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Strategic Assets

Your organization depends on information technology to access critical information and promote communications and coordination among groups inside and outside the organization. In other words, information technology is a strategic asset vital to your organization's viability. It's essential to build a secure information technology infrastructure and manage it with well-deployed processes and tools.

Effective Security Programs

A secure information technology infrastructure depends on effective security programs that must be integrated, dynamic, and support high service levels. This means that users have reliable and timely access to data and applications—but don't have to deal with and understand obscure underlying security technologies and procedures.

For your organization to adapt and survive in a fast-paced international and competitive environment, it also depends on a security program that's adaptable. An effective security program is dynamic, flexible, and extensible, so it changes as your organization and its environment change. The security program must support current requirements as well as future enhancements and be able to change as user requirements and technology change.

Since information technology is a strategic asset, it must be secure. A secure information technology infrastructure has the levels of availability, confidentiality, and integrity that your organization requires to achieve its strategic objectives. This simply means that it is manageable and supports your mission-critical applications and other production systems.

Real Cost of Security

Security is more than a collection of security technologies—it's about managing business, technology, and security-related decisions. Because this can be a complex and costly undertaking, you must design a security program that includes the processes and tools to manage the program.

Although your security architecture undoubtedly has many components—firewalls, scanners, intrusion detection systems, hardened operating systems, access control systems, and so on—the capital costs for the security hardware and software components are only a small portion of the total cost of ownership (TCO). More than 80% of the TCO costs are related directly to the costs for security operations and management. Installing security hardware and software, configuring firewalls, detecting and responding to security incidents, analyzing new technologies, managing system changes, performing backups, adding and modifying user profiles—all are time-consuming and costly activities.

Other high-priced items revolve around issues related to the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of critical data. Depending on the nature of your business, low levels of data availability and integrity caused by downtime, unauthorized access, security administrator errors, or disaster can cost your organization thousands to millions of dollars per hour in lost business activity.

Therefore, an underlying objective for planning, designing, implementing, and managing your security program is minimizing the cost of downtime. The only way to do this is to ensure that your security program supports high levels of availability and security, so that every authorized user has uninterrupted and protected access to critical information and effective communications.

State of Security

The general state of information security in many organizations is dismal. Recent reports and events clearly demonstrate that security efforts are not keeping pace with growing threats. Critical operations and assets are highly vulnerable to attacks that have the potential to cause great damage. With the potential for harmful and disastrous effects increasing, security is a serious matter that has become a leading concern among executives.

Surveys indicate that many organizations don't have formal risk-management processes and security policies—the foundation for any effective security program. Security awareness among staff is low, and many organizations still lack security-related expertise.

While many organizations implement common security technologies, it's not clear that they provide the protection that these organizations expect and really need. It's impossible for any organization to completely eliminate all security risks. An organization can never be completely secure because all security technologies have weaknesses and limitations. While many organizations may acknowledge this fact, they often fail to manage the corresponding risks. For example, well-known penetration systems fail to explore many security technology issues, and completely disregard policies, processes, and facilities, among others. Virus-protection programs are always out of date. Firewalls are directed at outsiders, but do nothing to protect against malicious inside attacks. Most companies still rely on simple user ID and password controls that are ineffective for sensitive systems. And of course all security technologies are subject to human error, failure, and disaster.

Security can be costly, as mentioned earlier. In addition to the cost of hardware, software, and staff, security often disrupts normal operations. For many users, access to information and communications is blocked or delayed. Many security technologies interfere with normal communications and transactions between organizations and their customers, suppliers, and partners.

Without a clear understanding of security threats and their impact on the organization, recognition of security-technology limitations and weaknesses, and awareness of the relationships between security and business operations, organizations cannot implement and manage cost-effective security programs.

Before an organization can begin to improve its state of security, it needs to consider a key security management issue: Why is security in this dismal state and what are the limitations to moving forward? The answer is simple—complexity.

Complexity

Complexity is the greatest obstacle to security. Today more than ever, security professionals are forced to operate in a complex environment in which success is no longer determined by a single factor, such as getting the best firewall or having the right technical skills. Complexity is now the norm, with every aspect of the environment becoming more complex.

Why should we be concerned with complexity? There are many reasons, but the overriding reason has to do with the cost of ownership. If we can't control dependencies, we can't set realistic levels of security, manage risks, allocate resources, and ultimately control costs. We can't ensure that the security program is aligned with the business objectives and control the total cost of ownership.

  • Dependencies and control. Even small IT environments now have many interrelated components. Complexity arises from the interdependencies among these components, which increase exponentially as you add hardware and software to your IT architectures (servers, networks, storage systems, and management systems); upgrade facilities; and expand the scope of security policies, processes, and organizational structures.

    Management and control become critical issues as the IT environment becomes more complex. With millions of interdependencies, many are difficult to identify, some are difficult to understand, and others are outside our control. Security management is a formidable undertaking if we can't understand and control the interdependencies.

  • Multiple technologies. Security professionals are living in a world in which they must deal with many different products from many different sources, deploying and managing them efficiently. Options for implementing security technologies can be overwhelming: scanners, intrusion-detection systems, firewalls, access controls, virus protection, VPNs, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) systems, DBMS access mechanisms, and others.

    Secure computing systems can run on a variety of platforms including UNIX, Linux, OS/400, Mac OS, Windows, OS/390, NetWare, Palm, Java-based devices, and many other alternative platforms. These may be connected through Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, ATM, ISDN, frame relay, xDSL, and many others. Each set of security technologies presents unique deployment, management, and availability challenges.

  • Multiple locations. With the growth of networks comes the challenge of securing computing resources that are physically distant from each other—many outside your domain of control.

  • Rapid change. Anybody who follows the information technology industry can attest to the fact that the rate of new product development is growing exponentially.

We must address the second key security management issue—how we overcome the complexity of managing security. The answer is a comprehensive, structured approach.

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