In their classic rock song, Queen and David Bowie defined the feeling of being "Under Pressure" as "the terror of knowing what this world is about." Chief information security officers (CISOs) can relate: They must confront relentless threats that the hackers of the world create to trigger panic and bring down organizations — but they often struggle to find and deploy the products that will best protect the enterprise. This certainly puts them under pressure.
Much of the challenge stems from the overwhelming volume of products to consider: The global security solutions market is projected to grow to $133.8 billion in 2022, up from $103.1 billion this year, according to a forecast from International Data Corporation. CISOs are also dealing with more security vendors than ever, with 46% of organizations using more than 10 — up from just 28% that used that many in 2016, according to research from Cisco.
As a result, CISOs are constantly wading through an endless sea of solutions and vendors as they try to make the right choices. If they fail, they may be blamed for deployments that either introduced productivity-sapping friction (such as the unintended shutdown of a key app or system); killed legitimate, business-critical files and connections; or could not meet security requirements (such as ability to scale). These outcomes frequently cost CISOs their credibility, if not their jobs.
When I see firsthand what CISOs experience, I am often reminded of the old saying, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." In this case, a "fish" is a security product. But learning how to catch that fish translates into evaluating new solutions that empower CISOs to take command of their security posture instead of simply buying a bunch of fish at the market and hoping for the best. This knowledge enables them to both effectively evaluate new ideas within the current no-margin-for-error climate, while reviewing tried-and-true solutions and vendor relationships to gauge whether they still provide enough value to keep in the mix.
In my more than two decades as a practitioner developing system infrastructure and implementing solutions, I've found it's worthwhile to continuously weigh the following three considerations:
Are your longtime vendors still innovating? In deciding between "new" and "tried and true," you need to assess whether longtime vendor relationships are still producing new advancements that will keep you ahead of cyberattackers. Vendors often get acquired because they've lost their original direction/focus. When this happens, it may be time to start looking for the next, hungry vendor. A sound cybersecurity strategy, after all, is as much about your vendor's state of mind as it is about products.
Are you holding vendors accountable? If you have a dozen businesses trying to get you to buy something, challenge them to validate their product performance claims. Ask vendors to invest their time and people into proving their capabilities and delivering tangible value, instead of sending out tools out of a box and leaving it up to you to get the most out of them. If they sincerely believe in what they're selling, they'll agree to this. If not, then you're better off moving on.
Are you testing products in a real environment? You can't find out if something will work if you're only testing it in a petri dish. Authentic environments bring authentic results. Vendors may push you to put a product into operation immediately, pointing to its successful performance in what the vendor considers a production environment. But results achieved in a managed setting don’t always provide a full picture of a solution's effectiveness. Press your vendors to relate as much real-world production insight as possible, but when you do deploy new technologies, try them out in a phased approach beginning with relatively less mission-critical users more tolerant of disruption. Be transparent and up-front with vendors about users' experience, and oblige them to resolve discrepancies where feedback differs from expectations before embedding products into strategic and indispensable business functions where reliable performance is vital.
In navigating the large sea of cybersecurity solutions, CISOs may often feel like they're drowning. That's understandable, and it underscores why they need to transition from a product-centric model to a strategy-driven one. By picking vendors that continue to innovate while they stand behind their offerings — and proving that they work by testing in real-life environments — they build confidence in the many choices they must make, now and in the future. That's when they can tackle anything that attackers throw at them. In other words, they take control of the pressure instead of letting the pressure control them.
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