The Firemon sponsored study by Ponemen surveyed 597 individuals who work in IT, IT security, compliance, risk management and other related fields. All respondents are involved in IT security management activities in their organizations. They also are involved in assessing or managing the impact of change on their organization’s IT security operations. The following are the themes of this study:

  • Tale of two security departments
  • The importance of metrics to driving more informed decisions
  • Practices to achieve effective security change management
  • The right metrics for managing change

What is security change management?

Ponemon defines this in the study as “security change management as a formal approach to assessing, prioritizing and managing transitions in personnel, technologies, policies and organizational structures to achieve a desired state of IT security. The security risk landscape is defined as rapidly mutating threats at every point of entry from the perimeter to the desktop; from mobile to the cloud. The fast evolution of the threat landscape and changes in network and security architectures creates a challenging and complex security ecosystem.

The key findings of the study

The security posture perception gap puts organizations at risk. 13% of respondents would rate the security posture of their organization as very strong. Whereas, 33% of respondents say their CEO and Board believes the organization has a very strong security posture. Such a gap reveals the problems the security function acknowledges in accurately communicating the true state of security.

Why can’t communication be better? 71% of respondents say communication occurs at too low a level or only when a security incident has already occurred (63% of respondents). 51% admit to filtering negative facts before talking to senior executives.

Agility is key to managing change. However, when asked to rate their organization’s agility in managing the impact of change on IT security operations, only 16% of respondents say their organizations have a very high level of agility and 25% say it is very low.

Metrics that reveal the impact of change are most valuable. According to 74% of respondents, security metrics that measure the impact of disruptive technologies on security posture are important. 62% of respondents say metrics fail to provide this important information.

Real-time analysis for managing change is essential. When asked about the importance of real-time analysis for managing changes to the organization’s security landscape, 72% of respondents say it is essential or very important. 12% say it is not important.

Organizations are not using more advanced procedures to understand the impact of change on their organization’s security posture. 26% of respondents say they are using manual processes or no proactive processes to identify the impact of changes on the organization’s security posture. 15% are using automated risk impact assessments, 13% say they are using continuous compliance monitoring and 11% rely on internal or external audits.

Senior executives are believed to have a more positive outlook on the effectiveness of their IT security function. While respondents rate their organization’s security posture as just about average, they believe their CEOs and board members have a much more positive perception, and would rate their organization’s security posture as above average. 13% of respondents would rate the security posture as strong. Whereas, 33% of respondents say their CEO and Board believes their organization has a very strong security posture. This perception gap signals that security practitioners are not given an opportunity and/or cannot communicate effectively the true state of security in the organization. As a result it is difficult to convince senior management of the need to invest in the right people, processes and technologies to manage security threats. Likewise, respondents believe key stakeholders also consider the organization’s security posture as being above average. 26% of respondents say this group rates their organization’s security posture as very strong. These include business partners, vendors, regulators, and competitors.

Lack of communication seems to be at the root of the C-suite and IT security disconnect. Too little and too late characterizes communication to senior executives about the state of security risk. 29% of respondents say they do not communicate to senior executives about risks and 31% say such communication only occurs when a serious security risk is revealed. As a result, they admit the state of communication about security risks is not effective. 6% of respondents say they are highly effective in communicating all relevant facts to management.

Why can’t communication be better? The main complaints are that communication occurs at too low a level or when a security incident has already occurred. Other problems stem from the existence of silos that keep information from being communicated throughout the organization. Respondents also recognize that the technical nature of the information could be frustrating for senior executives. Very often, the whole story is not revealed because negative facts are filtered before being disclosed to senior executives and the CEO.

What are the implications of senior executives and IT security not having the same understanding of the organization’s security effectiveness? According to the findings, an important capability such as having the agility to manage the impact of change on IT security operations could be affected by not being able to convince management of the need for enough resources, budget and technologies. When asked to rate their organization’s overall agility in managing the impact of change on IT security operations, respondents say it is fairly low. 16% of respondents say their organizations have a very high level of agility and 25% say it is very low. This is also the case when asked to rate their organization’s effectiveness in managing the impact of change on IT security operations. 17% say their organizations are very effective and 30% say their organizations are very ineffective.

The top three barriers to achieving effective security change management activities are

  1. insufficient resources or budget
  2. lack of effective security technology solutions
  3. lack of skilled or expert personnel

When asked about the importance of real time-analysis for managing changes to the organization’s security landscape, 72% of respondents say it is essential or very important. 12% say it is not important.

  • 26% of respondents say they are using manual processes or no proactive processes to identify the impact of changes on the organization’s security posture
  • 15% are using automated risk impact assessments
  • 13% say they are using continuous compliance monitoring
  • 11% rely on internal or external audits

Those technologies most often fully deployed to facilitate the management of changes that impact an organization’s security risk profile are:

  • Incident detection and alerting (including SIEM)
  • Vulnerability risk management
  • Network traffic monitoring
  • Security configuration management follow
  • Technologies that are often only partially deployed are log monitoring (46% of respondents) and file integrity monitoring (35% of respondents).
  • Minimally or not deployed at all are: big data analytics (64% of respondents), automated policy management (45% of respondents), and sandboxing (44% of respondents).

Current metrics in use do not communicate the true state of security efforts. When asked if the metrics that are in use today adequately convey the true state of security efforts deployed by their organization, 43% of respondents say they do not and 11% are unsure. The biggest reasons for the failure to accurately measure the state of security are more pressing issues take precedence, communication with management only occurs when there is an actual incident, the information is too technical to be understood by nontechnical management, and a lack of resources to develop or refine metrics.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the security function? Respondents were asked rate their organizations’ ability to accomplish seven specific factors that may impact the security posture. The findings reveal that most respondents say their organizations are best at managing security threats, hiring and retaining competent security staff and employees and discovering and containing compromises and breaches quickly. They are not as effective at achieving compliance with leading security standards and frameworks and minimizing third-party security risks.

What events are most likely to disrupt the organization’s infrastructure and ability to manage security threats? The expansion of mobile platforms and migration to the cloud are the most likely to affect the security posture. Use of employee-owned devices (BYOD) and the implementation of a next generation firewall have moderate impact. Events that are considered to have a low impact are the move or consolidation of data center resources, implementation of virtualized computing and storage, a security audit failure, and reorganizing and downsizing the enterprise and IT function. Who is accountable for managing the risk created by the introduction of such changes as mobile platforms and the clouds? According to respondents, most responsible for managing the impact of these changes is the CIO or CTO followed by no one has overall responsibility.

Metrics must be aligned with business goals. 83% of respondents say it is important to have security metrics fully aligned with business objectives. However, most organizations represented in this study do not seem to be achieving this goal. In fact, 69% say security metrics sometimes conflict with the organization’s business goals.

  • 74% agree that security metrics that show the impact of disruptive technologies on security posture are important
  • 62% of respondents say metrics fail to provide information about the impact of change
  • 54% agree that metrics do not help understand the vulnerabilities to criminal
  • 46% of respondents say they do not help assess or manage risks caused by the migration to the cloud
  • 56% agree that metrics can help justify investment in people, processes and technologies
  • 57% of respondents agree the CEO and board do care about the metrics used to measure security posture

What is the metrics that matter gap? Respondents were asked to rate the metrics most important in communicating relevant facts about the state of security risks to senior executives and IT management. The top metrics in terms of their importance are discovery and containment of compromises and breaches and management of resources and spending. However, the actual average use of metrics in these categories average only 43% and 37% of organizations represented in this research. The biggest gaps in importance vs. use are with metrics that track disruption to business & IT operations (36% gap), management of resources and spending (35% gap), and discovery and containment of compromises and breaches (31% gap). The smallest gaps between importance and use are with third-party risks (7%) and staff and employee competence (2%).

Tracking how fast a security incident is discovered and contained is the most important metric but not often used.

Practices to achieve effective security change management. In this section, we look at the different practices of organizations that were self-reported to have a high security posture and those that have a low security posture. The findings reveal that there is a difference in the technologies deployed, perceptions about barriers to managing the impact of change to the security infrastructure, effectiveness in communication with senior management, and frequency of communications.

Firemon’s report can be found here.

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