Fragmentation, performance pressure bolster agile security case: analyst

Rob Livingstone

Companies need to look past organisational silos to build overall IT security risk profiles that consolidate fragmented security efforts, and the complexity of new hybrid-cloud models is only going to make things worse, a security-industry analyst has warned.

Motivated to change by increasing pressure on IT and business organisations, many organisations are looking towards cloud-computing models for relief, Rob Livingstone, principal of Rob Livingstone Advisory and a fellow with the University of Technology Sydney, told the audience at the recent CSO-NetIQ Agile Security breakfast event.

Organisations are “complex entities with lots of moving parts”, he said, “and the hybrid cloud is complex. In terms of the context of the organisation, systemic risk for enterprises is the silent killer. “It’s often higher than the sum of the individual risks,” he explained, “and it’s also the hardest to identify because very few individuals and functions have a real and profound understanding of the context in which they operate. Putting risks into buckets and categories does not help in identifying enterprise-wide, systemic risk.”

This means an organisation looking towards cloud-based solutions must be particularly cautious about the changing risk profile it introduces, he added: “The metaphor of IT as a cost centre still resonates, and makes cloud a compelling proposition.

“The question is: is this going to trump organisational cost and project management – and can typical governance methodologies withstand the pressure of this sort of demand?”

Companies aiming to make this shift while preserving governance and security controls need to embrace new methods of project management such as agile, which favours repeated, iterative staged processes with continuous improvement over massive top-down efforts.

When applied to security models, agile approaches will allow companies to make the move to the cloud whilst identifying and addressing potential issues as they emerge.

Agile favours clearly-defined deliverables and constant, close-knit communications amongst teams that can focus their efforts far more effectively on addressing issues. “Things can change on a dime,” Livingstone said, “and the ability to adapt a team working on a common objective is really important.”

This is particularly the case in hybrid-cloud situations, where long-standing information structures may be fragmented and distributed between private and public cloud environments. Issues such as forensics and discovery, legislative and jurisdictional responsibilities, contractual requirements, due diligence, identity management, security and business continuity each present their own challenges – which is why agile methodologies are so important to keeping up.

Livingstone offered several tips for those contemplating the best way to effectively manage their migration to the hybrid-cloud model.

First was to adopt an integrated approach to function-specific methodologies so that project management doesn’t evolve separately from the business function: functional heat maps, for example, “are generally a very effective tool to identify where the hotspots in your business are.”

“In and of themselves, standardised, traditional methodologies within specific disciplines – such as project management, Agile and information security – are self-limiting,” he added. “Each discipline is only effective when applied in a coordinated orchestration with the other key moving parts of the organisation.”

Also key, he said, is managing the “conflicting messages” around cloud computing: “develop a mechanism for interpreting these messages in the context of your business,” he advised. “Cloud evangelists see the cloud as imperative, but others not so much.”

Addressing the risks of “inefficient and disconnected processes” is also crucial, as is ensuring that executives and other decision-makers are aware of the long-term risk posed by the models.” Finally, Livingstone advised, there is a need to not “gloss over” the complexity posed by security and other aspects of the cloud migration.

“Senior managers with functional responsibility over specific vertical silos may underestimate the overall complexity of their business as a whole,” Livingston concluded. “Don’t believe that a simple IT solution can paper over underlying business complexity.”

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