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.
Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop 2019. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop agenda here.