Security admins and executives: We hardly talk anymore

Alan Shimel

At this past year's RSA Conference, I was the moderator on a panel about "Security Metrics: What matters?" One of the participants was my friend Jody Brazil, President of Firemon. Jody referenced a new survey that Firemon had partnered with the Ponemon Institutue about security metrics and the interaction between security teams and executives.

The full survey was just released last week. Without even getting into what metrics you should measure and what you should report, the survey shows some startling findings around how security admins and the executive team interact (or at least how they perceive each other to interact) or maybe how they don't interact.

First off was the disconnect about how strong the organization's security posture was. Security pros felt that 66% of executives thought that their organizations were either very strong or well above average. At the same time, only about 39% of security pros felt that their organizations were very strong or well above average.

According to the study, this points to a failure of the actual security posture being reported up to the executive team. The Ponemon report says that this factors into why security does not get the resources it needs to do better, namely executives making budgeting decisions think that security is already a strength. Personally, I think anything that can be used to justify more security budget is quickly latched onto by security teams.

Delving into why the executives don't have a realistic viewpoint of the real security posture of the organization, respondents cited five factors that all scored more than 50% as responses.

Interesting that over 70% think communication is at too low a level (I assume on the executive side). Does this mean high-level executives are not engaged? The next most popular choice - only communicating when there is an incident - is a classic issue and in more than just security. Two of the popular answers that information is too technical and negative facts are filtered are two that I have heard time and time again.

Many security pros tell me they have to "dumb down" security metrics so executives can understand them. Others have said that any technical information just shuts executives down from paying attention. My issue is that there are some things that are important and can't be brought down to a second-grade level. We need to convey the real picture and it may take a little domain intelligence. This screams to why you need a security person in the executive room. However, even today most organizations do not have a CISO or equivalent as part of their executive team.

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