When will business understand security?

Louay Ghashash, Managing Security Consultant, Telstra

In the security industry I work with business of different types and sizes, and deal with managers ranging from system administrators to CISOs. The common thread I see when management discussions on security inevitably reach beyond the IT department; is that security is not understood by the business, it is a magical geeky theme that belongs to IT to manage. Business only sees it as a cost centre—a necessary evil.

Back in the early 90s, business saw IT departments as a necessary evil, a cost centre or a budget vacuum. Geeky teams were locked into dungeon to do their own thing. IT didn’t understand the businesses it was working with, nor did the business understand IT. Change only came when IT departments reinvented themselves. IT started to understand the businesses it was serving and position itself as a service provider for the business to consume. IT managers began to understand the business impact and so, started to also be seen as a vehicle that could drive business to new channels, markets and products. Business realised that investing in IT actually increased their revenue because it reduced cost and opened new doors. Businesses started to appreciate the value of IT, they started investing in it.

Can we do the same for security? Can we incorporate the lesson learnt by IT?

I don’t blame business for failing to understand security. Nowadays, the most brilliant security sales people position and sell security products and services like an insurance policy. This includes the way they compare it to insurance, and they thinking about why business should invest in it. Yes, security provides assurance, but there is more to it than simply safeguarding assets. Are we doing ourselves and our businesses a favour by positioning security merely as assurance?

I believe that security is more than this, that it is another driver of the business. It is a means enabling business to grow quickly and enter new markets by taking more risks. There will always be the assurance part of security committed to safeguarding assets and user data, but it is only a subset of the security entropy. Assurance is only part of the security story that must be sold to the business in order for the business to leverage its value.

Security is far more meaningful to a business when security managers understand the business they are serving—its drivers, motivations, competitors and threat vectors that relate to its vertical. If security can understand the business and reinvent itself in the same way IT reinvented itself twenty years ago, business will respond, they will better understand the value of security and will be prepared to invest in it.

Business will grasp the value of security when it is marketed as a feature of the product that’s on offer.  As consumers, we have been slow to consider security as an element of our purchasing decision. How many of us use a particular product, service or a vendor because we know it secures our data? For some of us at least, it is becoming important. Every day, more devices connect to the internet and more are creeping into our home and corporate network. The Internet of Things (IoT) will drive that change in our thinking. We will increasingly include security as part of our purchasing choice. Have you stopped travelling with Malaysian airlines recently? How many of us use PayPal because it is more secure than the traditional credit cards?

Before going to your senior management and asking for your next financial year security budget, you should sit and think about what it means to your business and how you can allow your business to go at a faster pace by adopting new channels and targeting more customers.

Start understanding the security challenges of your market and your business. It is far better to ask your management for budget to realise business objectives than to ask for budget to simply “secure their data”.

Read more: 5 principles of selling security initiatives to executives

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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