Break Through Cybersecurity Complexity With New Rules, Not More Tools

January 28, 2019
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4 min read

Let’s be frank: Chief information security officers (CISOs) and security professionals all know cybersecurity complexity is a major challenge in today’s threat landscape. Other folks in the security industry know this too — although some don’t want to admit it. The problem is that amid increasing danger and a growing skills shortage, security teams are overwhelmed by alerts and the growing number of complex tools they have to manage. We need to change that, but how? By completely rethinking our assumptions.

The basic assumption of security up until now is that new threats require new tools. After 12 years at IBM Security, leading marketing teams and making continuous contact with our clients — and, most recently, as VP of product marketing — I’ve seen a lot of promising new technology. But in our rapidly diversifying industry, there are more specialized products to face every kind of threat in an expanding universe of attack vectors. Complexity is a hidden cost of all these marvelous products.

It’s not just security products that contribute to the cybersecurity complexity conundrum; digitization, mobility, cloud and the internet of things (IoT) all contribute to the complexity of IT environments, making security an uphill battle for underresourced security teams. According to Forrester’s “Global Business Technographics Security Survey 2018,” 31 percent of business and IT decision-makers ranked the complexity of the IT environment among the biggest security challenges they face, tied with the changing nature of threats as the most-cited challenge.

I’ll give you one more mind-boggling statistic to demonstrate why complexity is the enemy of security: According to IBM estimates, enterprises use as many as 80 different security products from 40 vendors. Imagine trying to build a clear picture with pieces from 80 separate puzzles. That’s what CISOs and security operations teams are being asked to do.

7 Rules to Help CISOs Reduce Cybersecurity Complexity

The sum of the parts is not greater than the whole. So, we need to escape the best-of-breed trap to handle the problem of complexity. Cybersecurity doesn’t need more tools; it needs new rules.

Complexity requires us as security professionals and industry partners to turn the old ways of thinking inside out and bring in fresh perspectives.

Below are seven rules to help us think in new ways about the complex, evolving challenges that CISOs, security teams and their organizations face today.

1. Open Equals Closed

You can’t prevent security threats by piling on more tools that don’t talk to each other and create more noise for overwhelmed analysts. Security products need to work in concert, and that requires integration and collaboration. An open, connected, cloud-based security platform that brings security products together closes the gaps that point products leave in your defenses.

2. See More When You See Less

Security operations centers (SOCs) see thousands of security events every day — a 2018 survey of 179 IT professionals found that 55 percent of respondents handle more than 10,000 alerts per day, and 27 percent handle more than 1 million events per day. SOC analysts can’t handle that volume.

According to the same survey, one-third of IT professionals simply ignore certain categories of alerts or turn them off altogether. A smarter approach to the overwhelming volume of alerts leverages analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) so SOC analysts can focus on the most crucial threats first, rather than chase every security event they see.

3. An Hour Takes a Minute

When you find a security incident that requires deeper investigation, time is of the essence. Analysts can’t afford to get bogged down in searching for information in a sea of threats.

Human intelligence augmented by AI — what IBM calls cognitive security — allows SOC analysts to respond to threats up to 60 times faster. An advanced AI can understand, reason and learn from structured and unstructured data, such as news articles, blogs and research papers, in seconds. By automating mundane tasks, analysts are freed to make critical decisions for faster response and mitigation.

4. A Skills Shortage Is an Abundance

It’s no secret that greater demand for cybersecurity professionals and an inadequate pipeline of traditionally trained candidates has led to a growing skills gap. Meanwhile, cybercriminals have grown increasingly collaborative, but those who work to defend against them remain largely siloed. Collaboration platforms for security teams and shared threat intelligence between vendors are force multipliers for your team.

5. Getting Hacked Is an Advantage

If you’re not seeking out and patching vulnerabilities in your network and applications, you’re making an assumption that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Ethical hacking and penetration testing turns hacking into an advantage, helping you find your vulnerabilities before adversaries do.

6. Compliance Is Liberating

More and more consumers say they will refuse to buy products from companies that they don’t trust to protect their data, no matter how great the products are. By creating a culture of proactive data compliance, you can exchange the checkbox mentality for continuous compliance, turning security into a competitive advantage.

7. Rigidity Is Breakthrough

The success of your business depends not only on customer loyalty, but also employee productivity. Balance security with productivity by practicing strong security hygiene. Run rigid but silent security processes in the background to stay out of the way of productivity.

What’s the bottom line here? Times are changing, and the current trend toward complexity will slow the business down, cost too much and fail to reduce cyber risk. It’s time to break through cybersecurity complexity and write new rules for a new era.

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Wangui McKelvey
VP, Product Marketing, IBM

Wangui McKelvey is Vice President of Product Marketing for IBM Security. She joined IBM in 2007 as part of the Internet Security Systems acquisition. She’...
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