Keeping Too Many Cooks out of the Security Kitchen



A good security team helps the business help itself operate more securely — soliciting input while adhering to a unified strategy, vision, goals, and priorities.

I’ve been fond of the idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen” for quite a while now. The Free Dictionary defines the idiom as “Too many people are trying to control, influence, or work on something, with the quality of the final product suffering as a result.” In some sense, this phrase goes hand in hand with another favorite of mine: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

Those of us who are familiar with these sayings are aware of the lesson they aim to teach us. Sometimes, we need to lead. Other times, we need to follow. And still other times, we need to move out of the way of those already engaged in an activity. Knowing when which type of behavior is required is difficult. Here are five ways they apply to security:

Maturation rate: The goal of any security organization should be to continuously mature. For more mature security organizations, this means keeping pace with changing risks and threats and not being lulled into a sense of complacency. For those organizations that are less mature, it provides an opportunity to take a step back, thoroughly assess gaps in the organization’s security posture, and work to address those gaps. In both of these cases, leadership, informed from a variety of sources, needs to set a strategic direction. Responsibility for implementing the different elements of the strategy needs to be delegated to the management within the security organization, and individual team members need to be given clear direction regarding what to execute, along with the requisite resources.

This may sound straightforward, but, perhaps surprisingly, many organizations struggle with this. Lack of clear direction from leadership creates a cacophony of voices weighing in on and trying to affect strategy and vision. Lack of training, skills, or proficiency within the management ranks causes a failure to properly implement the strategy, leading various individual team members to attempt to take charge from the bottom up. Lack of guidance causes team members to overstep bounds or to perform redundant or overlapping activities. Any or all of these indicate that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and this has the effect of slowing down the maturation rate.

Policy: Formal security policies are and have always been an important part of a mature security program. While setting and enforcing policies is important, so is drafting them properly. When drafting policies, it’s important to solicit and incorporate feedback from a variety of sources both inside and outside of the organization. Equally as important, however, is maintaining strong leadership throughout this process. While the feedback and guidance we receive from others is valuable, we cannot allow it to drive the process. That will only stall us — preventing us from progressing as we need to. Take input for what it is — data, not leadership.

Process: Setting up practical, efficient, and productive processes is one of the best ways a security organization can mature. As you might expect, this is easier said than done. While attaining the right processes is in itself a process, there are a few tips that can help make the journey smoother. When designing a process, it helps to have in mind the initial conditions, as well as the desired end state. It is also useful to gain executive, management, and stakeholder buy-in. Lastly, industry best practices, third-party guidance, and expert advice can also come in handy. When leveraged properly, all of these inputs can greatly improve processes. On the other hand, when the inputs begin to drive process, rather than the organization’s vision and strategy, the result is rarely the practical, efficient, and productive process we seek.

Technology: As time marches on, technology changes, often for the better. As such, it makes complete sense to consider new and improved technologies as they prove fit for our respective security programs. The trick with technology is to procure it to address process inefficiencies, programmatic gaps, regulatory requirements, and business needs. The chorus of voices suggesting every which technology under the sun can’t be allowed to drown out the matrixed operational needs of the security organization. Giving in to the noise can steer the security team off course and slow or even harm the maturity of the organization. There is a balance here between soliciting feedback around technology and managing technology procurement in line with the organization’s strategic direction.

Business: The job of the security organization is to reduce and mitigate risk in order to facilitate the business operating as securely as possible within the bounds of accepted risk. There will always be business functions that necessitate accepting a certain amount of risk. That being said, there are often creative ways to reduce and mitigate some or all of that risk without adversely affecting the business. The security organization needs to work with the business, but it also needs to be firm. It can’t be the Department of No, but it can’t be a pushover either. Walking this fine line means understanding, listening to input from, and accepting feedback from the business. It does not mean, however, allowing the business to take the wheel and steer security. A good security team helps the business help itself to operate more securely — soliciting input while adhering to its strategy, vision, goals, and priorities.

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Josh (Twitter: @ananalytical) is an experienced information security leader who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs.  Previously, Josh served as VP, CTO – Emerging Technologies at FireEye and as Chief Security Officer for … View Full Bio

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