Last week I visited a customer and was greeted by two people who introduced themselves, respectively, as the “Chief Information Security Officer” and the “Chief IT Security Officer.” Yes, they had two separate functions for this, one to secure information, and one to secure IT. This immediately seemed like something that would be logical for many organizations. The threats to the infrastructure are obviously different to the threats to the information itself, especially when your business is based on providing one or both to customers.
This stirred me to think more about something I have been mentioning in many of my recent presentations: where does Infosec (both IT and Information for ease of discussion) belong organizationally? When I spoke to a bank recently I asked them where Risk Management sits organizationally and they mentioned there was a VP in charge of that, but that Infosec was sitting in the IT department.
I am not sure I have the right answer about how to structure organizations, but I am pretty certain that putting Infosec under IT causes certain problems. As far back as the Fundamental Tradeoffs article, and even further, I have made the argument that security and IT management are fundamentally two different disciplines. IT management has as a primary objective to make the technology work, to be transparent to people, to ensure the information is simply there when users want to use it. All of those can be summed up in the phrase “to stop the phone from ringing.” Any IT manager knows that he phone usually does not ring when things are working; it only rings when something is broken.
Security is, obviously, about restricting access to things. As far as the business is concerned, Infosec provides no intrinsic value. Spending money on Infosec is done to ensure that nothing happens. Success is measured by the absence of events, which could of course be because the efforts of the Infosec folks were successful, or simply because there were no events at all; or possibly because we failed to notice. IT at least provides a valuable business function that is tangible in its absence. The absence of any benefits from the spend on Infosec may be attributed to something extrinsic to the Infosec group; and the benefits are extremely difficult to quantify a priori
This inherent conflict of objectives has been acknowledged before, most famously in the “Confidentiality/Availability/Integrity” triad. However, I would argue that the “Availability” dimension was added by IT management, not by the security folks, because it goes entirely counter to the other two dimensions. Those other two dimensions are best achieved by reducing availability, first to illegitimate users, and then to legitimate users to avoid a spill-over of information to the illegitimate ones. In fact, the CIA triad reflects the historical perception that Infosec somehow belongs in IT. I don’t think that is correct, at least not any longer, but maybe it never were.
So why am I writing this? I am writing it because I would like to stir some debate about where Infosec belongs. I think it should sit wherever Risk Management sits (which of course means the organization needs a Risk Management group to start with). The whole purpose of Infosec is risk management. The group that has risk management as its responsibility has oversight ability, it has the skills to assess and quantify risk, and it has a mandate to influence other groups. That group also does not have to be restricted by pecuniary and functional concerns that restrict the service delivery organizations. Infosec obviously needs a deep relationship with IT, but also with other groups. I have seen far too many organizations that have caved to the pressures of service delivery or inaccurate vendor claims and implemented extremely bad security architectures. Invariably, the Infosec folks at the table were too few, too restricted by the organizational structure, too confined in a career dependent on service delivery and not security, and too worried about rocking the boat politically to put a stop to the problems.
Freeing Infosec from IT would allow IT to focus on delivering IT services, and it would allow Infosec to make itself heard and not be voted down by a much larger service delivery constituency in the mainstream IT group.