Architect — Security, F5

Josh Goldfarb is currently Global Solutions Architect — Security at F5. Previously, Josh served as VP and CTO of Emerging Technologies at FireEye and as Chief Security Officer for nPulse Technologies until its acquisition by FireEye. Prior to joining nPulse, Josh worked as an independent consultant, applying his analytical methodology to help enterprises build and enhance their network traffic analysis, security operations, and incident response capabilities to improve their information security postures. Earlier in his career, Josh served as the Chief of Analysis for the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, where he built from the ground up and subsequently ran the network, endpoint, and malware analysis/forensics capabilities for US-CERT. In addition to Josh's blogging and public speaking appearances, he is also a regular contributor to Dark Reading and SecurityWeek.

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