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Security Advocacy and Awareness: Creating A Secure Culture

  • Article is provided courtesy of Cisco Press.
  • Date: Nov 24, 2004.


  1. Security Advocacy and Awareness: Creating A Secure Culture

Article Description

All your efforts at securing your network are for naught if your users don't cooperate. This article will provide you with the tools you need to create a secure culture for your organization.

Securing a network is no longer a straightforward assignment. Long gone are the days when equipment and fervent systems-administrator fortitude would suffice. In today's world of rampant malware, disgruntled partners, and sloppy employees, computing environments are rife with the potential for network incidents and denial of service. Couple that with the abundance of current legislation, including Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, and California's SB 1386 to name only a few, and the need to advocate comprehensive security practices throughout the organization takes on even greater importance.

The process of proactively securing a network requires IT management to look beyond equipment and recognize that, ultimately, security is a learned behavior. This article discusses the evolution of a secure culture within an organization, utilizing both advocacy and awareness, by exploring

  • The process through which IT managers can engage both their business-level peers and
  • The acknowledgement that comprehensive security does not end with policy formulation
  • The cultivation of new behaviors

In most organizations, security is viewed as a function belonging to the IT department. Equipment is selected, purchased, installed, and operated by the IT department—the only assistance IT requires from the rest of the corporation is for users to follow corporate policies. But human nature suggests that unless the rationale for policies is clearly understood, and well-disseminated, strict global adherence to said policies is rather unlikely.

The IT department needs allies—IT management can only reasonably be expected to create and enforce policies for its own staff. Once IT management attempts to reach beyond its own departmental borders, its sphere of influence can dissipate speedily. Help is needed, and through a grassroots effort that reaches out to every senior manager, and from the manager to each user in the organization, a secure culture can be effectively created. But first, senior management needs to be brought into the security fold. It is imperative that executives recognize what is at stake, for in the end, the senior management team is responsible for the contributions that must be made by every employee in the organization.

To begin the process, IT management should consider the demands facing each executive, and determine a way in which security could aid each one in attaining his or her departmental goals. The Business Case for Network Security: Advocacy, Governance, and ROI explores a host of executive positions, ranging from leaders of sales and manufacturing operations, to finance professionals and investor-relations directors, to ascertain the benefits each of these executives would realize from a comprehensive security program. For example, a VP of sales would be more willing to advocate greater security measures among his staff, if he were able to see that enhanced security was a commodity he could employ to better market the company to his clients. If the IT manager could help position security as a value-added selling tool that the sales department could use in marketing pitches to end customers, it is very likely that the entire sales department will willingly and proactively stand behind the companys security initiative.

The scenario should be similar for every significant department. To illustrate using another example, it should be proven to the head of manufacturing that enhanced security measures would aid his or her operation in running more efficiently. Less downtime can be achieved by safer connections with business partners (extranet), resulting in fewer breakdowns in the supply chain and reduced loss of time in getting product to the line and out the door. While part of the solution is equipment implementation, a major part of the answer—the part in which the department manager actually has control—is user-based.

A continual and methodical approach to individual user responsibility along every point in the supply chain, established through mindful adherence to security policies, will result in a more consistent and reliable flow of goods throughout the entire process. In the end, this is precisely what every executive wants to hear—what they, as company executives, can do to help drive corporate productivity. Fewer interruptions translate into less user frustration; fewer security breaches mean there are potentially reduced numbers of needlessly disgruntled customers. Equally significant, employee adherence to stated security practices should result in an environment that is safer and, therefore, even more conducive to success.

By engaging all corporate executives in a manner personally beneficial to them, IT management will have an excellent opportunity to create true advocates for the company's security initiative.

Many corporations dedicate large amounts of resources to policy formulation. Depending on a companys size, it might even include the employment of several people. But security policy formulation alone is not enough to protect an organization, regardless of the comprehensiveness of the documents. While it is agreed that formal policies must be in place, it is imperative that they be effectively enforced so that their goals can be achieved. Any misstep, however seemingly minor, can result in a breach; methodical and systematic implementation will be the true determinant of any policys success. This is particularly relevant when users are located in remote sites, for human nature suggests that the further a user is located from head office, the greater the likelihood for policies to be overlooked. Executives and departmental managers must be actively involved to ensure that rules deemed fundamental to the safe operation of the company are adhered to at all times.

Behaviors, both positive and negative, are learned over time. Certain types of learning may require students to continually repeat actions, to ensure that the prescribed actions become second nature to the individuals being trained. Security increasingly is becoming recognized as one of those types of behaviors that need to be learned. Starting at the top of the organization and moving down in a methodical fashion, security measures need to be practiced and reinforced by all users. From respecting the sanctity of password privacy to ensuring that users avoid the lure of social engineering gambits, safe computing is a process of positive practices and behaviors that can be learned by all users.

Security is fundamental to virtually every organization today, yet not every company has achieved the fundamental goal of effectively securing itself. Security is a living investment, and long before the need for security can be instilled in users, executive management must be convinced of the value of greater security measures. Spreading this message across the organization takes time and resources, which requires the corporation to consciously decide to partake in this process. However subjective security investing might appear to be, it must have a measurable component—its value must be quantified. By reaching out to senior management colleagues and engaging them in the security process, the IT management team will have taken a crucial first step in creating the foundation for a quantifiable business case for network security.

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