Friday, 15 January 2010

Pragmatic Approach to Security

When dealing with security, we must be pragmatic. The resources that an organisation can dedicate to security are limited in terms of time, staff, budget, expertise, etc. Also, perfectly secure systems do not exist - accidents, attacks and penetrations will happen in the end, so plan to deal with them at the outset. Recovery after a breach must be just as much of the planning as the mitigation of the breach in the first place. We all insure our cars, hoping never to call on it, and then try desperately to avoid having any accidents, getting the car stolen or vandalized. However, in the end, a lot of us will end up claiming on the insurance at some point, no matter how careful we are. The same is true of security.



We have to see the bigger picture and align the use of resources with the company's mission. There comes a point when a small amount more security costs a lot more money, time, management effort and is much less user-friendly. Wouldn't it impact the business less if we take the hit and recover quickly and smoothly? Often the answer is yes. We have to find the optimal solution for that particular organisation. The graph above shows that as we increase the security of our system the cost associated with breaches of security comes down, as we have fewer breaches. However, this cost will never be zero, as we will always have breaches. Indeed, breaches may still cost a lot of money but, hopefully they will be few and far between. Conversely, as our security increases, the cost of our countermeasures goes up. Therefore, the total cost will decrease with more security initially, then increase again as the countermeasures become increasingly expensive for less and less improvement to security.

These curves and the overall graph will be different for each organisation. The point I'm trying to make is that we should accept that there is no perfect security, do the best job we can, given the resources allocated, and plan for how we will recover from any breaches in security, be they minor or major. The problem comes when deciding what assets should be given priority and what is the best allocation of resources for a specific organisation. This is where security risk assessments come in. For more about security assessments and risks, see my previous post.

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