SMB Security: Don’t Leave the Smaller Companies BehindHelping improve the security posture of small and medium-sized businesses should be a priority for security organizations of all sizes.
The US Army prides itself on what it calls "The Warrior Ethos." One of the key principles in this culture is to leave no one behind. In fact, one of the lines in the soldier’s creed states "I will never leave a fallen comrade." Whether or not you have a military background, I would argue that there is something here that the security community can learn from.
The security community leans heavily on vetted, close-knit circles of trust. There are definitely advantages to this model. Individuals do not gain the trust of the community until they prove themselves trustworthy. Organizations cannot join information sharing groups or gain access to certain forums until they show that they can be trusted to appropriately handle sensitive data. Vendors are not taken seriously within the security community until they demonstrate an understanding of the responsibility that comes with being a member of it.
There is, however, a small issue with this model. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the model tends to be a bit elitist and exclusive.
Let’s take a step back and think about the vendor side of the equation for a moment. How many of us have worked with some mix of the same five or 10 vendors for five, 10, 15, or even 20 years? When was the last time you worked somewhere where you encountered at least three vendors you had never encountered before?
Of course, there are legitimate reasons why this is the case. It takes a significant amount of time, effort, and money to develop a trusted, high-quality solution in the information security space. It also takes a significant amount of time to market, sell, and deploy that solution in a large number of places. The number of vendors that have the right mix of these different variables is relatively small in number.
The situation on the vendor side may be easy enough to understand, but what does the customer/enterprise side look like? The sad truth is that, unfortunately, for many small and midsize businesses, the security situation is not all that great. In my experience, it’s not because of a lack of awareness, understanding, or will, but rather something else entirely.
If we take a step back and look at the way most organizations mitigate risk, we realize that it is simply not a model that scales. Most organizations prioritize risk, identify gaps, and then proceed to identify the people, process, and technology required to mitigate that risk and fill those gaps. This approach is most certainly a sound and methodical one, but it is one that demands a large amount of resources. For a security organization with 50, 100, or 200 staff members and an annual budget in the 10s of millions of dollars, this approach to risk mitigation is an obvious choice.
But what are smaller organizations to do? For example, consider the typical mid-market organization. Their security team might consist of one, two, or perhaps five staff members. Their security budget may be a few million dollars, depending on their size, industry sector, and geographical location.
Unfortunately, these organizations often find themselves left behind by the security community and without access to trusted circles that could help them make progress. Just doing an assessment and developing a strategic plan alone would likely exhaust a year’s worth of security budget. Never mind the cost to acquire, deploy, operate, and maintain even a few of the different types of technologies required to help mitigate a mid-market organization’s risk and fill some of its gaps. There simply isn’t enough to go around for all of the essential people, process, and technology required to actually run security on a day-to-day basis. As a result, mid-market organizations often get left behind, unfortunately.
I know I am not the only one who has made these observations, but what can anything be done about it? Luckily, I believe that there are a few ways in which we as a security community can help address these issues.
- Make it easier for SMBs who want to get more serious about security to gain access to trusted circles. Will it require a little extra vetting and working with some people we may not have worked with in the past? Absolutely. But it will help improve SMB security tremendously.
- Work collaboratively with SMBs to help them understand where they have security gaps and how those security gaps can most efficiently and effectively be addressed.
- Help vendors to understand the unique challenges in the SMB space and develop solutions to address those challenges.
Over the past few years, we have seen that threat actors target personal information regardless of who its custodian is, as well as routinely attack organizations independent of their size, sector, or geography. Improving SMB security will not happen overnight. But it is a challenge that we as a security community will need to rise to sooner, rather than later.
Josh (Twitter: @ananalytical) is currently Director of Product Management at F5. Previously, Josh served as VP, CTO - Emerging Technologies at FireEye and as Chief Security Officer for nPulse Technologies until its acquisition by FireEye. Prior to joining nPulse, ... View Full Bio