Recently I interacted with someone who was friendly, tolerant, and accepting in public, but in private turned out to be unfriendly, intolerant, and hateful. I’m sure nearly all of us have come across this type of person at one time or another. But rather than let interactions such as these anger or frustrate me, I always try to learn a life lesson from them. In this case, in addition to a life lesson, there is also a security lesson. It’s about consistency.
Consistency is a critical trait that successful security professionals, security leaders, and security programs all share but is too often overlooked and underestimated. How many people have we met that can confidently fast talk their way through an interview or a meeting, only to have their true lack of skills become evident at the most inopportune of times? How many security leaders have we seen publicly profess expertise and experience, only to privately reveal that in fact they lack those two important aspects? How many security programs have been marketed and sold to us as “world class” only to have a peek beneath the covers reveal the extent to which this is not actually the case?
The common trait that is lacking in all of the above situations is consistency. Lack of consistency can become a cultural blight within an organization that will actually impede security maturity and harm the organization’s security posture in the long run. Before we can understand these ramifications, we need to understand some of the signs of a culture lacking consistency. They include:
- Talk without action: As the old sayings go, “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.” Sometimes, an organization, and particularly an organization’s leadership, talk a big security game. But sadly, that talk isn’t always backed up by action.
- Do as I say, not as I do: Often, those who lecture on security or set security policy don’t actually practice what they preach. This is an unfortunate circumstance that occurs far too often.
- We have to do something: I can’t keep track of how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “well, we *have* to do *something*”. Anyone can do “something”, but doing the right thing, something that is both constructive and helpful, is something different entirely.
- We have the finest people: Almost all organizations tout the quality of their people. The security organization is usually no different in that regard. But backing that assertion up with consistent action is important to an organization’s security posture.
- Our customers’ privacy is extremely important to us: This assertion reminds me of those automated phone system messages, such as “your call is important to us”. Really? If my call was important to you, wouldn’t you have a human answer? It’s one thing to say that customer privacy is important to the organization, but another thing entirely to actually mean it and work to safeguard that sensitive information.
Unfortunately, inconsistency within a security team can have cascading effects that impede growth and maturity of the entire organization:
- Talk without action: I’ve heard plenty of people talk a big security game. But that talk needs to be backed up by action. Are investments in people, process, and technology made at a level becoming of a world class security program? Are security staff addressing issues and challenges that will truly improve the security posture of the organization? Does leadership truly understand and support the strategic goals and priorities of the security organization? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s going to be hard to achieve the desired results because actions are not consistent with words.
- Do as I say, not as I do: People aren’t naive. If security leaders and security organizations don’t lead by example, no one will follow. If what we do is inconsistent with what we say, we can’t realistically expect anyone to heed our word and follow our advice. And that doesn’t bode very well for the security posture of an organization.
- We have to do something: Knee jerk reactions never solve anything. In fact, they almost always impede the progress of a security team and lower the security posture of an organization. Diverting resources to the current shiny object is inconsistent with a strategic, holistic approach to security based upon risk mitigation. To my knowledge, that is the only way to build a successful security organization.
- We have the finest people: If you say it, mean it. Train your people. Equip them with the right tools to do their job. Educate up the management chain and laterally so the team can do their jobs. Support them when politics, conventional wisdom, knee jerk reactions, or other distractions threaten to divert focus and progress away from where it needs to be. Be consistent for the good of the team and the good of the program.
- Our customers’ privacy is extremely important to us: Really? Are you prioritizing mitigating the risk that customer data will be stolen, or are you merely paying lip service to this sensitive subject? Are you adequately prioritizing this risk and working to mitigate it with the right mix of people, process and technology? What customers want with respect to the privacy of their data is consistency. If you say that protecting their data is important, they want you to mean it.
Consistency is an important but often overlooked trait in security. Security professionals, leaders, and programs that practice what they preach and match their actions to their words do far better in the long run than those that do not. Fast talking may fool some people in the near-term, but in the long-run, the truth usually surfaces. Be consistent -- your security program will be better off for it.