Christie Terrill on building a high-caliber security program in 90 days

The O’Reilly Security Podcast: Aligning security objectives with business objectives, and how to approach evaluation and development of a security program.

By Courtney Allen
November 22, 2017
CCTV CCTV (source: Pixabay)

In this episode of the Security Podcast, I talk with Christie Terrill, partner at Bishop Fox. We discuss the importance of educating businesses on the complexities of “being secure,” how to approach building a strong security program, and aligning security goals with the larger processes and goals of the business.

Here are some highlights:

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Educating businesses on the complexities of “being secure”

This is a challenge that any CISO or director of security faces, whether they’re new to an organization or building out an existing team. Building a security program is not just about the technology and the technical threats. It’s how you’re going to execute—finding the right people, having the right skill sets on the team, integrating efficiently with the other teams and the organization, and of course the technical aspects. There’s a lot of things that have to come together, and one of the challenges about security is that companies like to look at security as its own little bubble. They’ll say, ‘we’ll invest in security, we’ll find people who are experts in security.’ But once you’re in that bubble, you realize there’s such a broad range of experience and expertise needed for so many different roles, that it’s not just one size fits all. You can’t use the word ‘security’ so simplistically. So, it can be challenging to educate businesses on everything that’s involved when they just say a sentence like, ‘We want to be secure or more secure.’

Security can’t (and shouldn’t) interrupt the progress of other teams

The biggest constraint for implementing a better security program for most companies is finding a way to have security co-exist with other teams and processes within the organization. Security can’t interrupt the mission of the company or stop the progress and projects other IT teams already have in progress. You can’t just halt everything because security teams are coming in with their own agendas. Realistically, you have to rely on other teams and be able to work with them to make sure the security team could make progress either without them or alongside them.

Being able to work collaboratively and to support the teams with your security goals is absolutely critical. Typically, teams have their own projects and agendas, and if you can explain how security will actually help those in the end—they want to participate in your work as well but it’s also integrated. You have to rely on each other.

How to approach security program strategy and planning

The assessment of a security program usually starts with a common triad of people, process, and technology. On the people side, there’s reevaluating the organizational structure—how many people should there be? What titles should they have? What should the reporting structure be? What should security take on itself versus what responsibility should we ask IT to do or let them keep doing?

Then, for processes, there can be a lot of pain points. When we develop processes, including the foundational security practices, we start with the ones that would solve immediate problems to show value and illustrate what a process can achieve. A process is not just a piece of paper or a checklist intended to make people’s lives more difficult—a process should actually help people understand where something is at in the flow, and when something will get done. So, defining processes is really important to win over the business and the IT teams.

Then finally on the technology side, we try to emphasize that you should first evaluate the tools you already have. There may be nothing wrong with them. Look at how they’re being used and if they’re being optimized. Because investing, not just the upfront investment in security technology but the cost to replace that, perhaps consulting cost or churn cost of having to rip and replace, can be very high and can derail some of your other progress. To start, you should make sure you’re using every tool to its fullest capacity and fullest advantage before going down the path of considering buying new products.

Post topics: O'Reilly Security Podcast