Program managers need to understand security, panel says

Security experts and program managers often speak in entirely different languages, and there is sometimes no easy way to translate, according to panelists speaking today the Program Management Summit in Washington, D.C.

The panel discussion was titled "The e-Rosetta Stone," a reference to the Rosetta Stone, a tablet which enabled researchers to translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics into Greek, making them understandable to modern linguists. French soldiers discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799. So far, no one has found a similar key to unlock the mysterious language of security for program managers, said panelist Mark Hardy, president of National Security Corp.

But it is imperative that managers understand security, so those who can explain it must keep up their efforts, he said. "In the corporate world, it's all about protecting your brand," he said. "In government agencies, we have to maintain the trust of our citizens."

In a healthy organization, Hardy said, managers and security technologists have a level of trust that allows them to listen to one another. Managers must make a commitment to effective security, he said.

"Compliance is about doing the minimum necessary," he said. "That's not the commitment we're looking for. An organizational commitment is a bit of a culture change."

Executives don't always know what they want security to accomplish, but they know they don't want the bad publicity that comes with a data breach, said panelist Christopher Michael, a technology strategist in Computer Associates International's federal security practice. That fear drives many security decisions, some of which are ill-advised reflexive reactions to events.

To maintain effective security, executives should understand the importance of planning it from the beginning as part of a project, Michael said. "When they build a bank, they don't build and then say, 'You know, it would be nice to have a vault in here,'" he said.

Using such easily understood analogies is one way security technologists can communicate with managers, he said.

He echoed Hardy's emphasis on trust. Many times, managers will use a purported risk to security as an excuse not to do something, Michael said. "If there isn't good faith [between managers and security professionals], there's not much you can do," he said.

The conference is an FCW Media Group event.

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