Security's Shaky State - InformationWeek
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Security's Shaky State

When it comes to security, most IT departments are underfunded, understaffed, and underrepresented, IT security pros say.

Resourceful I.T. security professionals are getting the job done, but their efforts have been hampered by undersized staffs and underfunded budgets that limit choices ranging from what products they buy to the vendors they work with.

The third annual Strategic Deployment Survey conducted by Secure Enterprise, an InformationWeek sister publication, polled more than 1,500 IT-security pros about their companies' security and their tactics for dealing with challenges. Follow-up interviews provided even more details on the state of IT security.

Shortfalls in security staffing and budgets aren't new, of course. But what makes the situation more nerve-racking are the regulatory risks and compliance requirements that fall to the IT security department, adding cost and work at a time when budgets are growing only moderately, if at all. Case in point: One multibank holding company with 500 employees and assets of almost $2 billion recently implemented monitoring, encryption, and intrusion-prevention technologies to assist its adherence to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the Bank Secrecy Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. But the company's chief information security officer, who asked to remain unidentified, still has a bleak security outlook.

chart"Our staffing levels are inadequate and have an impact on our ability to maintain systems in accordance with our policies and standards," he says. "This problem won't improve. Hopefully, we can do more automation and less hands-on administration and monitoring."

He's not alone in his pessimism. The survey shows IT security staffing almost unchanged from last year--and, in a word, deficient. Forty-four percent of this year's respondents describe their security groups as moderately understaffed, with 21% saying they're severely understaffed. Last year, those numbers were 45% and 20%, respectively.

"I've yet to meet anyone who has all the staff and money they need," says Peter Clissold, information security manager at the Edmonton Police Service, one of Canada's largest law-enforcement agencies. The agency lacks well-segregated IT security roles and doesn't have the staff to carry out demonstrable audit or review exercises, Clissold says. However, he adds, the organization has identified its security gaps and has managed to get support from executives to address those shortfalls.

Managing expectations is important for handling staffing inadequacies, Clissold says. It's vital to define what should be expected from IT security groups--and what they expect from management--to deliver an expected level of service. Security managers must know their business and be innovative and resourceful. "We must be skilled communicators and negotiators with those in senior positions," he says.

Being resourceful often means having users take more responsibility for security measures, says Justin Bell, a security specialist at a Wisconsin engineering consulting firm. Bell's IT staff sends out a monthly security newsletter and E-mail messages that get users to perform tasks that IT might normally handle. For example, during a recent switch from static IP addresses to the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, Bell's group took advantage of users' efforts and cut its workload to 30 machines from 360.

Linked to frustration about understaffing is concern that not enough IT dollars are earmarked for security. And sometimes, IT-security managers say, that translates directly to greater organizational vulnerability.

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