RIP, 'IT Security'RIP, 'IT Security'
Information security is vital, of course. But the concept of "IT security" has never made sense.
November 13, 2018
Information security is vital, of course, and I'm not proposing its elimination. But it's time to kill off the whole concept of IT security because it never made sense in the first place.
Without doubt, information security is an essential function for any organization that values its data and/or reputation. However, the term "IT security" leads to confusion about what the security roles are, where the responsibilities start and end, and how competing objectives between departments are prioritized. This is especially important because information security has priorities opposed to those of the IT department.
There are two possible meanings for "IT security." One focuses on the types of controls under its scope, applying only to technical safeguards and putting aside the administrative and physical ones. The alternative definition specifies the department that security is concerned with — IT, that is — and ignores information maintained by other departments.
Just as there is no marketing-specific security or HR-specific security, an IT-specific security focus makes little logical sense. Placing information security within another department leads to a narrower and short-sighted implementation of information security for the whole organization.
Where IT Security Fails
When primary security expertise is located under the IT department, the perspective is restricted to the realm of the IT department and veers from information security's traditional holistic, organizational oversight. These two departments have different concerns, risks, and priorities. Some of the IT priorities are adaptability, technical features, and efficiency; infosec priorities include confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Some overlap occasionally will exist, but it is not significant enough to overcome the glaring differences and frequent conflicts between the two.
An objective for one department introduces risks for the other. One example is the vulnerability scanning of network devices. Scans may cause additional scheduling headaches for IT, misbehaving devices, and user complaints about the efficiency of the systems. The consequence of a seemingly innocuous scan is that IT must temporarily put aside its priorities in order to react to these complications. So, obviously, vulnerability scanning is not on the IT wish list.
These frustrations work in both directions. New features that IT implements introduce more vulnerabilities, more systems to secure, and more risks. Information security staffers have additional headaches for every new system introduced to the environment. Therefore, a separation with distinct executive authorities should be maintained to serve as a check and balance to each other in the same way that a finance department exists to create a budget and prevent one department from spending all of the company's profits.
CIOs Are Not CISOs
I have the utmost respect for CIOs and the responsibilities that are endlessly heaped upon them. However, one responsibility that they should not be tasked with is information security. Infosec has its own skill set and mindset, which are different from those in IT because of how people in that role have been trained and conditioned. The difference in ability causes a difference in position; CIOs are specialists in IT, and CISOs are specialists in information security.
It's human nature for us to have a bias toward the things we know best. If security is under IT — as is the case with IT security — this bias will relegate the security objectives to secondary priorities, with IT goals taking precedence. Or, as sometimes happens, security objectives become merely an afterthought to IT's priorities.
Infosec Done by IT
It's true that many organizations aren't large enough to justify an entire department for information security — especially when that group may be only one or two individuals, or not have a specialist. Usually in these situations, the responsibility for security controls are incorporated into the roles for whichever IT staff member is working on a function that overlaps both IT and infosec. This maintains the IT department as both the implementor and verifier of its own work, a significant conflict of interest.
A Match Made in Heaven
Most every organization that has begun to implement security controls also already has either a risk management or internal audit department. Either of these departments is a better fit for an emerging information security group. A significant aspect of infosec is the verification of controls, and the independence from the operational duties of that which is being evaluated is key. This leaves the IT department as the implementors of the technical security controls, just as they were. However, now the governance of deciding which controls to implement and the verification of their effectiveness reside with an impartial entity outside of IT.
Give Infosec Some Respect
Information security deserves an equal footing just like any other foundational department, such as accounting, marketing, or IT. Conflicts between the different priorities should be settled by senior executives from multiple disciplines looking holistically at the costs and benefits instead of the inherently IT-focused CIO handling this intradepartmentally.
Make the Move
If you have an IT security group or security-focused staff that takes direction and reports to the head of IT (i.e., the CIO, VP of IT, etc.), then take the opportunity to properly segregate duties and the conflicting interests from one another. Move the processes for verifying technical, administrative, and physical information security controls to a separate department than the one implementing them.
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