When security staffers fail up

Containing the painfully unqualified or essentially overwhelmed

Think your security staffers are trustworthy? Competent? Knowledgeable? Ask a security professional for horror stories and you might think again.

Here's one from Kevin McDonald, executive vice president at managed services provider Alvaka Networks, a member of the national board of directors of the American Electronics Association and author of several books on cybersecurity. A construction company client of his had a senior IT person who was also in charge of security. Somehow, this head of security convinced the firm's owner that it would be cheaper to store the company's employee databases at his home, where he had fiber-optic lines already installed, rather than store those databases off-site.

You can see this one coming from a mile away: A conflict arose between employee and employer. Before you could say "internal threat," the head of security was sending threatening e-mails to the construction firm's customers, telling them that he had their private information.

The action "fundamentally put this guy out of business," McDonald says, reducing the construction company's contracts by some 70 per cent. It took six months to shut the rogue employee down, given that -- of course -- he was an authorized user. Only when the employee threatened, publicly, online, to use the data in an illicit manner, was the FBI in Los Angeles able to enter the employee's home -- after the employee had already built a site and lain plans to put some hurt on his former employer.

It's a worst-case security scenario of hiring a nut case. Unfortunately, the security sector isn't immune from bozos, incompetents or know-nothings, whether in their midst or passing down decrees from above. Indeed, security pros are less likely to be judged on the merits of their output than are, for example, code jockeys. What gets in the way can be politics, bad luck, misguided C-level execs, out-of-control consultants, lack of communication, isolation from other parts of the business, blind faith in certifications or simply the difficulty of getting rewarded for what doesn't blow up.

And that's just a partial list.

But take heart. Good companies can weather bad apples in security. Herein, an outline of common security weak sisters, along with the tools on how to cut them off at the knees.

Bundled badness

At this moment somewhere in corporate America, security staffers are cursing their C-level execs for foisting on them bundled junk. Here's how it works: Salespeople from the big guys -- be it Symantec, Trend Micro, McAfee or CA -- come in and propose to a C-level executive that, for an entire organization, they'll provide a package that does desktop antivirus, e-mail security, intrusion detection and Web filtering, all for US$38 per seat.

What's wrong with that picture? "At that point, you've commoditized those critical parts of the security infrastructure," says the head of a security software vendor who requested anonymity. "The problem is, the perception of C-level execs is that security is a commodity. One is the same as the other."

It's not that those vendors aren't good. It's just that they're not good at everything. Symantec AV has a stellar reputation, for example, but some security professionals consider its antispam functionality to be less than best of breed.

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