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Why Upper Management Doesn't "Get" IT Security 126

Schneier is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security has decided to delve into why upper management doesn't "get" IT security threats. The results aren't terribly surprising to those in the trenches, stating that most executives view security as something akin to facilities management. "Thankfully", the $495 report (if you aren't a "Conference Board associate") helps tell you how to handle the situation.
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Why Upper Management Doesn't "Get" IT Security

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  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:08PM (#16772593) Homepage Journal
    Upper management would get it but they send the auditors to talk to middle management who doesn't get it. As such auditors decide that a company needs X because garbage in is garbage out.

    Many of the upper management people I talk to know more about what we should be doing compared to what we are doing. The problem they have in overriding the auditors is the threat of the government and the shareholders. If they take the safe route the keep their jobs and stay out of jail. Actually the fear of the government is far worse that fearing the shareholders. (thanks to wonderful overreactions by Congress we get even more doing a whole lotta about nothing that ends up preventing us from doing what we should)
  • by thejrwr ( 1024073 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:11PM (#16772647) Homepage
    Most upper mangament in my view came into the field in the 70-80s and as long as it donst bother them, they dont care, so why should they care about IT in the first place! they think every thing will be fine as the IT sysadmin will take care of it
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:18PM (#16772817)
    I think management think if you spend the money and take the time to release a secure product .. you get behind, have a more expensive product, and lose in the market. Since it's enormously (and often infeasible) to certify a product as 100% secure .. where do you stop spending the money on security? If they waited for IE or Firefox to be 100% secure before ever releasing it .. we'd use other browsers (which may actually end up being either less secure or not as good).

    People have shown a willingness to put up with insecure half ass reliable products .. i wont mention any products or websites that have had issues. But the point is, for all it's ranting about wanting security and reliability, it appears to me the market just doesnt forgive those who would spend the time and money on these things.

    And yes, this must change.
  • Re:Does.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:18PM (#16772843)
    I guess I should have explained.

    We, the taxpayers have paid for this paper, yet we also must pay for copies of the very document we paid for to begin with.

    That's what I dont like. Akin to double-taxation.

    (from the BuyMe screen liknked from schneider...)

    survey by The Conference Board (sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security)

  • by rob1980 ( 941751 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:19PM (#16772871)
    Why would they spend $500 on a report to help them get it?
  • Not surprising... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus poet> on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:20PM (#16772917) Homepage
    "Thankfully", the $495 report (if you aren't a "Conference Board associate") helps tell you how to handle the situation.

    Bruce isn't in the business for giving out his top notch observations for free.

    Are any of us?

    I'd say it's a pretty lame attack to point out the cost as a negative. Just admit that you're not interested in his opinion and move on.

    IT security sucks for this very single reason: It takes effort.

    The solution? Demand effort.

  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:22PM (#16772943) Homepage Journal
    The results aren't terribly surprising to those in the trenches, stating that most executives view security as something akin to facilities management.
    Sort of what I expected, but it still might make an interesting read. Perhaps I'll get a copy.
    "Thankfully", the $495 report
    Ouch! Screw that noise. Although, I may have stumbled upon why the IT crowd doesn't "get" upper-management decisions like spending half a grand on the same info you could get by talking to someone in the field over the morning coffee and bagel.
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:27PM (#16773049)
    The general problem with IT work is that if you do your job realy well, nothing happens. So you then have to deal with questions like "why did we spend all that money on y2k when nothing happened".

    Its almost worth messing up from time to time just to show what would happen every day if you weren't there.
  • by Eli Gottlieb ( 917758 ) <> on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:34PM (#16773193) Homepage Journal
    Upper management doesn't get IT because upper management doesn't get much of anything. They only see numbers, numbers they must play with until they add up to a plus mark.
  • The difference... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:42PM (#16773371) Journal
    Given all that we have been asked to give up in the name of security, the fact that this isn't free shows once again that Homeland Security is about money and power, not the well being of the citizens. Yes there is some private sector company involved, but if Homeland Security pays for it, then it should be a study done for the sake of, maybe National Security. And if that is the case then it should be distributed for free. More likely the case, that company is receiveing a return on a political favor (campain contributions)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:44PM (#16773413)
    It's true that IT is seen as a money-sink with not much ROI as it is. That is, until you tie it to company image, trust, and customer relations. One mishandled backup tape or a discovered intrusion later -- and your company image will take a beating...and would take time to recover any trust and goodwill you may have established with customers beforehand.

    Don't get me wrong, I do think there's such a thing as overkill when it comes to security, but there are enough management types out there who don't pay much attention to it at all until AFTER some embarrassing "accident" happens.

    There are a lot of departments out there that are wanting company resources, that's understandable. In the end, though, you'd probably agree that to most (if not all) businesses, the ultimate thing that brings in money are the customers. I'm just asking the powers-that-be to ensure that the customers feel comfortable trusting us with their data.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:45PM (#16773435) Homepage Journal
    Don't try to talk ROI. You'll be talking to finance people who will see instantly that there's not enough data about quantitative risks to back up what you're saying.

    Instead, calculate the cost of a breach. Then walk up the chain of command with the message "Like any risk, we can avoid it, mitigate it, transfer it to an insurance company, or accept it. If you do nothing you're accepting it. If you accept it then on the day a breach happens you will spend eleventy thousand dollars of company money. Do you have signing authority for eleventy thousand? If yes, here's the cost of a couple of mitigation options, and you're the boss. If no, you understand that I'm only going over your head because the decision has to be made at that level."
  • by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:50PM (#16773567)
    Its almost worth messing up from time to time just to show what would happen every day if you weren't there.

    Yeah. And how about the janitors? Maintenance people? Trucking people? Accounting people? Shipping people? People in manufacturing? IT is just one part of a massive support staff that it takes to run any business.

    I'm sorry to break the news that IT isn't necessarily any more important than the people that make sure that the toilets flush and the power bills are paid. Actually, as a business owner, if I had a fixed amount of money and had to decide to spend it on either A. A plumber, B. More help on the loading dock, or C. IT, I gotta say that C would be last on my list. Sorry guys. I can run my business with somewhat broken computers. I can't run it with no toilets and nobody to receive the inventory.
  • by supersnail ( 106701 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:53PM (#16773639)
    I second that.

    Too many IT guys present proposals like
      "We need the ACME 3000 discombobulator to prevent DOR attacks,with a TOC of only $30,000".

    Instead we sould be saying
    "Mr Rumsfeld these Denail Of Reality attacks may cost you
    8% points at the polls we could prevent them for only $300,000".

    See how much better it sounds.
    Buy the "The Bullshit proposal language" (The boy cow book) from O'Really tommorow.
  • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy&tpno-co,org> on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:58PM (#16773757) Homepage
    Computer security should be handled with the same priority as physical security (keeping facilities secure)

    Unless you have valuable products you are storing, most places' physical security begins and ends with deterrent and auditing. It's cheaper to put a single lock on the door and an alarm system that logs off site than it is to put in reinforced glass with bars and magnetic locks.

    This is not the point of view you want to take with data security, which is the "product" that you are trying to protect.
  • by The Great Pretender ( 975978 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @04:14PM (#16774057)
    I very much agree with ninenine. I'm not IT I'm a major shareholder (which is why I can drink a cup of coffee and read /. mid-morning with no one firing me), on the board and a Principal (interestingly I'm a scientist by training, not marketing or finance). We hire IT people to take care of the IT component, which includes security. They submit a budget, we hack the budget, they complain, but often as not they figure out how to do it. Security came up once and we invited the IT department to tell us the state of affairs. Initially, one IT guy gave a presentation to the address security concerns and what the company needed to do, all that came across in the presentation was unjustified spending. Realizing that we didn't get a satisfactory answer, a couple of months later we asked again and explained why we didn't move forward on the 1st guys proposal. A different IT guy gave a presentation on the same subject and in 5 mins had the money he needed to deal with his concerns. The big difference was that the first guy came in, pulled out the IT ego, techno-baffled us and left us wondering why the hell we should spend the money on something that made no sense to us. The second guy came in and presented a holistic business concept of IT security, used nice simple IT terminology that made sense to us and didn't waste our time showing us how smart he was (we like to think that we hire smart people). We then moved on with running the top end of the business and let IT do their job.

    Forget the $495, I'll tell you for free. You want a better chance at the funding, make the upward ladder understand the detrimental effect to the company and their profit if the the security is not in place. That means that you need to find the person in your group who can deliver the message in a nice brief way, using nice simple language that management understands, make sure you have urgency statements in the presentation, but don't be sensationalist, and the selling point is an assessment of the cost impact. The cost of developing security, verses loss of [fill in the blank]. And expect to get the funding in stages, in fact if you present a staged funding plan, it'll probably go down a lot better. Always remember, you don't hold the purse strings and those that do dislike being patronized or being made to look stupid (even though they may be).

  • by 1369IC ( 935113 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @04:29PM (#16774365)

    IT stuff is voodoo to most upper management, and I'm convinced IT shops get away with things they never would if the upper management understood IT as well as they understand, say, supply. I was upper management in two government organizations heavily dependent on IT. As a fairly competent computer user who likes to keep up with current events, I fought with our IT folks endlessly -- at least the management.

    The first problem is IT quickly forgets that -- like everybody else except the people actually doing the core functions of the organization -- they are a support organization, not a control organization. They latch on to their ability to throw out security and voodoo computer terms to persuade the upper management to let them set policies. Upper management doesn't understand the policies at all, and often has no choice but to side with the IT pros no matter what the actual users want or need. As often as not, they then set policies that are purely for their convenience (for instance, wanting to standardize on Windows and a strict set of programs even though they support 25 or 30 different sections, some of which have been doing things like digital photography, desktop publishing and design on Macs for years). From the users' perspectives, IT makes using the actual IT resources as painful as possible to make their lives as simple as possible, and the fact that they're hampering actual mission accomplishment doesn't bother them.

    Next, they have a sweet deal going where they set a bunch of standards that require certain certifications or skills, so they hire people who perpetuate those standards, and only buy things that are compatible with those standards. This then requires getting on an endless treadmill of more training, more personnel, more software, more hardware, etc. And all the while they make it clear that it's lunacy to buy anything that doesn't have vendor support because if it actually breaks they can't be expected to get it going again using only the training, hardware, software and people that they have brow beat management into paying for using money that *every other part of the organization* was crying for and could have put to good use, too.

    Lastly, on a day-to-day basis, far too many of them think that, because they're IT, it's their right to be arrogant, socially or organizationally inept, or just plain weird -- and sometimes it's a combination, so you get a organizationally inept weird guy being arrogant. How many of those does it take to ruin a shop's reputation? (IT certainly has no corner on that market, I'll grant you).

    I could go on here, but I'm sure I've pissed off enough people already. I came from the internal communications side of things -- journalism and later PR. In my field management always thinks they can do your job better than you can because, hey, it's just writing and talking. Eventually, I got promoted into management and in dealing with IT I saw that their best defense is that almost nobody in a position of leadership (being mostly older guys, half of whom had never launched a program that wasn't sold by Microsoft) understood what they hell IT did or what it took to get it done. So all it took was a good talker or somebody who learned to cite vague security mandates from higher headquarters to get much more of what they wanted than anybody else did.

    Of course, it also left IT open to being weaker when their leadership was weaker (or less smooth). But I didn't run into that. I ran into IT shops that got more of their resource requests approved than anybody else, but didn't really realize it and kept whining for more even though their support curiously never got better no matter how much you spent on them. And for every new capability you read about on Slashdot, they came up with two new security policies that made using it impossible.

    Now I'm back in the trenches and don't get to go to the meetings where the IT guys try to talk the boss into banning the USB drives everybody has taken to using because the e-mail

  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <> on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @10:49PM (#16779551) Homepage Journal
    How is that any different from getting a grant to write a book?

    Sounds like a damn fine reason not to give people grants to write books then, unless they want to do so as U.S. Government employees, and allow the book to be a product of the United States Government (with their name on it, of course), and therefore in the Public Domain.

    If public money is being used to fund the creation of something, the end product of that creation ought to be freely available to the public.

    Do you think people would be quite so keen on funding the Smithsonian Institutions, if they charged admission fees? Probably not. I don't have any problem with the Smithsonian being publicly funded, in fact I think it's great; but making things halfway-publicly funded is just crappy, and generally gets the taxpayer less "bang for their buck" than if they just went all-in on half the number of projects, but funded them completely and 'owned' the results for the public, therefore making them free for anyone to enjoy.

"You must have an IQ of at least half a million." -- Popeye