On reflection I talk about failure a lot. As I look back at my own career experience, FAIL has commonly appeared at inopportune times. Though it’s hard to say you can pinpoint a good time to fail. It’s part of both the business and human experience, so to me failure can be positive and productive, and position you for future success. But not always, and a lot depends on the form it takes.

alt textI guess when I think of the wrong kind of failure, I point to Andreas’ post on Network World, Fail a security audit already – it’s good for you. I do understand where he’s coming from. As I mentioned, failure can serve as a catalyst for action, as a good way to assess progress (ask the ATL Falcons about that), or as a way to figure out when it’s time to pack up your tent and move on. I guess my issue is with looking at an audit as a good venue for failure.

Why? An audit is an awfully low bar for anything. Yes, I understand that’s a crass generalization. Many auditors are very talented and can find unseen issues and add value. But many aren’t that. Many adhere blindly to their checklists and ensure your security controls fit into a clean little box, even if there isn’t much clean about security in today’s environment. Have you ever heard the story about the scorpion and the frog? I think of it because many auditors adhere to their playbooks, disregarding actual circumstances – like the scorpion in that story.

To be clear, the auditor will find something. They always do, or they understand they won’t be invited back. That doesn’t mean the stuff they find really matters. So what’s a better approach? How can you leverage an audit failure to your best advantage? Script it out and use the auditor as a piece of your evil plans. It’s okay – that’s how things get done in the real world.

If you are a clued-in security professional, you know where the issues are. At least some of them. You also may face some organizational resistance to fixing issues. So you might direct the audit to miraculously find the issues you want/need fixed. Don’t make it too easy, but make sure they find what you need them to find. Amazingly enough, if something shows up in an audit’s findings of fact, it forces a decision. The decision may be to do nothing, but that will at least be a conscious decision to not address the risk. Then you can move onto the next thing and stop tilting at windmills. Or get the action you need. Either way it’s a win.

So I’m all for failing. But fail correctly. Fail with a purpose. Use failure to your advantage. In some cases, actually stage your failure to make a point. I guess my real point is that any failure you face shouldn’t be a total surprise, though that will happen from time to time. Surprise failure is the kind you need to avoid. But that’s another story for another day.

Photo credit: “Fail Whale Pale Ale” originally uploaded by jamesplankton