People 'n' Issues

How to make security count

April 19th, 2015
Traditionally, businesses have grown to see security as an unnecessary cost. But that needs to change as security is no longer a feature, but instead a necessity. NADER HENEIN outlines how CIOs can build a solid security spend case to present to their CFO.

As my boxing coach used to say, if you want to punch someone in the face you need to make it count and “aim for the back of the head” – follow-through is everything. This may sound like completely useless advice in modern-day information security, but let’s look beyond the concussion into the reasoning behind that bit of wisdom.

As an information security leader today, if you walk into your yearly budget planning meeting armed with statements like “heightened threat levels in cyberspace” and “preventing petabyte DDOS attacks,” you’d be lucky to get enough money to restock the vending machine outside the server room.

Traditionally, businesses have grown to see information security as a cost center – they know it’s needed, but they’re not quite sure why it costs so much. The information security person reports to the CIO, and the CIO reports to the CFO or maybe the CEO, but data security concerns are rarely at the leadership level unless there’s been a breach – at which point you’re the person most likely to be shown the door.

You may need headcount and appliances to achieve your goal, and to get those, you’ve got to “aim for the back of the head” the next time you’re planning your budget, demonstrate how these changes allow the business to achieve its goals.

Security is an enabler – not a feature or a product. It’s far more than just hardware and software that you’re protecting – it’s the wealth of the business and the livelihood of every employee.

This isn’t drama for drama’s sake. You’ve got to communicate those facts to get results.

Making the Case for Information Security Spend

Step 1: Ask, “What is the value of the data being protected?”

There is a fundamental flaw in most businesses: IT and IT security are tasked with protecting the data, while only the business is able to quantify its value. How could you possibly know how much to spend when you don’t know the value of the asset you’re protecting?

The first task is to value your assets – you might think of it in the same way that you would home owners insurance: your premium will be one thing if you have a Star Wars poster on your wall, but it’s a completely different ball game if you’ve got an original Picasso.

Third-party consultancies can help with this task, but if you want to undergo the challenge internally, start with a data audit, spend time with the business understanding the type of records you are storing, and then ask yourself the following questions:

·         If you were to re-acquire this information, how much would it cost?

·         If your competitors gained access to this information, what would be the financial impact on the business?

·         If this information were to be put up for sale on a dark market, what would be the lost value and the subsequent impact to the business?

Remember, you are looking for a defendable dollar value. This will be the cornerstone of your case when making budgetary decisions, and it will also be imperative when you’re allocating resources to protect different data stores (see Step 4). There is no point in protecting anonymized log files from your Exchange e-mail server with the same rigor (read: cost) as customer credit card data – it’s the latter that has the value.

Step 2: Ask, “What’s the cost of a breach if the data’s not properly protected?”

In a previous post entitled “Before the Breach,” I went through what you need to do to be prepared when your data is breached and how preparedness can make the difference between a bad day at work and the last day at work (see DigiNotar).

There’s no mathematical formula for this, but there are ways of getting fairly solid dollar estimates, by looking at the impact of public breaches and their subsequent effects. Ideally, you want to find numbers in your industry. (Geography, on the other hand isn’t very relevant in this case, so don’t worry about looking in the same country or region.)

If you’re a large supermarket chain, then you’re in luck – the impact of the Target breach and its costs, including reputation, regulatory fines and litigation have been made painfully public.

Target Breach snapshot

·         40 million credit and debit cards

·         70 million customer records

·         475 employees let go + 700 unfilled positions removed

·         $162 million ($90m covered by insurance)

·         Profit fell 46%

·         Stock dropped from $66 to $47

·         Regulatory fines (unknown)

·         140 lawsuits (ongoing)

·         CEO resigned

Step 3: Ask, “How much should be invested to protect these data assets?”

The field of cybersecurity economics is fairly new, but there’s a fair bit of research and literature already. My preference is for the Gordon-Loeb model, which shows it’s “generally uneconomical to invest in information security (including cybersecurity related activities)

more than 37% of the expected loss that would occur from a security breach.” This means your upper limit is 37% of the number you calculated in Step 2, and for that you don’t need to argue much with your CFO, since most insurance companies use the same modeling to

assess risk and exposure.

Step 4: Ask, “What’s the best way to get the most from the investment?”

Finally, you need to determine where to start allocating your hard earned cash, because this will also come up in a budgetary meeting.

If you’ve done your homework in Step 2, you’ll know exactly what proportions of your assets you need to allocate and where. If you’ve been very granular with these calculations, you should even be able to put a dollar value on users and user devices (laptops, smartphones,

and so on). This allows you to become hyper-aware of all your assets and risks, while maintaining a level of control proportional to the value of the information at the individual level.

Mastering the “Sweet Science”

There’s a reason they call boxing the “sweet science” — Outside of heavyweights, the “freight train” approach rarely works and can actually end up costing you. You’ve got to be tactical.

Merely defending your digital perimeter and reinforcing only that outer layer is a recipe for disaster. Do your math and build a case based on what security enables the business to achieve, in the same way that a better braking system on a sports car enables engineers to

ultimately make the vehicle go faster.

Have defendable dollar figures to back you up, make a business-driven case and become a business leader – not just another order fulfilment center.

“Change before you have to.” – Jack Welch

The Alternative

Sticking to the status quo where you continue to ask for budgets in the same way reinforces the “cost center” perception. While IT and IT security will not disappear, there will be a gradual shift where the line of business will have increasing control over IT budgets to satisfy their requirements. And since they are a revenue center, those requirements move to the top of the priority list.

The choice is yours – act before that is taken away from you.

And always “aim for the back of the head.”

* Nader Henein, from the Advanced Security Solutions division at BlackBerry.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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