I had a disturbing conversation with a colleague last night. He told me that he didn’t believe in compliance-only, checkbox security, so why should he waste time on policies and standards? I almost blew a gasket, but because he’s pretty junior, I thought it best to educate him. The following is a summary of what I told him.
Security policies and standards are a foundational set of requirements for your engineering, development and operations teams. Without these boundaries, the entire IT organization floats aimlessly, buying solutions and implementing controls without rhyme or reason. Generally, only oblivious technologists design solutions without referencing policies and most engineers are begging for this guidance from their security teams. Engineers aren’t mind readers, they just want us to tell them what we want: in writing. Without policies and standards, the result is reactive inefficiency, because the security team becomes a chokepoint for every implementation.
Security policies help keep organizations ahead of the risk curve. It means that risk has been evaluated to some degree and a decision made (by someone) regarding the level an organization is willing to accept. Any security organization that wants to achieve some level of maturity will spend the cycles to develop its policies or suffer the consequences.
Developing policies and standards isn’t an easy process. Often the right stakeholders haven’t participated in the discussion, the documents are badly written, outdated or compiled by consultants with no organizational context. Moreover, policy debates often degenerate into arguments over semantics, but the how of getting this done isn’t as important as simply getting it done.
Ultimately, when security professionals don’t create and maintain policies and standards, they have abdicated their responsibility to the organization that employs them.