Security Manager's Journal: A reality check for the department's maturity

An assessment of the information security department shows that it still has a lot of growing up to do.

I thought I was a security adolescent, but I'm really just a toddler.

Trouble Ticket

The CIO wants all departments to assess their maturity.Action plan: Find an appropriate maturity model, measure the department and then plan how to do better next year.

Many IT managers can probably tell from that statement that I have been looking into maturity models. I did that at the request of our CIO, who asked all of his department managers to develop a maturity model and identify where we are. Perhaps the topic came up at a conference he attended, but no matter; I had never assessed the maturity of my department at my current company.

My first step was to turn to the Internet to try to find the maturity model that could best help me measure our security program against industry standards. I wanted something that would let me communicate the level of our security maturity in one slide.

I soon found that there are a lot of models to choose from. They range from the complex, requiring lengthy calculations and surveys, to the fairly simple.

Taking into account time and resources, I chose the Gartner Security Maturity Model, making a few modifications of my own. The Gartner model segments maturation into phases: Blissful Ignorance (or what I call the initial phase), Awareness (or the developmental phase), Corrective Action (or the define and manage phase) and Operational Excellence (or the optimized phase). According to Gartner, about half of all companies are in the Awareness phase, and only 5% ever reach Operational Excellence. In other words, most companies know where their weaknesses are but are not yet taking action to correct them.

As I worked my way through the questions that Gartner provides to help clients position themselves on the maturity scale, it became painfully obvious that my security program is not as advanced as I had thought.

Sure, we've spent a lot of money deploying some of the standard buzzword technologies: SIEM, DLP, NAC, file encryption, IPS, content filtering, multifactor authentication, spam filtering, endpoint protection. I have developed a comprehensive set of policies based on ISO 27001 and created awareness training as well as various procedures and processes. But with many of these technologies, we are still in our infancy in terms of capabilities, coverage, deployment and user acceptance.

For example, while we have deployed data leak prevention technology (that's the "DLP" in the list above) to detect when key documents leave the company, we have not enabled prevention or blocking features; we can monitor but not prevent. We also lack network sensors in every office, leaving gaps in coverage. Then there's our network access control (NAC) deployment. We have rolled that out only to large offices -- and not even to all of those -- and we currently monitor only for devices connected to the network. We haven't yet enabled the enforcement of NAC, since we're still tuning the deployment and dealing with exceptions and other challenges related to mobile devices and nonstandard systems.

On the other hand, some of our security technologies are fully mature. Our firewalls have intrusion prevention enabled and actively block malicious traffic. We also enable URL filtering on our firewalls to block access to sites that represent legal or security risks.

But when I step back and evaluate our security landscape, I realize that we're still very much in what Gartner calls the Awareness phase -- in fact, my honest assessment is that we're in the lower quadrant of that phase. My goal for 2013 is to accelerate the security program by enforcing policies, and thereby move us closer to joining that magical 5% of companies that have achieved Operational Excellence. For now, that's a pipe dream, but it's a worthy goal.

This week's journal is written by a real security manager, "Mathias Thurman," whose name and employer have been disguised for obvious reasons. Contact him at

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