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Threat Intelligence

2/21/2019
02:30 PM
Chris Schueler
Chris Schueler
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Why Cybersecurity Burnout Is Real (and What to Do About It)

The constant stresses from advanced malware to zero-day vulnerabilities can easily turn into employee overload with potentially dangerous consequences. Here's how to turn down the pressure.

Cybersecurity is one of the only IT roles where there are people actively trying to ruin your day, 24/7. The pressure concerns are well documented. A 2018 global survey of 1,600 IT pros found that 26% of respondents cited advanced malware and zero-day vulnerabilities as the top cause for the operational pressure that security practitioners experience. Other top concerns include budget constraints (17%) and a lack of security skills (16%).

As a security practitioner, there is always the possibility of receiving a late-night phone call any day of the week alerting you that your environment has been breached and that customer data has been publicized across the web. Today, a data breach is no longer just a worse-case scenario; it's a matter of when, a consequence that weighs heavily on everyone — from threat analyst to CISO.

Mental Health Effects
The constant stresses of cybersecurity can easily turn into an employee overload with potentially dangerous consequences:

  • Sharpness will suffer. Security pros can become "asleep at the switch," causing them to overlook important details that can greatly increase the chances of a serious security incident.
  • Burnout and employee turnover. The constant pressures will lead some employees to quit or take an extended hiatus, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I took a break from security for an opportunity to explore something new and exciting in cloud computing. I returned to security refreshed after a short break. Being able to recognize when you're burnt out from the daily security grind is a key part of keeping your career longevity and mental health intact.  

How Organizations Can Help
There are some crucial precautionary steps organizations can take to help reduce cybersecurity practitioners' stress and help keep mental health in good form.

  • Add more security leaders. Don't just appoint one person. Being a sole security leader is an unmanageable stress burden in and of itself. Worse, if that individual leaves, the supporting team is left to try and pick up the pieces on their own. There should be multiple leaders to share the load and tackle specific problems.
  • Give your team a Zen space to take a break. It's common in our industry to provide employees with a place to socialize and play games. Ensuring your teams can take real screen time breaks every two hours can also help them stay calm, alert, and rejuvenated. Overworked practitioners are prone to make mistakes, and they'll burn out much quicker.
  • Call in backup. In-house security teams can get overwhelmed quickly. The limited resources can sometimes force practitioners to wear too many hats. Testing, prevention, and even response activities can be alleviated by enlisting a managed security services provider. (Disclaimer: Trustwave is one of many companies that offer these services.) External resources can support your team by eliminating time-consuming menial tasks or focus on critical remediation steps during a security crisis. Having an extra set of hands can make a world of difference to your internal security team.
  • Training and preparation. Practitioners must stay calm, cool, and collected in the middle of a cyber-war scenario. Being prepared for the speed and the intensity of an incident will make it far easier to remain focused when the worst-case scenario happens. It's paramount that your security team has up-to-date, on-hand playbooks and can reference recent training experiences during chaos. Providing executives with a playbook of their own and ensuring you are aligned with your PR and communications teams can also help make sure your organization is ready to respond to a security incident.

If you are a C-level executive or manage a group of security practitioners, you must think about the pressures on your team and how to help them manage it. You should also consider your security maturity level, the tools and training your team has at its disposal, the partners that you might have on board to help you, and how effective that help might be.

As a practitioner, be vocal about your state of mental well-being and stress level. Be self-aware, and don't be ashamed. Make sure to reach out to your organizational leaders to let them know what kind of resources, support, or training you need to do your job to the best of your ability. You will find that this transparency will help increase the quality of your job and personal life immensely.

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Chris Schueler is senior vice president of managed security services at Trustwave where he is responsible for managed security services, the global network of Trustwave Advanced Security Operations Centers and Trustwave SpiderLabs Incident Response. Chris joined Trustwave ... View Full Bio
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REISEN1955
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REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
2/21/2019 | 3:28:29 PM
Stress
At the end of every working day I would visit the Black Diamond pub for two down-ones and take the day down a notch.  3 nights a week - OK- not bad and nothing near what bad can be.  One night I had an exgtra shot with a solider returning from service and THAT was just enough to let me drive into a street sign.  Ruined radiator, and the car long with it.  I was lucky - just a street sign but stress was there from my job in malware forensics.  So I gave up - totally.  Social drinker but joined A.A. to rest assured that does not happen EVER and 11 months sober now and much happier.  Stress is a killer and more so in Cyber than normal IT support.  Highly recommend this article to all who are burned out exiting the building and heading home.   17% of CISC managers consider the drink as a defense.  I do not say no but WATCH OUT.  

 

Replacing stress - one more comment - since i turned off the bar tap, I also re-discovered an old hobby and thoroughly enjoyed it.  When I was 17 I built the Nichimo 1:200 model of the Japanese Battleship YAMATO and at 52" long it is a monster.  THAT model did not survive the years, so last August purchased a new one and built it.  When done, I moved office furniture to display it.  True.  It was my end-day therapy project, putting down all the hell of cyber secuyrity to spend 20 min figuring out a 5" gun placement, a delicate part or painting.  I bought an enormous quantity of extra(s) for the project and 5 months into it = done.  Radio control and pending Maiden Voyage in my son-in-law's pool this weekend (it is too large for the bathtub).   So in stress, find an alternative you can enjoy and spend time on.  Better than the bar tap too.  Probable as expensive though but more sane. 
MariaColeman
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MariaColeman,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/25/2019 | 5:22:55 AM
Re: Stress
So this is why it is.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2019 | 10:29:14 AM
Re: Stress
At the end of every working day I would visit the Black Diamond pub for two down-ones and take the day down a notch. 3 nights a week That should certainly help. Every day? Maybe a not too much for me. :)).
REISEN1955
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REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
2/27/2019 | 10:36:47 AM
Re: Stress
See my note above regarding 3 days a week
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2019 | 10:30:52 AM
Re: Stress
Stress is a killer and more so in Cyber than normal IT support. I agree. Most IT work is stressful, mostly thinks that are supposed to work not working and you scratch you head how it could be.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2019 | 10:32:18 AM
Re: Stress
since i turned off the bar tap, I also re-discovered an old hobby and thoroughly enjoyed it. Hoppy is a great idea to deal with stress I think. I like running in the mornings, that helps a lot.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2019 | 10:27:24 AM
Security professionals
advanced malware and zero-day vulnerabilities as the top cause for the operational pressure that security practitioners experience. The problem lies in here, only security professionals feel this way, the rest of the organization rest well in most cases.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2019 | 10:34:57 AM
Being aware
As a practitioner, be vocal about your state of mental well-being and stress level. Be self-aware, and don't be ashamed. This is a good point. Sometimes we burn out but not aware of it. Make people around us miserable too.
REISEN1955
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REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2019 | 10:38:18 AM
Re: Being aware
One correction - stopping by the pub was not everyday - THAT would be way too much.  About 3 days a week so that was a sounding board for a road I almost started to turn down - alcoholic - and fortunate that i turned down my entrance home and nailed a street sign instead.  But no- not every day - bad writing that. 
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