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Market's Message to Security Pros: Adapt or Die

Shifts in economy, business are forcing re-prioritization in the IT security department, studies say

It's a fact: Business is becoming more aware than ever about IT security. And as the scrutiny on their jobs becomes more intense, security people are finding that their priorities -- and their worries -- are changing.

In the past few days alone, several major organizations have published studies that bear witness to IT security pros' shifting roles, evolving priorities, and reconsidered spending plans. The general message: Security must reflect the shifting shape of the business, or face the consequences.

"Security is becoming more elevated in the business," says Howard Schmidt, security strategist at ISC(2), which yesterday published its annual survey of more than 7,500 security professionals, conducted by Frost & Sullivan. "The security professional's job is becoming less technical and more managerial. It means understanding the business needs and being able to speak to business people in terms they can understand."

This year's ISC(2)/Frost & Sullivan survey showed a marked increase in the number of security professionals who consider "communication skills" to be a critical part of their jobs. "Frost & Sullivan believes this reflects the realization by executives that technology solutions are not enough to solve an organization's security problems," the study says.

At the same time, however, fear of security breaches and the associated fallout has brought a new level of urgency -- and tension -- to the security pro's day. In a study published earlier this week by Amplitude Research and VanDyke Software, 50 percent of network administrators surveyed said that "securing remote access" was their chief concern, reflecting a growing concern about increasingly mobile employees.

"Growing awareness of the damage caused by security breaches, together with the increasing demand for a more mobile and remote workforce, will keep the worldwide market for security software buoyant," said Gartner, which published its annual security software forecast earlier this week. Gartner predicts that the security market will continue to grow despite a poor economy, thanks in part to growing fear about breaches and the threat they pose to business.

But that growth doesn't come without a price. As security grows in importance, so does the security manager's stress level. In the Amplitude study, only 24 percent of network administrators said they "sleep like a baby at night" despite current threats. That figure is down from 33 percent last year.

So what's everybody so worried about? In the ISC(2)/Frost & Sullivan study, 73 percent said reducing service downtime is a top priority. Seventy-one percent are concerned about minimizing damage to the company's reputation. Seventy percent are worried about customer issues related to privacy violations, and 67 percent are concerned about customer identity theft.

Schmidt, who has been a top security officer at eBay, Microsoft, and the White House, said he was surprised at the concern displayed over potential damage to the corporate reputation, given that most of the companies which have publicly disclosed their breaches have suffered only temporary embarrassment. "Outside the IT security community, and perhaps the government, most of these companies haven't really seen any long-term effect," he noted.

One possible explanation for the concern is that security pros fear for their jobs if a breach occurs, Schmidt said. "There may be a sense that if it happens on your watch, you're dead, but I think even that is a misperception, since there are so many opportunities out there in security right now."

In fact, the question now is not how precarious the security manager's job is, but what it may evolve into, Schmidt observed. "As it becomes more about risk, security is not necessarily an IT problem. More and more, you see companies creating positions such as chief risk officer, who may report to a chief operating officer, and in some cases, the CSO might report to the [risk officer]."

The key, Schmidt said, is for IT security officers to recognize that their role is quickly becoming integrated with other, broader business functions and objectives. Many companies are now developing a "business risk council" that involves risk, privacy, compliance, human resources, and other functions as well as IT, he observed.

And while the ISC(2)/Frost & Sullivan study confirms Gartner's assertion that security spending is on the upswing, many companies are no longer breaking out IT security into a separate line item, Schmidt stated. "Increasingly, it's hard to tell exactly how fast security spending is growing, because some companies now simply include it as part of the [IT] infrastructure."

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  • Frost & Sullivan
  • Gartner Inc.
  • (ISC)2
  • VanDyke Software Inc.
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