The RSA Conference, the annual security fest hosted by EMC unit RSA, is to the information security industry what the New Hampshire primary is to the presidential election process: the first major venue for the leading players to set the tone and frame the discussion for the coming year.
Last year, RSA chief Art Coviello championed industry consolidation, arguing that as a handful of major vendors (EMC, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft) built security into their infrastructure platforms, standalone security challengers would fall by the wayside--all within three years. "If I'm proven wrong about the timing," Coviello said last year, "I won't be proven wrong in the need for this." The likes of Symantec and McAfee begged to differ, and the industry continues to debate the strengths and weaknesses of all-in-one security architectures.
RSA, as host vendor, sought to exploit its home turf advantage again last week, when Coviello struck a different tone. Instead of focusing on industry restructuring and technology architectures, he elevated the security discussion to one about helping customers innovate and deliver business value.
More than 80% of the IT, security, and business executives RSA recently surveyed with IDC "admit that their organizations have shied away from business innovation opportunities because of information security concerns," Coviello told the RSA audience. The main challenge: Move the internal conversation about security away from fear mongering and worst-case scenarios toward how security can augment new products and services. Or at least don't get in the way. It's tantamount to the security pro's Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.
While RSA offers no elixir for making security a "business enabler," it has created a Security for Business Innovation Council to get security pros talking about the issue. RSA quotes member David Kent, VP of security for biotech company Genzyme: "If you are doing your job, you shouldn't even sound like a security person. The business doesn't care how many viruses you stopped. ... 'How are you helping me meet my business objectives?'"
Likewise, InformationWeek contributor Greg Shipley, CTO of security consultancy Neohapsis, urges security pros to integrate risk management into all processes. They also need to get better at understanding and relating to their internal audiences, assessing which data to assign the most protection, and picking their battles and technologies more carefully. "For some organizations," Shipley writes, "this will require a wholesale transformation."(See Risk Management: Do It Now, Do It Right.)
It's still early in this evolution. When asked last year how their companies measure the value of their security investments, the 1,100 U.S. respondents to InformationWeek's Global Information Security Survey offered a stew of mostly operational criteria: 43% said they measured value in terms of reduced worker hours spent on security; 33% measured it in reduced breaches; 33% in reduced network downtime; and 24% in reduced incident response times. With the exception of improving intellectual property protection (27%) and honing risk management strategies (25%), none of the criteria selected relates to business value. In fact, 24% of the respondents didn't measure the value of their security investments at all.
The sooner security pros can converse in the language of risk mitigation and business opportunity, the more they'll be involved in strategic planning and the less they'll be considered a cost center.
Compare Coviello's nuanced approach to the classic fire and brimstone of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who at RSA last week warned that a large-scale cyberattack on the United States could inflict damage comparable to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Chertoff likened U.S. government efforts to improve cybersecurity to the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.
Chertoff has his own unique war to fight; enterprise security pros may want to use Manhattan Project metaphors sparingly.
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