What is a Security Program?

It occurred to me that after 15 years of consulting, 10 years of public speaking, 3 years of blogging, and saying things like; “All regulatory compliance falls out the back-end of a security program done well.” and; “If you fail to develop an appropriate security program, it’s the CEO’s fault and no-one else’s.” that I have never actually defined what I consider to be a good security program.

In my defence, a good (i.e. appropriate) security program is as unique as the organisation trying to implement one. However, like any other discipline, there are basics that ALL security programs must have to be successful.

All of the best security experts on the planet pretty much agree on these basics. But just try looking for something you can apply to your business and you’ll soon be as confused as I am when trying to read anything written by a lawyer. Regulatory compliance, greedy product vendors, incompetent consultants and a whole host of other factors conspire to take security out of the hands of those who need it most.

Nothing I am about to write has not be said by me many times over, or by a thousand others much smarter than me, but for some reason it never seems to stick. As much as I hate the concept of rebrand-it-to-sell (e.g. a ‘service on the Internet’ is now called The Cloud), I can see the attraction. If we could make security ‘sexy and new’, perhaps we’d have an easier time bringing back the basics. 99% of security lives and breathes in the basics.

For example, everyone knows that there is no security program without senior leadership support (i.e. CEO). This is free, takes a fraction of a percent of the CEO’s time per calendar year, and has benefits well beyond anything you can imagine. But try getting it.

Anyway, on with the program detail, but first; If you don’t believe that a security program is a balance of People, Process, and Technology, stop reading, this will all be lost on you.

8 Steps to an Appropriate Security Program

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  1. Senior Management Support – Been over this a million times. If you don’t have it, stop here, you’re wasting your time. Can you have some security without it? Yes, but guess who will be blamed when things go wrong.
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  2. Governance Committee – Senior stakeholders who will run the program with the full and visible support from senior leadership. Governance runs everything from risk assessments to change control, and without this centralised function your security program will collapse like a flan in a cupboard.
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  3. Policies & Procedures – Again, if you don’t know by now how important this one is, don’t bother reading the rest, you’ll never understand.
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  4. Risk Management – The primary function of the risk management is to ensure that all security controls meet the organisation’s risk appetite. Risk Assessment, Business Impact Analysis, Risk Treatment, and the Risk Register all sit here.
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  5. Appropriate Security Controls – No, I do NOT mean technology! Technology supports security, it does not define it. Your controls will be a direct result of the risks determined by Governance, and the requirements as defined in your policies (requirement for hardening guides for example). Technology purchases are the last resort.
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  6. Vulnerability Management / Change Control – I don’t lump these together very often, but from a program perspective, they have similar results. i.e Don’t make things easy for the attacker by a) ignoring the evolving threat landscape, and b) introducing potential vulnerabilities without due diligence respectively.
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  7. Testing Program – Test everything, then when you’re done, go back and test it again. Repeat. You simply have no idea whether or not your security program is working until you test it. Test results feed back into everything done before it in order to make the necessary adjustments.
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  8. Security Awareness & Training – Again, if this makes no sense, you’re reading the wrong blog. None of the above works unless EVERYONE knows what part they play.

That’s it. Finished. there is nothing more to do for any organisation to develop an appropriate security program. Nothing here is complicated, perhaps that’s why people ignore it, it’s just not dramatic enough.

However, making this process simple can be extremely difficult, as is getting the program in place, and these difficulties should not be underestimated. It’s the difficulty, not the complexity that ruins most security programs, especially when you don’t have the support you need.

FWIW, done well, a security program based on the above will not only make you more secure than most of your competition, but give you demonstrable compliance with every regulation out there. How’s that for an ROI?

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