I usually agree with Jack Daniel. You know, we curmudgeons need to stick together. But one of the requirements of membership in the Curmudgeons Association is to call crap when we see it. And much as it pains me to say it, Jack’s latest rant on InfoSec’s misunderstanding of business is crap.

Actually his conclusion is right on the money:

In order to improve security in your organization, you need to understand how your organization works, not how it should work. [emphasis mine]

I couldn’t agree more. The problem is how Jack reaches that conclusion. Basically by saying that understanding business is a waste of time. Instead, he suggests you understand greed and fear, then you’ll understand the motivations of the decision makers, and then you’ll be able to do your job. Right?

Not so much. Mostly because I don’t understand how anyone understands how things get done in their organization without both understanding the business and also understanding the people. In my experience, you can’t separate the two. No way, no how.

I totally agree that everyone (except maybe a monk) is driven by greed and fear. Sometimes those aspects are driven by the business. Maybe they want to make the quarter (and keep their BMW) or perhaps they need to move a key business process to the cloud to reduce headcount. Those are all motivations to do security, or not. How can you understand how to sell a project internally if you don’t understand what’s going on in the business?

Your decisions makers may also have some personal issues that color their decisions. Could be an expensive divorce. Could be a sick parent. It could be anything, but any of those factors could get in the way of your project. Ignore the people aspect of the job at your own risk – which is really my point. A senior security position is not a technical job. It’s a job of persuasion. It’s a job of sales. And both those disciplines require a full understanding of all the factors that can work for or against you.

One of the key trends I saw a few years ago involved senior security folks coming from the business, not from the ranks of the security team. These folks were basically tasked to fix security, which meant they had to know how to get things done in the organization. These folks could just as well be dealing with operational problems in Latin America as with cyberattacks.

To Jack’s point, they do understand greed and fear. They may have pictures of senior execs in a vault somewhere, and then inexplicably get the funding they need for key projects. And they also understand the business.