Security Mistakes Executives Make

Failed attempts at selling information security to business executives have been the bane of the field’s existence over the past few decades. Whether the efforts by IT and security professionals to get executives on board were focused, purposeful and effective is irrelevant.

There are some big mistakes executives make in terms of security, yet they often have their minds made up and don’t want to spend money on something — such as security — that may or may not provide tangible returns on investment. Thanks to compliance, we’re seeing a higher level of executive buy-in these days, but security is still not where it needs to be in terms of being a business focal point.

Executives Don’t Always Know Best

Contrary to popular assumption, executives don’t always know what’s best, especially in terms of information security. Take, for instance, the recent breaches of Mark Zuckerberg’s Twitter and Pinterest accounts. Even a tech-savvy executive can be careless with password selection and management. The story is that Zuckerberg used the password “Dadada” across multiple social media accounts and someone figured it out, making him look bad in the process.

I see and hear stories time and again of executives who purport to know more about information security than the very professionals they’ve hired to do the job. A great example is the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) security loophole, whereby everyone in the organization has to follow the rules, use mobile device management (MDM) technology on their phones and know that they had better not slip up and make a security mistake. That is, everyone except executive management.

I have seen numerous instances where all executives were exempt from BYOD policies. The same often goes for security policies and standards involving things such as passwords, wireless network usage and cloud-based file sharing.

Ironically, everyone has to abide by the rules except for the very people who are at the greatest risk of experiencing a breach.

Blame It on Politics

I can’t quite figure out what’s going on. I suspect it’s people working in IT and security who are afraid for their jobs and unwilling to stand up for what’s right. I can’t say I blame them when their careers are in jeopardy!

So what else is there? There are certainly IT and security leaders, such as CIOs, CTOs and CISOs, who are toeing the company line — playing politics — because they have skin in the game as well. Not unlike politicians who take the oath of office to uphold the laws of their land and then proceed to do anything but that, I have seen numerous people in information security leadership roles who have merely served their own interests and not those of the business at large. How can information security possibly work out when such barriers exist?

Whether or not it’s readily apparent, information security in business today can largely be described as politics run amok. The real questions are: How badly is it affecting your organization? What can be done to resolve it? Is anyone willing to do so?

Fixing Mistakes Executives Make

It all comes down to risk tolerance and, of course, business culture. I believe these security mistakes that executives are making also explains why we see so many information security professionals, especially those in leadership roles, only stay with an employer for relatively short periods of time. It’s like a game of lacrosse when someone comes in and picks up where the previous guy left off. The new person moves the ball up the field a little more than it was before, realizes he’s at an impasse and soon moves on.

This is the state of information security today. Unless and until we can get executives on board with what’s going on and what needs to be done, the games will continue.

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Kevin Beaver

Independent Information Security Consultant

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, writer and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC. With over 28 years of experience in IT and 22 years specializing in security, Kevin performs independent security assessments and helps businesses uncheck the boxes that keep creating a false sense of security. He has authored/co-authored 12 books on information security, including the best-selling "Hacking For Dummies" and "The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance." In addition, Kevin is the creator of the Security On Wheels information security audiobooks and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. You can learn more and link to Kevin's articles, blog posts, videos and more at his website, www.principlelogic.com.