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DR Survey: Bring On the Challenges

Security pros cite technical challenges as a bigger reward than a fat paycheck (still a pretty close second)

When we first compiled the results of our Dark Reading salary and spending survey last week, we were confused. (See DR Survey: Security Hot, Paychecks Not.) Y'see, the survey showed that most security pros aren't making a ton of money -- at least, not compared to what their enterprises are spending on technology -- and we thought they'd be hacked off. But most of them aren't and we wondered why not. After looking more closely at the data, the answer hit us like a ton of bricks.

It's not about the money. It's about the challenge.

"What's the best part about working in security? Productively finding a flaw and closing it before it can be exploited. Or, if it is exploited, chasing the culprits down and punishing them," says Brent Eads, director of IT at Employee Technology Solutions Inc., an Internet benefits enrollment service.

Heck, when you put it that way, it sounds pretty cool. So maybe it's not that surprising to find that, despite last week's depressing figures showing that security salaries aren't keeping up with technology spending, most security pros are fairly content with their current pay rate. In fact, 61 percent of our 768 respondents said they are either "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with their checks. Fewer than 10 percent described themselves as "really honked off" about money.

Figure 1: What Is Your Attitude About Your Current Salary?

In contrast, when we asked security pros what criteria were most important in determining their job satisfaction, 58 percent ranked "challenging work" as one of the top two. This was the most popular response, ranking ahead of salary (52 percent), management (42 percent) or co-workers (16 percent).

Figure 2: What Is Most Important for Job Satisfaction? (Pick Two)

"I obviously don't do this for the money -- at least not at this company -- but for the challenge," says Bill Porter, network systems manager at Rapid Response Monitoring, an alarm monitoring company. "I'm just not the type of person that can be content babysitting a system. I need a more dynamic environment to keep my interest high."

Dave Bixler, CISO at Siemens Business Services Inc., agrees. "I hope no challenges ever go away -- if this job gets too easy, they won't need me to do it anymore," he says. Bixler says he likes working with business units and peers to demonstrate the value of security. "I also enjoy the occasional security investigations," he says. "Going over logs, figuring out how people have done bad things to a system, and then figuring out how to prevent someone from duplicating the feat."

Other security pros cited different challenges as their favorites. Several respondents said they enjoy the process of staying in the know about current vulnerabilities and how to resolve them. "Trying to keep up with all the latest technologies and trends in security is fun and aggravating," says Claude Gigoux, manager of networks and telecommunications at Princess Cruises. "The ingenuity and determination of hackers requires that we keep learning and updating our skills, both on the technical side and on the communications side."

"I like challenges that make me think to the future and not just fix a problem for that one moment," says Dale Titus, network administrator at McCarty-Hull Inc., a wholesale distribution and warehousing company.

So are security managers akin to fighter pilots, who aren't happy unless they're going Mach 2 with their hair on fire? Well, not all of them. In our survey, 58 percent said they would prefer to work for a company that has "very tough security requirements, but few problems." This was by far the favorite response.

However, there are some security masochists who love to be on the bubble: 32 percent of respondents said they would prefer to work for a company with "lots of sensitive data and high security requirements that is constantly under attack." Hang on, Goose, it's time to buzz the tower.

While both the farmers and the fighter pilots enjoy a good challenge, many respondents we interviewed had a few challenges they could do without. "The biggest challenge that makes our lives miserable is compliance," says Gigoux, echoing the sentiments of many other respondents. "There are so many regulations to keep up with, and they are often conflicting. It gets frustrating."

Another batch of respondents said they are often pained by the process of educating users in adopting security practices. "My least enjoyable challenge is the constant need to educate users and create awareness that security counts in all the things we do," says Jackie Mignault, a senior internal auditor for Canada's Ministry of Finance.

Other respondents were less diplomatic. "I would love it if I could finally get it across to the user that clicking on the 'print' button 20 times does not make the printer fix itself," says Titus.

Despite the density of end users and the frequency of vulnerabilities, however, most security pros say they remain pretty content with their jobs. "I am a tenacious problem solver," said a security expert at a large federal government agency. "Doing the necessary forensics to determine the cause of an infection, the avenue of attack, the identity of the responsible user -- and, more importantly, the identity of the attacker -- is extremely rewarding, if frustrating, work."

Next week: The schemes security pros employ to improve their salaries -- and their departmental budgets -- boosted to a higher level.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this story

  • Employee Technology Solutions Inc.
  • McCarty-Hull Inc
  • Princes Cruises
  • Rapid Response Monitoring Services Inc.
  • Siemens Business Services

    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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