Security and compliance – a failure and a nonsense
There are two things about security and compliance that bother me. The first is security and the second is compliance; the first clearly isn’t very effective and the second is a nonsense.
The problem with both is that they are abstract ideas that have little meaning in reality. If you try to define the concept of being secure it really boils down to not being insecure. Sure, you can say that security is the maintenance of availability, confidentiality, integrity and this, that and the otherity – but it really means nothing because our knowledge of security is quantified only by its loss. We could spend £1 million per month on security and not be secure; we could spend nothing on security and be secure. The difference is solely defined by whether we are currently compromised or breached; and that, empirically, has little to do with the size of our security budget.
In some ways, compliance is a bureaucratic methodology to ensure that we at least do something. The purpose is to try to ensure that we are secure by regulation. There are two approaches: one is to say you must be secure or else; while the other says you must do this, and this and this or else. In the first instance, just like security itself, a company is compliant regardless of what it does right up until a breach proves that it is not compliant – so what is the point? In the second instance, doing this and this and this to be compliant will not make you secure, which is the purpose of compliance – so what is the point?
The danger comes when you put the two together. You have to be compliant even if it is pointless. That, frequently, is the law. Its purpose is to provide security; so all too often concentration on compliance is all that is done in the name of security. Security thus becomes a tick-box compliance effort, which won’t make us secure but will at least keep us legal. The danger in compliance is that it can lower the bar on security.
So is there no hope? Should we all just accept our insecurity; simply tick the minimum number of boxes necessary to be compliant and hope for the best? Well, no – there is hope; but it’s coming from the practitioners (CSOs) rather than the theorists (security industry) and compliance legislators (governments). What is happening is the slow realisation that security is not a thing in and of itself, but nothing more than an aspect of business risk management. It is not a thing to be acquired, but a concept to be managed.
A new report from the Wisegate community of IT executives – including CSOs – demonstrates that security theory is being replaced by risk management methodologies. Rather than a blanket desire to ‘be secure’, CSOs are starting to manage the business risk. Instead of security being a meaningless concept protected by numerous discrete and leaky band aids, it is becoming part of the continuous management of the business’ level of risk tolerance. Within this approach, compliance becomes an aspect of risk management; security becomes a process within risk management; and people become as important as products.
The report is called Moving From Compliance to Risk-Based Security: CISOs Reveal Practical Tips – it’s worth a look.