Show Me the Numbers

You're talking risk; he's talking ROI. You're talking IP theft; he's talking process protocol. Any CSO who has stood in front of a sceptical CEO and talked about security knows how difficult it is to make IT security a priority for corporate decision-makers.

The Security Metrics Consortium, or SecMet, is a new industry group made up of CSOs who are working to define a set of standardized measures to quantify security risk for corporations and software vendors.

The idea is to give CSOs ammunition for the "hallway ambush," says William Boni, chairman of SecMet and CISO of Motorola.

"At the end of the day, every security officer faces the challenge of how to respond to the 'How's our security program going?' question from executive management," Boni says.

Currently, CSOs have access to only a limited amount of data — most of which is taken from their own organizations — and generic security frameworks such as ISO 17799.

SecMet was inaugurated in February at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, an annual gathering of IT security companies. Founding members include Boni, Patrick Heim, vice president of enterprise security for McKesson, and around 12 other CSOs.

SecMet members will identify a set of quantifiable security measurements that can be used to create a security "dashboard" for CSOs and their employers. Members will look for ways to incorporate security-policy compliance into measurements of security risk.

The idea is to develop risk models based on information about the technologies that a company deploys and the interdependencies between those technologies, says Heim.

Given the magnitude of the task SecMet has set for itself, Boni, Heim and others hope to build on risk models already developed by groups such as the US National Institute of Standards and Technology and Carnegie Mellon University.

Boni and Heim aren't sure what SecMet's final product will be, but the ultimate goal is to modify security from a "black-magic art into more of a science," Heim says. For now, the group is working without the help of technology vendors. Security technology companies can observe SecMet meetings or act as advisers to the group. They cannot be active members in the consortium.

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