Moving in the herd mentality of information security professionals is positive, but can lead to a lack of understanding of risks.
Speaking at 44CON Cyber Security in London, Canon director of information security Quentyn Taylor said that in information security some people are leading, some know where they are going and others break off from the circle around them.
He said: “We move together for protection as no one wants to be on the edge, but we all risk being part of the herd. A herd is a good idea as you can know where it is you are going and it is vital that you know why you’re in it and where you are going.”
Referencing the Dunning-Kruger effect, Taylor said that in our industry there is too much expectation that people will not understand us, and we assume that everyone else can interpret and understand what we are saying.
He said: “How many times have information security people talked about ‘how to get in front of the board’? That is the herd mentality as if you get in front of the board you can explain your issues and hope someone will wave a magic wand and that is not the case, and it is dangerous thinking.”
Taylor asked the audience how many people in the audience participated in board meetings, and few raised their hands, while some more said that they get board meeting minutes. “Often the only board discussions are how to make the company money and save the company money” he said. “If you tell them your woes and plans, when you leave the room they’ll say ‘who was that?’ If you understand that, you know why people do what they want to do.”
Taylor admitted that there is an unusual equation in security where we admit that bad things will definitely happen, as if you are in sales, you only say sell what you are guaranteed to sell. He recommended talking with the appropriate level of risk and listing pros and cons and considering greater risks.
“As an industry we are not doing too badly, but take a step backwards and look at what you are doing and that can make a huge difference,” he said.
“Don’t just take analyst reports and emails from senior executives asking you to create a response. Say no, we need to change it.
“To be a security leader, you need time to think. It is very easy as a security professional to be so busy sitting in the herd that you do not take a view over the industry to ask if messages are relevant or not, and you in your company are the only one who can know the risk appetite.”
He concluded by saying that if you are a CISO or aspire to be one, you’re a leader, and you need to lead. “Being in a herd is good but you need to understand why you’re there, and it is not because you’re told to be or it is an area where you see no competitive advantage in,” he said.
“The other point is take more risks and ask how to take more risks as what is the point of doing business if not. If we are no less secure than our competitors that is the right place to be. If we are more secure, do we have the right competitors?”