Getting real about security
While most IT decision-making is no longer top down, getting serious about security needs to come from the top. That's because security almost always has a negative effect on productivity -- adding more steps to go through -- and diverts technology resources toward fixing vulnerabilities and away from meeting business goals.
But as many enterprises have learned the hard way, you can focus on user experience all you like, but if a data breach exposes customers' personal information, your brand may never be trusted again.
Making security a high priority needs to come from the C-suite, because you can't break security bottlenecks without it. For example, unpatched systems are the number one vulnerability in almost all enterprises. It would seem relatively simple to establish a program to roll out patches as they arrive, at the very least for high-risk software such as Java, Flash, or Acrobat. But in most enterprises, systems remain unpatched because certain applications rely on older software versions.
You need to carry a big stick to convince a line of business manager to rewrite or replace an application because it's too much of a security risk.
In security, best practices -- such as prompt patching and up-to-date user training-- trump technology every time, but certain security technologies have more impact than others:
Multifactor authentication. Fingerprints, face scans, or sending codes via text message to a user's mobile phone all decrease the likelihood intruders can take over an endpoint and gain access to the network.
Network monitoring. First, get to know the normal network traffic flow. Then set up alerts when that flow deviates from the norm -- and you may catch data being exfiltrated from your network.
Encryption by default. Processing power has become so abundant that sensitive data can be encrypted at rest. The bad guys may be able to steal it, but they can't do anything with it.
Again, all these security measures spin cycles that could be applied to more competitive endeavors that please customers and drive revenue. That's why senior management needs to enforce their implementation and penalize those who fail to comply. It's a lot better than picking up the pieces after a horrific data breach.
Long live the federation
While technology decision-making has become more decentralized, security isn't the only area where central control still plays an important role.
The great risk of decentralized IT is a balkanized organization. It's one thing to empower people at the line-of-business or developer level to choose the technology they need to serve customers best. But if they're creating their own data stores in the cloud without considering how that data needs to be consilidated, or building systems that are redundant with others, or signing disasterous contracts with providers...then the agility of decentralization descends into chaos.
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