Future-Proofing Your Information Security Strategy

“Your future takes precedence over your past. Focus on your future, rather than your past.”

—Gary Ryan Blair


This blog post doesn’t focus on data loss prevention (DLP); it is about security in general. I don’t often write about the broader topic of Information Security because there are large portions of the security space that I am not involved in. However, after much thought, I feel obligated to share some ideas with the larger Information Security community, and specifically Information Security leaders inside of organizations, about what I believe the future will hold.

My responsibilities require me to travel the world and talk to a lot of people. I hear business leaders expressing growing concern at their ability to protect their information and their businesses in the face of seemingly overwhelming security threats. My response is to offer a take on the message that Gary Ryan Blair expresses in the quote above: Don’t look to past paradigms to protect your business. Instead, focus on what’s ultimately important—and within your control—as you move into the future.


Information Security in a World Without Boundaries

Information Security professionals I talk to readily admit that the “perimeter”—that imaginary protective wall around a business and its data—is dissolving. One major driver of this dissolution is the fact that we already live in a hybrid world today. Very few organizations store and use their data 100% on premises and very few are 100% in the cloud. As a result, on-premises security and cloud security are equally important today.

However, digital transformation has progressed to the point where the key question about data has changed. Instead of asking what data will go to the cloud and what will stay on premises, we should ask how long it will be before the majority of organizations don’t operate data centers at all.

Despite the wide recognition of this shift, organizations still try to apply perimeter concepts to a world without boundaries. For example, some organizations are deploying firewalls inside of Amazon Web Services. Why?


A Fundamental Shift: Different Operations, Different DLP

It’ my job to look into the future—and the future holds some revolutionary innovations. Consider the concept of quantum computing offers orders-of-magnitude more processing power than any binary system ever could because a single qubit can operate in 256 distinct states, whereas a traditional bit has only 2. The potential power of this type of computing is staggering.

However, most organizations will never own a quantum computer; the operating environments for this type of technology will be prohibitively expensive for most data centers, so it’s likely that the primary model for quantum computing will be Quantum Computing as a Service (QCaaS). Pair that with the rapid growth of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) that we’re already seeing, and it’s not hard to envision a world where all workloads are elastic and rented rather than static and purchased—and where the only organizations that own data centers are global governments and cloud services providers.

Many paradigms will change if such a world comes to fruition, but it is the most efficient way to operate and distribute resources. The shift will restructure many capital markets—and it will also challenge many security models.


Re-Thinking the Model for Critical Asset Protection

The Cyber Security Hub published this graphic detailing the disciplines of security and describing the products that fall into each bucket.

Mission Critical Assets

This model is helpful for understanding how we have navigated a crowded and confusing information security landscape. However, it is also useful for examining the future of security—and weeding out the sections we can no longer control.

  • If you accept the premise that in the future you will rent computing power rather than own it, you will completely lose the ability to deploy the perimeter technologies in the purple section.
  • Since you also won’t own the network, all of the blue section goes away as well.
  • The rise of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies also renders the gold section obsolete to an extent because if you encourage your employees to use their home devices, or if they do so for convenience, it becomes difficult to exert control over those devices.
  • For Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, which are still the majority of cloud services, you will lose the red section as well—unless you use IaaS, in which case you will maintain that layer of protection.

What are you left with? Outside of policy management and limited operations, you are left with control over your data. If you look inside the teal bubble, you also have control over who you allow to access that data and the resources you rent.

Therefore, in this world, all that matters are people and data.

For those of us who are passionate about the importance of Information Security, the scary part of this new model is that most security strategies focus on the purple, blue, gold, and red sections—the sections that I don’t think organizations will control in the future I am describing.


What Really Matters in the Future—and What to Do Now?

I firmly believe we are moving at an accelerated pace towards the future I have described. I can’t realistically predict exactly when we will get there. When skeptics express doubts about the pace of the digital transformation, I ask them a simple question: “What trends are you seeing that suggest a massive move back on premises for services that have gone to the cloud?”

I just don’t see that trend going backwards. The elasticity, flexibility, and reduced barriers to entry into markets offered by cloud services is too appealing to ignore, especially for smaller and mid-market businesses, which still form the majority of the economy. I cannot imagine a new business starting today and borrowing capital to build out a data center. It would be difficult to imagine not utilizing SaaS and IaaS when those options allow you to be up and running in days instead of months or years.

Information Security leaders should start pivoting now to emphasize the two elements of security that are not likely to be diminished: people and data.

  • Design security programs with strong identity and access management (IAM)
  • Invest in multifactor authentication (MFA) and identity governance.
  • Understand how to implement Zero Trust Architecture and know how you will enforce the principle of least privilege (POLP) and need to know.
  • Gain an understanding for what data you have, what you must protect to establish international regulatory compliance, and what you should protect to minimize risk to the organization.
  • Invest in technologies now that allow you to secure Platform as a Service (PaaS), SaaS, and IaaS.

Most important, begin re-skilling your workforce to address the problems of the future. It’s fine to maintain your legacy systems like Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM), firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention services (IDS/IPS), and endpoint protection, but don’t make those the center of your strategy. If you do, you’re likely to see diminishing security efficacy over time.


We Can’t Face the Future of Information Security with Yesterday’s Tactics

If there’s one thing digital transformation should have taught us so far, it is that business is going to move towards innovation, efficiency, and mobility as quickly as possible. The advantages the future offers to business are essential to retaining a competitive advantage, and security leaders will not be able to slow or prevent the evolution.

We must prepare now so we can be ready to protect the business as it continues to innovate, rather than being dragged through digital transformation kicking and screaming. It’s time to challenge our thinking and finally accept there is no perimeter and we cannot build a castle. The future of Information Security is asymmetrical, dynamic—and already a reality.


Make the Case for Making the Shift

When it’s time to future-proof your DLP strategy, you may still need to convince your leadership of the value of that change. Download the case study Making the Case for Critical Asset Protection and learn how a major cancer center implemented a Critical Asset Protection Program™ (CAPP) with InteliSecure and gained control of the flow of information inside and outside the organization.

The Proper Role of Cyber Insurance in Enterprise Risk Management

In AT&T’s 2017 Global State of Cybersecurity survey, 28% of respondents saw cyber insurance as a replacement for cyber defenses. Part of the issue is frustration with the apparent lack of effectiveness of cyber spend in reducing the prevalence in incidents, while part of the issue is a desire to make this problem someone else’s problem. But the fundamental issue is actually a misunderstanding of risk management.

Risk Management

One of my favorite similes in Information Security is that risk is like energy, it cannot be created or destroyed, rather, it simply changes forms. Risk has four forms of treatment: acceptance, avoidance, mitigation, and transference. All risk, whether identified or unidentified, falls into one of the four categories. Information Security is a risk mitigation strategy and cyber risk insurance is a risk management strategy. Therefore, if you were to ask me if you should mitigate risk or transfer risk, my answer would be “Yes”. You should do both to varying degrees, and the proper amount of investment in each is dependent on the risk profile of your organization, but asking whether you should do one or the other indicates a misunderstanding of risk and risk treatment. Therefore, even though most readers are likely familiar with the terms defined below, it is clear that understanding of these terms is not ubiquitous.

Risk Acceptance

This is the default strategy. If you were to do nothing at all to identify or treat the risk in your business, risk still exists. Consequently, ignorance of risk is de facto acceptance of that risk. Put another way, in order to apply any risk treatment strategy other than acceptance, the risk must be identified and treated. If risk isn’t identified, the vast majority of risk is automatically accepted. Risk acceptance isn’t necessarily bad, so long as it is identified and consciously accepted by someone who has the authority to accept the level of risk on behalf of the organization. I often tell people that CISOs that get in the business of accepting risk on behalf of the organization are the reason why the average tenure of a CISO is so short. Some minor risk can be accepted by the business units, but risk acceptance is generally the domain of the CEO.

Risk Avoidance

Risk avoidance is sometimes popular in organizations with limited resources because it has no direct cost. This strategy essentially says if something is risky, we will simply not do it. The classic example of Risk Avoidance is turning off USB access for all employees because you are concerned sensitive data will leak. A risk mitigation strategy for loss of sensitive data is to deploy a Data Loss Prevention technology, but those technologies may appear to be expensive to deploy and maintain, so the organization instead chooses to disable a core capability of their organization’s computing environment. While disabling the capability may not have a direct cost, there is often a significant opportunity cost manifested by lost productivity in doing so. Since risk avoidance is generally accomplished by limiting features of the IT environment, risk avoidance or the lack thereof is likely the domain of the CIO. While risk avoidance can be a problem from an opportunity cost perspective, it is often more of a problem when a CIO deploys a change or a technology that deprecates the avoidance of a risk without working with the CISO to mitigate that risk and instead accepts the risk on behalf of the CEO. This is a recipe for disaster that manifests itself time and again.

Risk Mitigation

The entirety of cyber security falls into risk mitigation. Everything the CISO does is a mitigation strategy whether the solutions he or she deploys are people, process, technology solutions or any mix of the three. It is notoriously difficult to quantify risk mitigation as it is hard to quantify what didn’t happen but likely would have happened if a specific control was not in place. However, since risk does not get created or destroyed, it is much easier to quantify accepted or avoided risk. Looking at risk mitigation as movement from one of the other categories allows an organization to quantify risk in their environment and therefore define the benefit of the aggregate of their risk mitigation strategies against their cost.

Risk Transference

Risk Transference is the classic insurance use case. The problem with risk transference is that you can only transfer risk for the direct costs associated with an incident. While this is a minor problem for insurance products like home and auto, it is a major issue for cyber risk insurance given that a full 66% of an average breach in the United States is categorized as an indirect cost. Put another way, if you are one of the 28% of companies that use cyber risk insurance as a replacement for cyber defense, your best case result is that you have transferred 34% of your risk and accepted 66%. In reality, you have likely not identified and transferred all risk factors, so you are likely accepting upwards of 80% of your risk. If you are the CEO and highly risk tolerant, this might be an acceptable strategy, if you are not, you likely don’t have the authority to make such a bold decision. Because risk transference is a strategy that is generally associated with buying down identified risk, it is most often the domain of the CFO.

The Genius of the AND

Jim Collins is an influential author of business philosophy books who has a multitude of quotable sayings, but one of the concepts that he is known for is the tyranny of the OR and the genius of the AND. This is applicable to risk management in a profound way. Those that are asking if they should buy a cyber risk insurance policy OR deploy cyber defenses are asking the wrong question. Essentially, a healthy organization should have Risk Mitigation strategies AND Risk Transference strategies AND Risk Acceptance Strategies AND likely some Risk Avoidance strategies. Ultimately, the quantity of risk and the likelihood that risk materializes are the factors that should go into the calculation of a Risk Transference premium, so it could be argued that Risk Transference should be the final strategy deployed in order to avoid accepting risk that cannot be mitigated or avoided. Unfortunately, too many organizations are trying to finish before they start and leading with the end.


While all four risk management strategies are important to treat risk in an organization of any size, it is important to ensure we do not allow frustration to prevent us from deploying sensible risk mitigation strategies. The truth is there is no easy button. That includes cyber risk insurance. It’s true that cyber risk insurance is a relatively immature market, but regardless of how much it matures, it will always be a part of the equation of how to treat risk and not the answer. Just as light energy and heat energy are inextricably linked, risk mitigation, risk transference, risk avoidance, and risk mitigation will always be components of a sensible risk mitigation strategy. The proportions of each will vary by organization, but they will all be omnipresent. So the answer to the question of whether an organization should buy a cyber insurance policy or build a program to mitigate as much risk as possible, is “Yes!”, and it always will be.

Theft of Intellectual Property Costs More than you Think

Corporate espionage is one of the least understood and most downplayed elements of cyber security. Most people focus on massive breaches involving personal or financial data and that the majority of these breaches are discovered by someone other than the victim organizations. The reason this happens is because the personal data is often sold on illicit marketplaces. Would we ever know the breaches occurred if the information was not sold on the open market? This is the situation that exists in the case of corporate espionage.

According to a recent study commissioned by Bromium unveiled at RSA Conference 2018, cyber crime generates $1.5 trillion per year. If cyber crime were a country, it would have the 13th highest GDP in the world. Based on media coverage and regulations being passed around the world, you would think that regulated data would make up the majority of that revenue, but you would be wrong. Theft of trade secrets and intellectual property accounted for $500 billion dollars or a full third of overall cyber crime, while regulated information accounted for $160 billion or just over 10%.

Back in 2004, a study unveiled at the London Infosecurity Summit indicated that, “more than 70% of people would reveal their computer password in exchange for a bar of chocolate”. The world has changed since then, and most employees are more aware of security in general. Assuming your organization has an access control and entitlement review process, and knows where every copy of critical data is stored, you would not grant access to someone who would trade their password for a candy bar. What if the stakes were much higher? Would your employees trade your secrets for $1 million or $10 million? What if they weren’t asked to actually deliver information or give away their password? What if they were told to simply click on a phishing email and plead ignorance?

A Lack of Awareness

Most organizations use regulation compliance to fund their data security initiatives. Therefore, most programs have an outsized focus on compliance initiatives rather than objectively valuing the data their organization holds. They don’t perform a risk assessment against that data and prioritize security based on that risk assessment. If theft of trade secrets and intellectual property is three times more economically impactful each year than theft of regulated data, why are organizations so much more concerned with protecting regulated information than intellectual property?

There are likely many reasons for this, beginning with the simple lack of awareness. Most intellectual property thefts are conducted in secret with a buyer or state sponsor identified before the theft occurs. Stolen regulated data is often sold on a marketplace and there are far fewer requirements of an organization to publicly disclose the theft of intellectual property. Regardless of the reasoning, this lack of awareness helps to drive increased intellectual property theft as this information is simply not as well protected as regulated data. In the last seven years I’ve noticed most organizations fund their initiatives through a compliance need and many programs begin with protecting data even when significantly valuable intellectual property is owned by the organization. Many organizations never shift from regulated data protection to intellectual property protection, resulting in more theft of intellectual property.

In actuality, if compliance is the driver for security spending in an organization, that organization’s security team has ceded their organization’s cyber security strategy to lawmakers. That is a truly scary proposition. Lawmakers, in most countries, are not cyber security experts. This is not an indictment of lawmakers. Most of them did something else before they were in government. If you were a doctor and a lawyer who won an election and were suddenly expected to be an expert setting public policy on technology and cyber security, you would likely struggle to become an expert over night as well. Therefore, developing a security strategy driven by compliance means an organization will always be behind the curve and likely unprotected.

Sophisticated Actors and Insiders

Regulated data is generally stolen using commoditized tools and by criminal organizations that range from unsophisticated actors to reasonably sophisticated actors. However, intellectual property is often stolen by well-funded and sophisticated actors who often leverage insiders to bypass externally-facing corporate defenses. Firewalls and deception systems, while very good at making it difficult for a true external actor to find what they are looking for, do not help address the insider threat. Insiders generally know exactly where the data they are looking for is located and, by definition, must be able to access it in order to do their jobs. In order to address the threat posed by these actors it is imperative that organizations monitor the movement of the data itself as well as the behavior of users. Advanced endpoint protection platforms employing machine learning to detect advanced malware are similarly useless against an insider as that person is not likely to deploy malicious code to steal data. The truth is many of the products CISOs are spending their budgets on and their time pursuing are useless against one of the most common tactics used to generate 1/3 of cyber crime’s overall revenue.

The insider threat is an inconvenient truth, we’ve all heard of it and know it exists, but no one wants to believe their friend or colleague is going to act maliciously. The truth is people do. There have been recent high profile cases that illustrate this concept such as Waymo vs. Uber, but it stands to reason that there are many others that are not discovered or never reported. This is certainly not the first time Uber has been accused of stealing intellectual property from their competitors. In fact, a recent article from Marketwatch reports that, according to a lawsuit, “Uber Technologies Inc. operated a clandestine unit dedicated to stealing trade secrets.”

Another article in CNN Money details the story of American Semiconductor. American Semiconductor is a company based in Massachusetts who recently won a lawsuit against its former Chinese partner Sinovel, which was convicted of stealing American trade secrets in a US Federal Court.  The short version of the story is that American Semiconductor began doing business in China with Sinovel as a supplier of components to run wind turbines in 2007. In 2011, Sinovel did not pay American Semiconductor outstanding invoices and canceled orders that were ready to be shipped. Upon investigation, it was revealed that an employee at an American Semiconductor subsidiary was offered $2 million to turn over American Semiconductor’s source code for its wind turbine control software. There were even Skype conversations uncovered between the bribed employee and Sinovel telling Sinovel that once they had this source code that they could separate from American Semiconductor. American Semiconductor had a stronger than average security program to protect against attacks from the outside, however, the failure to monitor user behavior and data with respect to trusted insiders, nearly cost them their company.

Think of all of the people inside your organization who have access to critical intellectual property and trade secrets. Not just the few in the middle of the inner circle, but every person involved in storing, processing, or transmitting that information. Assuming the concepts of least privilege and need to know are enforced, this is still likely to be at least ten people. Most organizations would probably admit that they do not implement least privilege well and very few CISOs would stake their reputation on a bet that there are not overly permissive systems and file shares in their environment. As a result, in most organizations, there are more users that can access information than there are users that absolutely must in order to perform their job functions. As a result, privilege misuse, or users accessing data they have no legitimate need to access and then leaking that data, is the second most common incident type in Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report. It accounted for over 20% of total incidents in 2017 and is therefore the most common method through which data is breached, ahead of more publicized incident types like crimeware (#3) or payment card skimmers, which are often talked about, but are by far responsible for the fewest incidents. Due to the fact that most organizations do not implement and maintain stringent access control policies, and most organizations employ relatively flat, non-segmented networks, think of the number of people in your organization who could potentially access such critical information.

Fredrik Lindstrom, Manager CIO Advisory at KPMG, was quoted in a CIO magazine article saying, “Network segmentation, or splitting a network into sub networks, is the best way to phase out outdated security approaches. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most neglected parts of a cyber security program, because most organizations believe network segmentation is too complex and cumbersome.”


In the face of these odds, how can an organization possibly protect themselves? They could start by monitoring the data that matters most and also analyze the behavior of users and credentials against baseline behavior. No data theft can happen without a change in behavior of the data and the user. This is true whether the threat is external, a zero-day exploit, or a trusted insider. The problem is, this requires an organization to admit that the insider threat is real, could affect them, and commit to the hard work required to protect their critical data assets. People naturally gravitate to easy solutions such as technologies that can be deployed with little thought or attention. Fewer people want to do the hard work of building a program to protect critical data and address insider threats.

While it is unpopular to admit that your friends and neighbors may be the people most likely to put critical data at risk, and far more difficult and time consuming to build a security program that takes critical data assets and user behavior monitoring and analytics into account, the consequences for not doing so can be catastrophic. American Semiconductor is not alone, there are many other cases like it that never end up in court and never publicly disclosed. This silence is part of the problem with awareness about these types of challenges. There is hope, however. I have many stories that I cannot share due to confidentiality agreements where properly built and maintained security programs thwarted similar attempts to steal and capitalize on intellectual property theft. These things are happening. Don’t ignore the facts. It’s time to protect your organization. You don’t need to wait for the government to tell you that you must.

Automating Cross-Platform Intelligence – The Next Evolution in Security Technology

Join InteliSecure, Forcepoint CISO Allan Alford, and Forcepoint VP of User & Data Security, Guy Filippelli, for a breakfast briefing highlighting cross-platform intelligence at RSA 2018. Learn more here.

RSA 2018 will undoubtedly include a raft of announcements related to new point products or new capabilities from existing products. In fact, for the past decade or so, the major disruptions in the technology space have come from start-up companies introducing new functionality in the form of point products. Most of those start-ups either diversify their portfolios to the point they can reach an IPO or they are acquired by large general security technology providers like Symantec or McAfee. This has led to the proliferation of a wide array of security products in many enterprises that have complimentary capabilities but do not integrate well with each other, even when they are owned by the same company.

As a result, we have seen vendor fatigue and the challenges posed by swivel-chair analysis; analysis done by personnel having to move from one security component to another to try and identify patterns and truly understand what is going on within their IT environment. This vendor fatigue, combined with a global shortage of qualified security personnel, has led to demand in the marketplace for security platforms rather than a collection of point products. We are starting to see the marketplace demand platforms that not only integrate well with other security products inside the vendor’s portfolio, but also products provided by innovative startups.

However, integration of point products with each other is often still limited to simply seeing cross-platform information through a “single pane of glass”. While this is a positive development, gathering intelligence from one product and applying lessons learned to another technology has largely been a human-driven effort. This can be seen especially around integrating User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA) with other security technologies such as Data Loss Prevention (DLP). Given the talent shortage, companies either struggle with the ability to truly correlate this information in an intelligent way, or they are forced to turn to a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP) like InteliSecure to fill the gaps and become the connective tissue these security technologies lack. Although many of these MSSPs possess the expertise to execute programs in this fashion, relying on human correlation is expensive and time consuming. Decisions cannot be made in real time and there is always a lag time between information being gleaned from one technology and applied to another.

The future of security technologies is automation. Not necessarily automation of response, although orchestration and automation technologies are compelling, but rather automating the intelligence being gained from one platform and applied to another. Today’s tools are able to provide insights into risky an anomalous behavior when it comes to data protection, but the forensic nature in correlating internal and external activities to identify threats can often take hours, weeks or months. New platform-based integration and intelligence will be able to identify threats quickly and effectively, without the delays seen today.

At the beginning of this blog was an invitation to a breakfast briefing being held at RSA 2018. Forcepoint is one organization building a comprehensive security platform that automates intelligence from different sources and a leading innovator in Data Security and User Behavior Monitoring. They will be announcing significant innovations on the Tuesday at the conference. The briefing during breakfast on Wednesday will let you see the innovations in action as well as allow you to ask questions of their CISO and members of their development team.

Properly Framing the Cost of a Data Breach with Executives and Boards

The origin of this blog was actually my research into building a rock-solid, indisputable return on investment (ROI) model for security programs and initiatives. However, the focus changed as I began poring over statistical models and global research to stitch together all of the elements I would need in order to weave together an amazing ROI tapestry. What I initially found, and what prompted this post, was a stagnant view of the costs associated with data breaches. A view that people often process data breach costs as being linear in nature and that ignores various inflection points that trigger a worsening of the overall situation faced by an organization. A view that does not properly frame the conversation as to how data breaches actually affect an organization monetarily.

There is a lot of research, including Ponemon’s annual Cost of a Data Breach study, which does a good job of quantifying the average cost of each record lost across a large sample of records, and provides some really interesting information across multiple countries related to the difference between direct and indirect costs of a breach. It is a must-read for me every year as soon as it is released. However, the challenge with leveraging current cost of a data breach reports with the organizations I work with is that this type of research, when applied, would yield a graph of breach cost by size that is linear in nature.

Chart 1: Sample chart of data breach costs as intimated by today’s cost of breach studies; numbers are arbitrary for illustration purposes.

My experience has shown that such a graph does not reflect reality. It’s far too simple. There are at least two major inflection points that aren’t accurately identified. The inflection points not identified in linear charts represent the escalation of awareness surrounding an organization’s breach.

All breaches will incur a minimum cost related to identification and remediation, essentially a minimum cost of entry. This entry point is followed by a flattening curve until the size of the breach hits its first inflection point. There are two additional thresholds that may cause a second and even a third inflection point. These thresholds relate to general public awareness and press coverage. The trigger for a second inflection point is where security nerds like myself pay attention, start talking about it, start writing about it, and begin using it as examples in presentations, podcasts and blogs. A third inflection point is triggered when a breach becomes big enough news that it hits the mainstream and everyone becomes aware of it. You can use different logical tests to determine whether a breach has hit mainstream, but I like the non-technical family member test. This is when my least security-minded or technically inclined family member or relative starts asking me about a breach. At that point, I know it is a mainstream event.

The existence of the inflection became apparent as I was reading an entertaining report in USA Todayabout the top 20 most hated companies in the United States. As I scrolled up the list from the bottom, I passed Harvey Weinstein’s company, airlines who beat and bloodied their passengers and companies who have had various public relations disasters. In the number one spot I found Equifax.  It should be noted that Experian and TransUnion were not on the list, so one can assume that the respondents did not have some irrational vendetta against credit reporting agencies who may have contributed to them being declined for credit cards, car loans, home loans, etc. Equifax is the most hated company in America because of a data breach. Another article was about how Equifax, as a publically traded company, had lost 31 percent of their marketplace capitalization totaling over $5 billion, a measure of the value of their company, since the breach. That is a ridiculous cost. (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/equifaxs-stock-has-fallen-31-since-breach-disclosure-erasing-5-billion-in-market-cap-2017-09-14)

Another fun research project you can do to start looking at the costs of data breaches that indicate inflection points that increase the cost of a data breach relates to Target. If you review Target’s top line sales in Q3 the year of the breach and Q3 the year after, you will see a decline in sales of more than $1 billion, or 20%, in an industry sector that actually grew during the same period. While the initial breach potentially only occurred over a set period of time, the organization is still feeling the effects much further out.

Both of these examples and subsequent inflection points indicate general awareness, from the initial discovery by the organizations, to industry insider knowledge, to general public awareness and eventual broad media coverage. One can also assume that if an organization does not properly disclose, does not know the extent of a breach, or isn’t forthcoming with information to the public, the additional negative publicity will increase the indirect costs related to a breach.

The real chart for the cost of a data breach in my experience (numbers again used for illustrative purposes) looks more like the following.

Chart 2: Sample chart of data breach costs as they actually happen.

  • Inflection Point 1: Security incident becomes more widely known
  • Inflection Point 2: Security incident hits the mainstream
  • Inflection Point 3: Ongoing media coverage and remediation

If a CIO, CISO or other person responsible for maintaining data security is only providing damages associated with a cost per record to the rest of the executive team, the executive team or board may not be thinking about, or be able to visualize, how different types of incidents would monetarily affect the organization. To do so, you must account for different categories of incidents and what the inflection points represent. A minimal event, which won’t gather any attention outside the organization, and are often accidental, and can be significantly reduced from happening by utilizing commonly available security tools. Minimal events, depending on the industry, may not be required to be reported externally.

The second type of event is one that contains more records and will gather attention of people like myself, but not necessarily the mainstream press. This category is where organizations start to evaluate brand impact and public relations activities, and where the cost per record starts to increase. An example of this is Deloitte. Most security professionals are familiar with the Deloitte breach, but most non-security people, unfortunately, couldn’t give you much, if any, detail about the breach. The final category is a breach that would make the nightly news and have a major impact on enterprise value. The majority of companies in the world do not even have enough data to have a breach rise to this level, however, for those that do, there are few security expenses that are not justified if they can materially impact the likelihood of such an event occurring.

I am not laying this out to say that companies should hide incidents from their clients, but to illustrate that costs associated with events are not equal, or follow a linear path. The type of incident, its size, overall impact, and the mitigation process all affect the actual cost of a breach. While this is not the fully built ROI model I had hoped to present, I hope this post helps frame the conversation properly with executive teams and boards you may interact with. It is frustrating when all of the conversations revolve around cost per record when it is really not that simple. It’s equally frustrating for security vendors to come into client environments waving the banner of Equifax, Target, or GDPR to try to scare executives into action.

As a security professional, I strongly believe the work we do is vital for individual property rights which does no less than preserve the way of life associated with capitalism and individual freedom. I also believe that well-crafted security programs intelligently designed to mitigate the right types of risk are a good investment. If you accept both of those statements as true, we must spend more time trying to build and perfect realistic investment models and less time cheapening our mission by sowing seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt. All of that starts with calculating the true cost of a data breach. Now, back to building that ROI model I alluded to.