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As an active speaker at industry conferences and events, participants often come up to me and ask where is the right place to start implementing security.

Among those looking for the answer are new CSOs overwhelmed by the prospect of overhauling an organization's security infrastructure and business people thinking of how to cost-effectively improve security. What they all have in common is the search for a simple answer to a complex issue, and they are all asking the wrong question.

"What product should I start with?" is a very common first question, but it has about as much use as approaching a doctor and asking, "What medicine should I take?" Unless you are displaying some extremely obvious symptom, the answer is likely to come in the form of additional evaluation questions, and likewise with security implementations.

Before prescribing a cure, the patient, in this case the organization, needs to agree to a self evaluation. There are, at a minimum, three core questions that every organization, c-level executive, security consultant and others must be able to answer honestly before receiving a proper security diagnosis.

There are, of course, tens or hundreds of additional follow-up questions that could be applied both within and in addition to these three, but here in no particular order are the three questions to ask when considering where to start.

  1. Why are you doing this?
  2. What are you trying to secure?
  3. What will happen if you don't do this right?

Question 1: Why are you doing this?

In my experience, no one comes to the decision to be secure because they have had an epiphany and now believe that security is up there with purity, charity, and chastity. It is always because something has happened. It can be because they just took a class, or attended a Webinar or seminar. Maybe they were breached, or found out that a company in their space had been breached. Often, they are simply asked to do it by a manager, or an auditor, or an executive.

Depending on what the motivation is, the first steps can be different. If they have been breached, clearly they need to complete whatever triage and clean-up they are performing, and need to establish a means of both protecting against re-infection or re-emergence of remnants of the same exploit. This means that the short answer to them is that they need to think about why they are interested in security, and then start of by understanding the reasons why they are not secure enough yet. This provides a much more focused goal for them, and also gives them a language and context to talk about their security within.


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