October 18th, 2017
Ed Snodgrass, CISO, Secure Digital Solutions
This article was originally posted on Forbes .

Virtually everyone wants to be healthier. Good health and fitness provide a multitude of benefits. Better quality of life, increased energy, sharper mental focus and lower risk of malady are but a few. But it takes work to enjoy the benefits. A four-hour marathoner won’t suddenly become a three-hour marathoner simply by acquiring the newest running shoe. It takes planning, discipline and execution, and there are countless obstacles lurking to derail you in your attainment of your goal — both known and unknown.

Ironically, this scenario also applies to an organization’s information security program. A mature and effective program empowers staff, allows for more effective enablement of the business, increases threat awareness and response, and lowers the risk of negative front-page exposure. However, like the marathoner example, simply purchasing the latest security technology won’t guarantee good security health and fitness. It takes the same planning, discipline and execution, as well as the same willingness and ability to overcome obstacles.

Here are eight steps to create an effective information security protocol in the form of a health and fitness plan:

Take inventory. Regardless of where you want to be, a good fitness plan starts with where you are today and an honest assessment of current capabilities. Perhaps it’s a body fat measurement or a VO2 test. A mile time or a max bench press. An evaluation of eating and sleeping habits. Whatever the assessment type, diligence and candor are critical. The same goes for the state of a security program. What are the program’s current capabilities, its level of expertise, the usable technologies available today? Honesty is the key. If a security program’s third-party management capability may not be where it should be, then it’s a baseline of current capability.

Set goals. This could be anything from dropping a few pounds to completing a full Ironman. Goals should be multifaceted. Along with determining the desired outcome brings the analysis of what it will take to get there based on the results of the initial inventory. Shaving an hour off a marathon time, for instance, will require a training plan with a schedule and a certain level of effort. So too will reducing vulnerabilities in a company’s critical infrastructure, lowering the time to respond to a security incident and complying with the newest data privacy regulations. Determining what an organization needs to accomplish from a security perspective should be the focus.

Execute. The fitness plan may call for a 1,000-meter swim on Monday, but there’s an errand to run, a call to make or it’s simply been a long day. There are countless roadblocks that could derail a detailed plan, and some truly can’t be avoided. However, most can. It’s oftentimes an attractive proposition to get security “quick wins” by acquiring a new tool or by making a short-term change in direction. In some cases, these actions are mandatory. But not in most. Plan the work and, more importantly, work the plan. It’s consistency that produces results.

Monitor progress. This is straightforward. As the work on a plan progresses, health and fitness increase as demonstrated by the metrics. Mile times get better, pounds come off and performance improves. Similarly, success on the security front will bring progress, too. The clusters on the risk heat map transition from red to yellow to green, malware infections decrease, code quality gets better, significant compliance deficiencies are remediated, etc.

Adjust. At this point, there should be enough data to track alignment to goals. For a triathlete, it may be time to adjust the cycling schedule because that appears to be the weakest area — more hill training or longer distances. Some areas in the security plan may need adjustment as well. Perhaps risk management is improving and with it, security’s visibility of an enterprise. Because of this, more focus may be required on data loss prevention, for example, to reach security performance milestones.

Accomplish the first goal. Run the first 10k, shoot the first sub-90 round of golf, drop the first five pounds. For a security program, it may be achieving compliance, reduction of significant risk in an area or reducing online fraud by a certain percentage.  Whatever the first goal is — accomplish it.

Celebrate. Enjoy the fruits of labor and appreciate all who contributed.