Guest Column | August 3, 2016

Staffing Cybersecurity Means Managing Insanity


To nurture your cybersecurity talent, prove you are working to nurture a productive workplace.

By Barbara Kay, senior director of strategic solutions, Intel Security

The competition for security talent is fierce. What is the best way to attract and retain experienced and effective professionals? A gaming room, fair trade coffee, and sleep pods? None of the above.

Both an urgent and an important concern for staff is burnout. Why? Cybersecurity efforts are up overall, and the more complex events are up as a proportion of these incidents — targeted attacks rose from 28 percent to 31 percent of incidents managed, according to Intel Security research.

This statistic becomes very personal for cybersecurity analysts and operations teams. They need to deal with the firehose of events and incidents effectively, reducing effort and friction so they can have a hope of a personal life. If their employer is actively helping them proactively manage the events and incidents that contribute to the ongoing insanity, the environment will foster the respect, appreciation, and wellbeing that drive job satisfaction.

Different jobs have different sources of friction that affect a person’s work life. In the security space, process and organizational inefficiency, mind-bending complexity, repetitive and manual tasks, and frustration at wasted time and opportunity are felt very strongly. These frictions affect security staff in two ways: they increase task fatigue, and reduce the opportunity to work on more satisfying parts of the job.

Companies that demonstrate they are investing in appropriate shortcuts and automation to manage the ever-increasing volume of threats, vulnerabilities, events, alerts, and activities are showing their employees that their time is valued. By visibly working to clear away the parts of the job that people hate or find least satisfying, they are providing opportunity and support to work on more stimulating, satisfying parts of the truly intriguing puzzle that is information security today. Hacks, kludges, and workarounds have a tactical benefit, but will not have the same effect as a systematic approach, and may convey an impression that security time and personnel are not valued.

We are seeing a substantial shift in mindset today in support of this trend. Since talent is scarce, companies have no choice but to build a more efficient and effective security operations environment. A collaboration study conducted by Intel Security, and other similar research, shows companies are increasingly willing to identify low-risk, repeated tasks and let the systems do the work. Over time, expertise is being captured as repeatable workflows that increase the type and level of work that can be offloaded to machines.

The security industry is working together to deliver enabling technology as these new mental models evolve within the enterprise. Varying levels of product integration and automation are possible with existing technology, APIs, and scripting interfaces. Inter-system orchestration is already part of security management products and will continue to improve as more vendors open up programmable interfaces. Vendors are delivering proven and pre-packaged integrations, workflows, and playbooks to jumpstart the internal effort and help your internal and external experts easily transfer their knowledge.

Some companies have the expertise and maturity to understand and implement these changes in-house. However, most look to systems integrators, consultants, and service providers for help, both identifying areas for improvement and implementing optimized systems.

Managed services are also a positive component of an overall strategy for hiring and retaining cybersecurity talent, offloading monitoring and maintenance, and filling in staffing gaps such as 24/7/365 monitoring and incident response services. This allocation of services ensures that in-house staff looks at the most important challenges, and spend time where it matters the most to the business and to their personal career growth. Effective service partnerships help employers lighten the workload on the individuals and team.

Showing current and prospective security employees that you provide a supportive and satisfying environment, helping them to use and grow their professional skills, will keep your team sane and healthy and on the job despite a perpetually crazy cybersecurity landscape.

For more information on cybersecurity workforce effectiveness, download our latest research report, How Collaboration Can Optimize Security Operations.