Tripwire’s second installment of research on the state of risk-based security management with the Ponemon Institute has once again revealed some interesting insights into the workings of the IT Department. 

The survey covers risk-based security metrics and evaluates the attitudes of 1,321 respondents (749 U.S. and 571 U.K.) from IT security, IT operations, IT risk management, business operations, compliance/internal audit and enterprise risk management.

The key findings from the survey are:

  • 75% of respondents say metrics are ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to a risk-based security program
  • 53% don’t believe or are unsure that the security metrics used in their organizations are properly aligned with business objectives
  • 51% didn’t believe or are unsure that their organizations metrics adequately convey the effectiveness of security risk management efforts to senior executives

When asked, “Why don’t you create metrics that are well understood by senior executives?”:

  • 59% said the information is too technical to be understood by non-technical management
  • 48% said pressing issues take precedence
  • 40% said they only communicate with executives when there is an actual security incident
  • 35% said it takes too much time and resources to prepare and report metrics to senior executives
  • 23% of U.S. respondents and 20% of those in the U.K. think security metrics can be ambiguous, which may lead to poor decisions
  • 18% said senior executives are not interested in the information

 So, why isn’t communication between security professionals and executives more effective? Respondents were asked to select all the factors that apply from a list of nine possible reasons, and their answers present a wide range of serious challenges. The top three responses include organizations hampered by siloed information, presenting information not easily understood by non-technical managers, and the practice of filtering “bad news” from the C-suite.

  • 68% of U.S. and 57% of U.K. respondents say communications are confined to one department or line of business
  • 61% say the information is too technical and occurs at too low a level
  • 59% state that negative facts are filtered before getting to executives

Commenting on these results, Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, said,

Even though most organizations rely on metrics for operational improvement in IT, more than half of IT professionals appear to be concerned about their ability to use metrics to communicate effectively with senior executives about security

These results correlate with the dozens of conversations we have been having with CISO’s across the globe,” said Rekha Shenoy, vice president of marketing and corporate development at Tripwire

CISO’s talk about the importance of leveraging metrics as a way to influence business leadership and build a risk management practice within their companies. Unfortunately, they struggle with the bigger challenge of producing meaningful metrics while those they use are rarely aligned with business goals

Tripwire summary

While the majority of security professionals agree they need significant amounts of data in order to build a culture of ac­countability, they aren’t sure how to distill this information into metrics that are understandable, relevant and actionable to senior business leadership. Business metrics tend to reflect the value of strategic goals rather than technical goals, and may prioritize cost over less tangible security benefits. Security metrics tend to reflect operational goals and may prioritize technical improvement over business context.