A 'whac-a-mole' approach to security

Current cybersecurity threats and responses are explored.

If you've ever played the silly, maddening game known as "Whac-A-Mole," you know what futility feels like. As you smack one mole with the mallet, up pops another one. Their speed and number escalates as you flail away, trying to keep up. At some point, you realize there's no hope of winning.

It's hard to imagine more appropriate imagery for our cover story ("Moving Target") about the widespread frustration with mounting cybersecurity threats and the lack of an effective U.S. government response. CTO Daniel Mintz of consulting firm CSC aptly describes the feds' "Whac-A-Mole security" approach as one where long-term strategy takes a back seat to daily tactical responses.

There are certainly high hopes for President Obama's sharpening focus on cybersecurity. But we're still at the flailing-away stage of this game. Even with at least three dozen federal mandates, laws and regulations governing IT security around critical infrastructure, no one feels safe from the potential of computerized attacks taking down electricity grids, subways, banks or even weapons systems.

"I can't think of anyone with real knowledge of what's going on who would say he feels confident in our ability to defend ourselves," says John Gilligan, former CIO of the U.S. Air Force. Now a respected security consultant, Gilligan has created a set of 20 pragmatic guidelines for defending digital infrastructure.

Gilligan's everyday controls are highly useful as a risk-management review of best practices in monitoring IT systems and network security (full details here).

Also well worth your time in this issue is "The Business of IT", a new column by Albert R. Eng, a former CIO from the private equity world who now advises companies on IT strategy and finance. In "What Your Budget Really Means," Eng candidly spells out why your IT budget should be structured into just three categories of projects (strategic, deferred and lights-on).

Finally, I have one more assignment for you: Go away. Take that overdue vacation. As our experts advise in "Wish You Weren't Here" (my favorite headline of 2009 so far), CIOs need to set a healthy example by taking time off to regroup, refresh and renew.

So go, enjoy yourselves. The moles will keep.

Do you Tweet? Follow me on twitter @maryfranjohnson. Follow everything from CIO Magazine @CIOMagazine.

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