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Bridging the data divide between IT ops and security

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The past decade has seen a significant increase in spending for both public- and private-sector IT. There are high levels of optimism for new technology ranging from artificial intelligence and machine learning to the Internet of Things and big data. So with such elevated attention on technology, it may surprise you that IT personnel and their security counterparts are missing a major opportunity right under their noses – one that, if ignored, will be very damaging for the organization at large.

I am speaking of the siloed nature of IT Operations and Security Operations.

Before reading further, ask yourself: “Are your IT and security teams critical to your business and mission?”

(Spoiler Alert: Yes.)

Now ask yourself: “Do your IT and security teams behave as two critical components of that same mission? Do they talk to each other on a daily basis? Do they share data? Do they participate in each others’ processes?” If your organization is like most, those answers aren't quite so simple.

Why are IT and security teams siloed?

We should recognize that these silos between IT and security grew organically, perhaps even out of necessity. And once we appreciate that history, we can begin to rationalize how to evolve the silos to serve the business and mission – together.

As technology use across the public sector proliferated in the late 20th and early 21st century, IT operations teams emerged to manage the complex systems that supported federal missions. Along the way, we saw the transfer of value away from physical assets and into data; the crown jewels were now in IT systems, not just in vaults.

So the attackers followed, and an arms race between “good” and “evil” IT evolved. Today, security teams have their own infrastructures of tools, technology deployments and business processes existing independent from IT operations.

Both IT and security teams require specialized skill sets. But just like separate sales and delivery teams, IT and security continue to be inundated and consumed by their individual emerging problems.

IT teams focus on ensuring system operability, reliability and end-user satisfaction; security teams focus on risk management, reducing the attack surface and responding to and mitigating threats. In some cases, these two missions are at odds with each other, with IT moving fast to keep up with business/mission demands and security teams consistently “pumping the brakes” on IT initiatives.

Focus on the business and mission

I have had the privilege of talking to IT and security practitioners across hundreds of organizations during the course of my career. Practitioners from both disciplines are passionate about serving the mission and business.

A key challenge is always in the question, “Where do we start?”

One natural place is the data. After all, both IT and security teams collect gobs of data for operational reasons. But according to a 2017 study by Splunk and the Ponemon Institute, more than two-thirds of respondents doubted the same data could be used for both IT and security purposes. Yet it can. By synergistically combining their forces – known in some circles as DevSecOps – security and IT teams can better manage the growth of machine data and serve the mission.

Just say, “Hi”

IT operations and security teams are like two colleagues who take the same elevator, eat at the same cafeteria and may even nod at each other, but never broach an actual conversation. The first step to bridging this divide – and creating DevSecOps symbiosis – is to begin talking.

But what is there to talk about? Start with a project that is already funded, perhaps even started. Talk about your “nice to haves” – things that you believe would really help, but seem too idealistic to even bring up. You may be surprised that IT and security have achievable capabilities for each other.

Next, you can talk about the data. Ask what data each team uses in their work, and more likely than not, you will discover that you have more in common than you think. For example, data ingested from the endpoints connecting to a wireless router can potentially spotlight unidentified security issues, while data from a firewall or encryption device can reveal network performance bottlenecks that need to be addressed.

You can transform your operations

These ideas are real for many organizations. Sections in the August 2017 Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization highlighted that IT operations and security are getting synergy with central data aggregation and logging systems.

Your customers, constituents and users have high demands on your IT and security teams. To meet both missions, federal agencies need a single source of truth.

I know I don’t have to convince you that mission-critical components need to collaborate or the organization will fail. As a leader or an individual contributor, I invite you to create opportunities for IT and security to join forces.

About the Author

Monzy Merza is Splunk's head of security research.

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