Hacking Senior Management – Selling Security to the Board
Brian Honan – CEO, BH Consulting
Security events are now very much mainstream news, consider stories about Anonymous, Sony (PlayStation network), Citibank, IMF, RSA etc..
Hacking / cracking has evolved from the early days of wanting to understand and make things better through wanting personal fame / recognition to wanting personal / organisational gain (criminals) , National interests (spies) and ‘hactivism’. The threats have evolved to become a lot more serious.
Along with malicious threats, we also have to be aware of carless users, loosing laptops and other devices, sending sensitive emails to the wrong recipient etc.
In addition to threats and users, organisations also have to comply with ever increasing levels of regulation both from industry (PCI-DSS) and governments (SOX etc.).
Topping this of is the fact that IT is ever my critical to all areas of business / organisation functioning.
This threat is well recognised right up to the US presidential level with President Obama quoted as saying;
“the cyber threat to our nation is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face.”
Mi6 also address UK parliament on these issues.
So given the level of the threats, and the fact that IT is a regular agenda item in the boardroom you would think that the reaction from management / the board would be –
‘Get this done! Here is the budget to fix things..’
However the response is more often than not apathy or the head in the sand.
Why is this?
Are we doing something wrong as a security industry?
Hacking systems == Easy
Hacking applications == Easy
Hacking management != Easy
We often think management isn’t clever if the don’t understand the issues. This is not true, senior leadership usually intelligent and educated, and also very busy.
How do we solve this?
We must get inside their heads and understand their drivers. These are things like profit and loss, audits, reports to shareholders etc.
We like to talk about 0-days, attacks, hackers, exploits, worms etc.
When we talk like this management hear BLAH BLAH BLAH…
They think money; we are very bad at this. Do we consider on-going maintenance costs as well as the initial cost?
In order to hack a system you need to understand it!
Thought on how;
– We (IT / IT security) must get better at understanding the business. Make sure you understand your business strategy and plans.
– We must reduce the FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt), the sky is not always falling – be realistic and talk in business terms.
– Focus on the benefits, e.g. if we do this and implement that we’ll reduce security incidents by XX and save £XX.
– Understand and explain the security trade-offs, you’ll never be 100% secure so understand and explain what different choices mean.
– Act professionally – talk about improving assurance rather than penetration testing – use professional language and actions.
– Speak plainly and translate terminology. Instead of there is a 0-day vulnerability on the server that could give root privileges to the attacker. Try; There is a vulnerability on the database server that manages our key financial data which could allow someone to view all of that data.
– Engage with the business, don’t hide in the basement! Present metrics and information back to the business about the benefits of our AV, DLP, proxy servers etc. – make the benefits we already provide and plan to provide much more visible.
To have secure systems and more importantly a secure organisation we all have to work together!
Thoughts about next steps from the talk;
Within 3 Months:
– Review How You Present Security Issues to Senior Management
– Focus on Cost and Benefits
Within 6 Months
– Become More Visible With Management
– Align Information Security With Business
Within 12 Months
– Get Approval for New Infosec Initiatives
– Have the Business Come to You !!
For security to become more successful, and indeed a key part of business process we need to become more professional and business minded. We must engage better with the business and speak in the language and terms that they understand and care about. These are great points and ones we as an industry really need to bear in mind if we want to become a more central part of our organisations.