As big-data “paupers”, CSOs must identify, work around skills gaps: Schwartz

“Severely understaffed” corporate IT security organisations need to concede that they can't do everything and undertake a realistic assessment of their capabilities before building partnerships with the companies that can, the global head of security operations with Verizon has warned.

Companies need to “stop behaving like you live on an island somewhere, and actually solve the security problem,” Verizon vice president of Global Security Solutions Eddie Schwartz told CSO Australia during a recent visit to Australia.

“There is a lack of security skills around the world, and it really is time for people to stop thinking that security is something they can do by themselves. It is really incumbent on security organisations to do the kind of analysis that lets them decide what they're good at, and what they need help with.”

Schwartz, who supervises the company's global cyber-forensics investigation and research team as well as its cloud-based managed security solutions portfolio, admits the advice may be “a bit self serving” – but warns that the current state of cybersecurity has tilted the balance firmly against CSOs struggling to build internal teams with the breadth and depth of skills necessary to keep up.

“Top companies with deep pockets can afford to pay anything” for skilled IT security experts “and they've got the best and brightest,” he said.

“But then you've got everybody else, who's in this fight to get everybody else that's left. And it's not working out very well because you've got this huge base of criminal activity, nation-state activity, hacktivists, and you name it.”

With a growing hit-list of technological problems posing new security risks and weaknesses being rapidly exploited in devastating fashion, Schwartz believes mounting an overall security posture is an “overwhelming” task that cannot be solved with money alone.

A collaborative response – uniting customers with specialists able to strengthen security defences through the use of capabilities such as security analytics and proactive alerting of new DDoS threats – will help organisations present a unified front, he continued, but warned that continuing closed security practices prevent the free and open flow of information necessary to support such efforts.

“There is an increased rate of innovation in the criminal world,” Schwartz said, “so we need to do the same thing on our side: there are clusters of activity that need to occur and require us to work together in some way.”

“However, if we as vendors continue to behave in ways where we have closed standards and environments, and don't collaborate well with one another, we're going to slow the rate of improvement.”

The use of analytics, in particular, will become increasingly important as the rise of machine-to-machine communications, the Internet of Things, and other emerging trends adds significant heft to the already significant volumes of security data that CSOs' teams must harvest on a regular basis.

“Other businesses, such as those working in fraud or marketing or biotechnology, have been using big data for some time,” Schwartz explained. “But for us in security, we're only finally getting around to it.”

“Historically, we as security people have been paupers in our ability to make use of large amounts of information, and to answer very simple questions like 'show me something I've never seen before'. As we move to technologies like Hadoop, we can ask what might seem like very simple questions of both security and business data – and come to interesting conclusions that could be very powerful in terms of lowering risk.”