Pro Dev: Who are We? What is Our Role?

I was recently  in New York for a two-day briefing on emerging technologies from a key technology partner. During the morning session the presenter asked a number of questions of the room as he worked through his deck.

At one point he asked: “Who likes their Information Security guy ?”

I raised my hand, to which he quipped: “Well, they aren’t doing their job then!”

To which I quipped: “Actually, I do my job quite well.”

Stereotypes…

In ancient times, skillful warriors first made themselves invincible,

and then watched for vulnerability in their opponents…

“Formation”, Art of War, Sun Tzu, 6th century B.C.

The core of Information Security is Risk Management. The pursuit isn’t an “invincible” password policy, but one that provides reasonable protection against known threats. The goal is often not an “invincible” application, but one which is hardened appropriately and also still usable.

But all too often, many practitioners jump right to NO – I WON’T ALLOW IT. this leap is made without understanding the whole of the problem, or the real risks that are specific to the situation.

Now, there are folks in Information Security (and HR, accounting, etc.) who have to say NO because corporate policy, procedure, etc. require them to. This is really not the case that I am exploring here. Here, I want to focus on the role of the Information Security Architect, Consultant, Vulnerability Manager, Risk Manager, CISO, etc. when they are working with the business and IT partners.

Solid Risk Management requires a partnership between the folks who are the Subject Matter Experts in the risk space, and the folks who have a business or organizational need that must be met.  The right or proper answer often isn’t the Black-and-White “We never allow X” (sometimes it is 😉 ), but generally “We usually avoid X, due to these risks, but in this case we can compensate by applying these additional controls” or “We usually don’t permit X, but in this situation it isn’t problematic due to Y”.

I spent a lot of 2007 learning this lesson.

This lesson was taking hold enough that I started researching some of the business literature on this topic. It was then that I ran into Organizational Consulting: How to Be an Effective Internal Change Agent by Alan Weiss, and this definition on page 4:

Organizational Consultants are basically advisers to management who must provide objective, pragmatic, and honest advice to their clients. If there is a trusting relationship, then the clients will always be confident that their best interests are being served, no matter how threatening, contrarian, or painful that advice may be.

 Organizational Consulting is a book on becoming an effective internal change agent. In a way, when I am acting in an Information Security (Architect, Consultant, Advisor, fill in the blank…) role, I see myself being responsible for not just managing the risk issue at hand, but engaging my IT/LOB/etc in such that they can understand why and how the final state came to be.

So, let’s paraphrase Alan’s definition some…

Information Security Consultants are basically advisors to Information Technology and Line of Business partners who must provide objective, pragmatic, and honest advice to their clients, with the objective of managing risk for the benefit of the organization as a whole.

If there is a trusting relationship, then the clients will always be confident that their best interests are being served, no matter how threatening, contrarian, or painful that advice may be.

It has been my experience that when I take the time to…

  • Listen and demonstrate genuine interest in the business problem at hand
  • Educate the key players about the risks that various approaches contain
  • Make those risks tangible, using examples and data when available
  • Work with them, not against them

…that my success rate is very high ! “Success” being defined as both getting the Information Security risks managed, getting the underlying business need met, and being re-engaged pro-actively by the people I worked with the next time around.

Of course, all of these are relationship-building behaviors. All to often, relationship-building is thought of as lunches and golf games, neither of which I do much of. Relationship building is about how you treat people when you are working with them. No one cares that you played golf with them once if you won’t help them solve the problem at hand. Helping them find a way to meet their business needs risk appropriately builds relationships.

Of course, saying NO is a lot less work… for a while….

Cheers, Erik

( If you enjoyed this, check out more Professional Development on AoIS )

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