Is budget a good metric for security? In other words, if an organization wishes to improve its security, is spending more money an appropriate response? Furthermore, how can an organization ensure that any additional budget it allocates to security is spent wisely?
Talking about an organization’s security program in terms of its budget is something we are quite accustomed to. We often hear people discussing security spending in the context of evaluating an organization’s security posture.
For example, it’s not uncommon to hear statements such as “In an effort to improve its security, the organization has increased its security budget by 30%.” Of course, it goes without saying that a sufficient budget is necessary to accomplish anything.
Additionally, and perhaps quite obviously, it is important to note that larger organizations will need larger budgets to achieve the same level of execution.
What seems to be missing from the discussion, however, is the answer to a slightly different question: Does the organization spend its budget effectively?
A proper budget is indeed necessary, but it’s equally important how the budget is spent. Not every dollar spent will have the same impact on security posture.
Sometimes, we think about budget in a backwards manner. Oftentimes, clients say things like “I need a firewall,” “I need an IDS,” or “I need a DLP solution.”
The security organization will then communicate the business’ need for each of these requirements to the executives and make the case for the required budget accordingly.
If a new requirement arises down the line, the client will request more budget, which it may or may not receive.
The issue with this approach is that a security organization’s respective security programs are not tasked with things like “buy a firewall.”
Just purchasing a network firewall will not stop an attacker from walking into your organization and physically plugging his computer into your network.
Maintenance and having the proper security policies in place is as equally important as having the appropriate equipment.
Take a look at this perspective. You never buy a car just to drive it around aimlessly. It involves proper maintenance and there are always risks that need to be identified each time you’re driving.
You need to mitigate, manage, and minimize risks and that’s essentially what the security organization does. Those risks can then be broken down into realistic and attainable goals and priorities.
Once we look at that list of goals and priorities, we soon realize that we have a framework in which to build our security operations. It is into this framework that we can drop all of our operational requirements.
Each goal generates a set of operational requirements and these spell out the peoples, processes, and products required to meet that specific goal.
It’s worth noting that each operational requirement may take one or more products to address. Similarly, each product may address one or more operational requirement.
While keeping that in mind, it’s possible to quickly build a matrix that will allow security organizations to map and optimize the products that best address the operational requirements.
It will take some time to transform budgetary discussions from product-centric to operation-centric.
However, as executives and boards see the direct correlation between increasing budget and improved security posture, they will be more likely to approve future budgetary increases.
So, getting back to the original question: Is budget a good metric for security? I would say that budget is not a metric at all, but rather a means to address operational security requirements.
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