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For Security Pros, Maintaining Credibility Means Walking A Fine Line

In security, crying wolf too often -- or too infrequently -- can both lead to big trouble

In the old fable, the Boy Who Cried Wolf was capricious and stupid. He cried "wolf" the first two times because he wanted to see who would come. The third time, when the wolf actually appeared, he cried out and no one came. He became wolf chow.

But what if the Boy Who Cried Wolf had actually seen a wolf the first two times? Would help still have come the third time? What would have happened, in that wolf-infested forest, if he had cried five, six, seven times?

This is a question that IT security professionals face every day. And there isn't always a clear answer.

For security pros, fear is often an ally. The fear of a new threat is what gets end users to pay attention. It's what pushes your project up the priority list, gains you time on your boss' calendar, and gets you extra budget. Fear of breaches often is why security tasks get done.

But for most security pros, fear is also a well that shouldn't be visited too often. Just like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, a security professional's livelihood rests on his/her credibility. Throw out too many warnings, and your bosses may eventually turn a deaf ear to them. Fail to provide enough warnings about a serious threat, and your organization may not have the tools and processes to stop it.

A security warning is only as good as the credibility of the professional who delivers it.

These days, it's difficult not to raise the alarm frequently. Nearly every day, a major vulnerability is exposed, a new exploit found, a new anomaly spotted in the logs. These threats are not capricious or made up -- they are real wolves. They threaten your systems and your data. Fail to report them -- fail to get the help you need -- and you are wolf chow. Ring the bells too often -- lose the trust of your top management -- and you are wolf chow.

In today's special Dark Reading digital supplement on data breaches, we look at the full impact of a data breach – not just the cost of finding a breach and fixing it, but the cost of service interruption to customers, to employees, and to the business itself. Depending on your business, a security breach might be a small blip in your operations -- or it can affect your entire business for years.

Maybe this sort of "impact assessment" is what the Boy Who Cried Wolf needed. Is just one sheep in danger? Or is it the whole herd? Is it 50 starving wolves, or just one fat wolf looking for a snack? The right reports might have built his credibility over time, so that when he cried wolf, the organization might have been prepared with the right response.

It isn't wrong to cry wolf when there is one. But when you're surrounded by wolves every day, you need to provide some perspective on you warnings. By measuring the risk and potential impact, as described in today's digital issue, you can build your credibility. And that credibility, in turn, might decrease your likelihood of becoming wolf chow -- one way or the other. 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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