Strong similarities exist between the precarious plight of Daenerys Targaryen and that of modern security leaders. First off, both are outnumbered by their rivals — on paper, at least. North of the Wall, an army of undead warriors led by something akin to an icy necromancer has amassed to epic proportions. Even if it wasn't the largest army in Westeros, it may well become so due to the Night King's ability to turn the dead into undead loyal soldiers. As the forthcoming war rages through the North, this army will swell with fresh recruits.
Keeping pace with the swelling ranks of the White Walker army is the growth of security breaches in the real world. According to the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, during the eight years Game of Thrones has been on the air, there has been a 192% increase in security breaches. At the same time, the industry has developed a well-documented shortage of cybersecurity talent that has left many security operations centers (SOCs) running skeleton crews (pun intended!). A recent report from CyberEdge Group states that four out of five companies surveyed indicate they have a shortage of IT security talent. This is a truly problematic situation for today's security leaders.
What can IT security leaders in the real world learn from the situation facing our favorite fantasy Westerosians? As it turns out, plenty.
Build a Diverse Team and Leverage Their Unique Skills
Over the last several seasons, Daenerys has assembled her army from a variety of sources, including a Dothraki horde, the ranks of the Unsullied, what remains of the Wildling army, and alliances with several powerful houses of Westeros. This team possesses a collection of unique skills that may help them tackle a wide assortment of threats: Daenerys can control dragons; the priests of the Lords of the Light control magic; the Maesters, wildfire; the Dothraki, horses, etc. I'm fairly certain the Night King has more tricks up the sleeve of his tunic, but luckily, team Daenerys is well prepared to adapt to them.
Modern CISOs must do the same: assemble a seasoned group of talent and build valuable partnerships with other teams outside of security, such as HR, legal, risk, and compliance. In the event of a breach, skills such as malware analysis, forensics, and threat hunting may pay off in spades. Moreover, existing relationships with other teams can help ensure smooth operations and a swift response.
Fight Smarter, not Harder
We already established that the Night King's horde of undead will almost certainly outnumber the living armies available to fight them. For this reason, sheer willpower and grit on behalf of the human faction is unlikely to result in victory. Luckily, the army of the undead has a significant weakness that can be exploited: killing a White Walker instantly destroys the wights it raised from the dead. It's implied the same would be true of killing the Night King. This weakness provides Team Daenerys the opportunity to fight smarter, using tactics and strategy to target attacks at the leaders of the army in order to dispatch huge swaths of enemies at once. In essence, properly executed strategy should greatly enhance the effectiveness of the human army.
This is not dissimilar to the circumstances of the average security analyst and the mountain of security alerts analysts face daily. To succeed, security leaders also need their teams to fight smarter. They can do this by embracing tools that are able to process security data at scale, such as big data and machine learning. By centralizing data from all disparate security point products, then analyzing it together with machine learning, it becomes possible to identify and prioritize threats at machine scale. Teams should also look to automate their processes to get more out of their staff. The combination of these techniques gives analysts a fighting chance of clearing out their voluminous work queues.
Use the Best Tools for the Job
We've been given glimpses of several tools available in the Game of Thrones universe that could greatly aid the efficacy of Daenerys and Jon's forces, namely: fire, wildfire, dragonfire, dragonglass, and Valerian steel. Properly obtaining and implementing these tools will allow the humans to harm the undead, potentially in great numbers, and thus potentially defend themselves from the Night King's troops.
Similarly, security leaders have also been given access to newer and better tools in recent years. Newer generations of popular security tools (such as endpoint detection and response, security information and event management, identity and access management, and data loss prevention) have all been infused with machine learning and behavioral analytics that improve detection and reduce maintenance overhead. This is the SOC equivalent of retrofitting a Dothraki horde with dragonglass blades. Furthermore, orchestration and automation tools help to amplify the output of security teams and connect their tools. This not only improves productivity, it also enhances the usefulness of existing investments.
In summary, security leaders should look to build programs capable of weathering the cybersecurity skills shortage by assembling diverse teams, fighting smarter, and implementing modern tools. Thus, the age-old adage espoused by sages at guilds like Gartner and Forrester rings as true for Daenerys and Jon as it does for Fortune 500 CISOs: robust (cyber) security requires proper integration of people, processes, and technology. Oh, and also a healthy dose of dragonglass.
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