Articulating the Value of Security (or, Security is not the point)

It’s an uphill battle to convince the decision-makers in any business that they need to invest in security. Why? Because deep down, most people think security is an annoying layer of cost and inconvenience.  If you walk in and tell them, “We need more security,” they hear, “We need a more annoying layer of cost and inconvenience.”

Getting Buy-In

Getting executive buy-in for security products and services today means understanding what drives your company’s security purchase decisions. Fear, uncertainty and doubt are not the cleverest tools to use anymore. Businesses want something that sometimes seems like a foreign concept to the security profession: value.  If you don’t adapt and start answering the questions your business is really interested in, you’ll never get the green light on new projects and upgrades.  Remember, nobody wants security; they want the benefits of security. Your family members don’t want the finest deadbolt on the front door because of the excellence of its engineering or its impact resistance. They want a comfortable, happy place to live.

Achieve Objectives

Businesses also want something other than security. If a bank manager has a mandate to reduce expenses related to bank tellers, she has a couple of options. She could fire all the tellers and lock up all the bank branches, but then the bank would have no interface with its customers. Or she could take all the money, put it in piles on the street corner under a clipboard that says, “Take what you want, but write it down so we may balance your account.” That wouldn’t work either.  The best solution for reducing teller expenses is to take the money, put in on the street corner locked in a box with a computer attached, and give customers a low-cost plastic card for authentication and auditing.  Security was never the point of creating the automated teller machine. The bank had a business objective and achieved it by using some security.

A Tool in Your Toolbox

That is precisely how we all should think of security: as a way of helping companies achieve the goals or value they seek.  Business managers, especially executives at the highest levels of an organization, have a very simple, indirect view of security. They don’t think of it as security, exactly. They think of it as a tool in the corporate toolbox for enabling business. For example, the manager responsible for a critical business application wants a few things: He wants to know who is using his website; he wants to ensure that everyone can do everything on that site they need to do; he has a lot of users doing a lot of things, so he needs an easy way to manage it; and at the end of the day or the end of the quarter, he needs a report telling him what has happened so that he can improve customer satisfaction, reduce errors and increase profits.  In that example we have all four fundamental categories of security—authentication, authorization, administration and audit—but the manager doesn’t think of security once! That’s because security is not the point.

Focus on Value 

Whenever possible, security professionals should purge the word “security” from their vocabulary. Instead, answer the questions inside your bossyou’re your customer’s head, and don’t simply spout the ways security keeps bad things from happening.  Upper management thinks in terms of money, not security. What people will be needed? What headcount can we reduce? How much will it cost? How much will we save? What new revenue can we earn as a result of this investment? And they think not in terms of security risks, but in terms of credit risk, market risks and operational risks. That’s where security professionals can shine.  For any business problem, you should be prepared to help your management identify the ways that the authentication, authorization, administration or audit solutions you’re proposing will solve their problem or help customers.  Remember, it is not our job to secure the network. It’s our job to secure the business.

– Steve Hunt

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