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6/24/2016
10:30 AM
Adam Shostack
Adam Shostack
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Security Lessons from My Financial Planner

Security investments can be viewed as a portfolio. If we think in portfolio terms, we realize that ROI is a backwards-looking measure. What else can we learn from financial planners?

Leading up to today, I’ve talked about clear communication, the difficulty of changing behaviors, the power of myth to distract us, and how letting someone else select metrics for you can be a killer.

So what should the poor security professional do?

Take a page or two from financial planners.  If you go talk to a financial planner, they’ll ask you questions that help them get a picture of your financial state, and they’ll help you think about that state in terms of what you can control.

Image source: Pixabay
Image source: Pixabay

One thing they do is measure your portfolio with a variety of tools. For example, they’ll be able to express your asset to debt ratio, what fraction of your assets are higher risk versus lower (stocks versus bonds versus cash), and what portion are liquid or not (public company stock versus private, home ownership).  Your portfolio can be measured and assessed in the same way as mine, even though they might be very different, and that’s ok.  For example, younger people are usually advised to take more risks than older people, and so have a higher fraction of their investments in stock.   

The advice you hear about more risk is a corrupted or perhaps abbreviated version of ‘they should accept higher risk in pursuit of better returns.’  Really, the important part is the pursuit of higher returns, not the acceptance of risk.  A similar mistake is often made by businesses talking about risk appetite as if risk is something one should want.

Another thing financial planners will do is focus on what you control: how much you spend, and how much you save. While there are life events to plan for, like buying a house, paying for college, retirement, they’re events to be planned for by managing your portfolio.

So what exactly should the poor security professional do?  Hire a career coach, today!  In the current job market, there’s not a lot of reason for a security professional to be poor. 

But more seriously, there are important techniques to learn from financial planners about how you plan to protect your organization.

First, focus on what you can control: your controls.  The things your organization does to influence risks and outcomes.

Second, look at your entire portfolio of controls. Think about people, process and technology. (It’s cliché for a reason.)  Think about all of the ways you invest in security.  It’s money spent on products, both purchased and free. You spend money on free products because time is money.  You spend money on training. You spend money on compliance, and that often includes huge asks of the rest of the organization: take this training, wait while we reboot, change your password, don’t launch the product until we’ve done the code review.

Third, as you look at your entire portfolio, use a variety of tools to measure it.  I have a new favorite, and that’s Sounil Yu’s Cyber Defense Matrix.  (Full disclosure, I like it so much I’m building it into my new product, but it’s free and I’m going to talk about the matrix here.)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll talk about “portfolio versus X,” and why I see this approach as one of the most important trends of the next decade.

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Adam is a consultant, entrepreneur, technologist, author and game designer. He's a member of the BlackHat Review Board and helped create the CVE and many other things. He currently helps organizations improve their security via Shostack & Associates, and advises startups ... View Full Bio
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