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Security remains the leading concern that senior executives have about their information and network infrastructures. In many cases, it isn't clear whether the range of security technology in use affords the protections that the organization requires.

Even more disconcerting, many security solutions seem to disrupt normal operations. Employees see slow or blocked access to e-mail, critical applications and other internal resources. And virtual private networks (VPNs), firewalls and e-mail gateways confound interactions with customers, vendors and business partners.

More and more, executives ask: "Do we really need all this security? How do we know where we really stand? Can somebody give me a gauge that lets me know how we're doing with respect to our peers? What's the priority for security in our organization?"

Getting Answers

Traditionally, organizations have taken two approaches to answering these questions:

  • They have assigned an internal committee (often a committee of one) to evaluate the organization's security measures and requirements and to report back to senior management.

  • They have hired an outside organization, such as the corporate auditor, to conduct the study and deliver a formal report.

Creating an internal committee is attractive because it keeps problems "inside the family." Very often, more than one skeleton lurks in the closet, so the smaller the community of people aware of private issues the better. However, the committee has several uphill battles to fight.

First, it may not have the in-depth expertise to evaluate security measures. As a result, it can never assure its members, or management, that it has addressed all the important criteria. Second, the members' other duties make it difficult for them to complete the study in a timely manner unless they neglect other critical business imperatives. Finally, because the committee members are part of the organization, they can never achieve true objectivity; friendships and office politics may prevent an impartial result.

Thus, hiring an outside organization is the approach often taken by larger companies. Originally, when information technology was less mature than it is today, there were few places to turn for this help. Most obvious was the corporate financial auditing firm. The "Big 5" (or their predecessors) tried to develop specialties in information security. A few technology companies, most notably system and network integrators, also began offering such services. In both cases, however, these organizations perform security assessments as a sideline. They remain most capable in their core competencies: business consulting or technology sales and service, respectively.


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