CSOs, On the Wagon

Even chief security officers have their vices - and need a 12-step program



3:35 PM -- Are you a frustrated chief security officer (CSO), addicted to the daily battle of fending off attackers with the next new flashy security tool? Now there's a 12-step program for you.

Mike Rothman, president and principal security analyst at Security Incite, and author of Daily Incite, a newsletter that features Rothman's views and famed rants on industry happenings, has just published The Pragmatic CSO: 12 Steps to Being a Security Master. It's a rather unorthodox book that walks CSOs through their inevitable "change of life."

The book features "Mike," a fictional CSO looking to reclaim his mojo as he deals with a new world full of stealthy attackers sneaking their way into his network, auditors at the door, and stingy upper management holding the keys to the budget. (What, a business case for security?) The story follows Mike through "the program" of group therapy sessions.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mike: Hi, I'm Mike and I think I'm an addict.

Group: Hi, Mike.

Facilitator: Welcome to the group, Mike. Tell us a little about yourself.

Mike gives some background and then explains:

Mike: The reason I am here is simple. I'm in pain and I'm hoping this group can help me. The world has changed. My job used to be pretty easy and exciting. The bad guys spent their time trying to take down my network, and I worked my butt off to stop them.

I got addicted to the rush of constant battle. I got accustomed to bringing in new equipment every three-four months to solve another problem that appeared. I got used to just doing my job. But now I'm finding it harder and harder to do that.

You can almost see and hear "the group" sighing and nodding in affirmation.

Rothman got the idea for the book from his consulting work with CSOs at various enterprises, especially mid-sized ones, who are all about just getting through the day, he says. "I'm trying to put a more process-oriented perspective into these folks' heads... They default instead to technology, but it's not their fault. It's their background."

The reactionary days of buying band-aid security products every few months to patch and repel -- with no regard to business strategy or requirements -- are no more, he says. The book is "a culmination of 15 years of seeing people screw up," says Rothman, who also validated the methodology with real customers.

"Mike's" group therapy at each of the 12 steps makes an inherently dry topic more digestible and fun to learn. But Rothman says the 12-step process may not apply to all CSOs or organizations. Some may just need to adopt an abridged version.

The 12 steps include assessing the value of the business systems, buying the right technology, building a security business plan, training users, and dealing with compliance.

Oh, and if you like the group therapy concept, Rothman is also launching a Pragmatic CSO Web community next month. "I plan to revisit the process once a year," he says.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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