Can you honestly say you understand your existing security posture? Many people, especially those in management, are quick to proclaim that no flaws exist; all is secure in their world because their auditors have said they’re compliant with whatever regulations or they passed their most recent spot check. But the reality of data breaches is telling us something different. Day after day, it seems, more breaches are occurring — all because of basic security flaws that could easily be prevented.
Security Flaws Are Everywhere
Today’s breaches are bigger, but they’re not necessarily more advanced. It seems that every major exploit is brought about by someone, somewhere, overlooking the security basics. This includes:
- Weak passwords;
- Missing patches;
- Misconfigured operating systems;
- Unencrypted laptops;
- Untested Web applications;
- Improper malware protection;
- Untrained or uncaring users making their own security decisions.
I see these flaws in hospitals, universities, cloud service providers, state government agencies, manufacturing companies and seemingly every type of business in between. It’s not because I’m a security wizard with ninja-like skills. Instead, it’s because these problems are there, and I know where to look. They’re predictable and they’re everywhere. From large enterprises to small startups, these basic flaws (also known as the low-hanging fruit) know no limits, and continued research such as the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report and ongoing studies from the Ponemon Institute, among others, underscores these very issues.
CISOs Need a Reality Check
Former IT executive James Champy once said, “Many executives are insulated from reality and consequently don’t know what the hell is going on.” I think this pretty much sums up the disconnection between IT and security teams and management.
Even with all the regulations, governance and lip service given to security in 2015, we still have these problems. Why, though? I know that most people in IT and security are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Likewise, outside of the occasional IT leader guarding his own henhouse, I think executive management — even non-IT types — are doing the best they can to run the business. Yet the security basics are ignored and the breaches continue.
When are things going to change? What’s it really going to take to find, fix and prevent simple security flaws from creating such complex business problems? Is self-preservation and career perpetuation going to continue to drive decisions for some? Will lawyers intervene too much? Will users continue to do what they do?
No one knows the answers to how we’re going to minimize the challenges that are often politically induced. At least we do know the answers to the technical and operational side of things. Many such solutions are contained in the great book “Security, Accuracy, and Privacy in Computer Systems” by James Martin, which happened to be published over four decades ago.
As Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” and other works, said, “We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality.” The real solution is for those in leadership and decision-making positions to do what’s right and keep doing what’s right. Perhaps eventually things will come around. Whether or not they do, there’s lots of job security to go around. As long as you’re doing what you can to minimize your maximum regret — the seemingly inevitable breach — I think you’ll be just fine.