Recently, I observed a somewhat intense conversation between two acquaintances about a parenting issue. In this conversation, one person was critical of the other’s childrearing approach. I happen to know both individuals, who are both good people. But like any human being, neither of them is perfect. Putting aside the fact that it generally seems best not to judge or comment on another person’s behavior, particularly when it comes to parenting, this exchange highlighted an important concept for me: projection.
Wikipedia defines psychological projection as “a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.” I am not a psychologist and don’t know all of the background information and details around this particular exchange. But after reading more about the topic of projection, it seemed to be a possible explanation for what I witnessed.
OK. But what does psychological projection teach us about security? I would argue quite a bit, in the sense that security organizations are often most critical toward other organizations regarding the very weaknesses that they themselves exhibit. This is important because only when organizations are aware of their own behavior and attitudes can they hope to improve. In this spirit, I offer five ways in which projection slows down the path to security maturity.
1. “They don’t know what they’re doing.” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard phrases to the effect of “so and so has no idea what he’s doing,” “that place is clueless when it comes to security,” and “if only they knew what they were doing like we do.” Of course, it is entirely possible that your organization is leaps and bounds beyond your peer organizations. But, it is also quite possible that your peer organizations are more or less just as on top of security as you are. What if instead of taking the easy out of looking down upon other organizations, your organization turned its gaze inward?
2. “Their leadership has no vision or direction.” Unfortunately, there are a fair number of people in security leadership positions who are not really leaders. Not surprisingly, you won’t find a tremendous amount of vision or direction coming from these people. Of course, I haven’t found that to be the case in the majority of instances. In my experience, there is almost always something (or several things) that we can learn from others in leadership positions. It’s easy to be dismissive of those individuals. But there is much more to be gained by looking honestly at our own leadership abilities, our own strengths and weaknesses, our own vision and direction.
3. “Their team isn’t adequately staffed or trained.” No organization is able to provide the level of staffing and training that it would like to in an ideal world. As with so many things in business, the issue becomes a game of prioritization and resource management. There are certainly a good number of organizations that, for whatever reason, do not staff and train in a way that will allow them to mitigate risk appropriately. But many organizations make good use of whatever resources they have available. Whether your organization is resource strapped, could staff and train better, or both, a lot can be learned by stopping the finger-pointing and looking internally to see where changes can be made.
4. “Their security technology stack is problematic.” I have yet to meet a security organization that doesn’t hold strong opinions about the security technology stack it has chosen (or was handed) to deploy and operate. The truth of the matter is that the security technology stack should support and serve the organization’s risk mitigation strategy. As long as that is the case, there are many different choices around security technology that the organization can make to meet its goals. I’ve sometimes heard organizations poke fun at and/or mock the security technology in place elsewhere. This doesn’t help anyone advance the state of their security program. A far better use of this energy is to look inwardly in an attempt to understand if the security technology your organization uses is helping you meet your risk mitigation goals, both strategically and tactically.
5. “They aren’t as mature as we are.” It’s far too easy to consider our own security organizations to be very mature. It’s even easier to look at other organizations in our sector, geographic area, or of a similar size and see them as less mature than we are. To be perfectly honest, nearly all the security organizations I meet with consider their security maturity level to be above average. For some of those organizations, that is definitely a realistic view of the situation. Unfortunately, the laws of statistics don’t allow for nearly all security organizations to be of above average maturity. A little bit of self-awareness goes a long way when it comes to evaluating one’s own security maturity level in earnest. It’s a prerequisite to improving.
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Josh (Twitter: @ananalytical) is an experienced information security leader with broad experience building and running Security Operations Centers (SOCs). Josh is currently co-founder and chief product officer at IDRRA and also serves as security advisor to ExtraHop. Prior to … View Full Bio