Industry Perspectives

Security Without Barriers, Part One: A New Cyber Security Narrative

Information security professionals often use defense-in-depth analogies to describe their security goals. For example, it’s common to conjure an image of a castle and moat to explain cyber security strategy to stakeholders. These visualizations are often accompanied by an explanation that if an attacker gets past one layer, the next layer will stop them.

One problem with defense-in-depth analogies is that the traditional perimeter—i.e. the moat—is mostly gone today. Digital transformation projects, adoption of cloud computing solutions, and the growing use of mobile and remote computing devices have dramatically changed how technology is deployed and used. Perimeter security solutions, such as firewalls and VPNs, cannot be relied upon to protect digital assets.

A more fundamental problem with using defense-in-depth analogies to explain your security strategy is they describe security success in absolutes: Prevent an attacker from getting in.

Unfortunately, security teams face an asymmetric threat where inexpensive attacks can, and often do, evade organizations’ expensive cyber defenses. This reality can be summed up with two assumptions:

  • No technical solution can prevent all attacks all the time.
  • There will always be bad actors looking to exploit this security gap.

Because of this unbalanced threat landscape, many security leaders have adopted cyber resilience strategies. They balance investments that protect against attacks with other investments that mitigate the damage caused by attacks that get through the defenses.

We’ll explore the components of cyber resilience more in the next blog post of this series. First, let’s think about how to describe cyber resilience to stakeholders.

Changing the Security Narrative

Describing a cyber resilience strategy requires a vastly different mental image than describing defense-in-depth strategies. Rather than explaining how a castle’s defensive layers keep attackers out, think instead about how a museum protects its assets.

The core principle is the same: Protect valuable assets. However, the methods and strategies used to achieve this goal are very different.

Instead of hardening the perimeter to keep attackers out, a museum must create an open and welcoming environment. They need to draw visitors in, often allowing them within inches of their most valuable displays and exhibits. As a result, museums assume bad actors can easily get inside the perimeter. Their strategy shifts from preventing access to preventing exploitation of access.

There are other differences between describing a “castle-like” defense-in-depth cyber security strategy versus a “museum-like” cyber resilience strategy.

At first glance, describing your cyber security strategy as a museum seems odd. However, if you think about how most IT organizations define success, they’re more like a museum than a fortress. IT leaders design solutions that are welcoming to visitors, that are easy to use, and that still protect critical assets from theft or misuse. Adopting similar language and goals to describe your security strategy helps align cyber security messaging with other IT leaders’ goals.

Heading Toward Cyber Resiliency

Security leaders need a new narrative to describe their security strategies. By adopting cyber resilience strategies instead of prevention-focused defense-in-depth strategies, you also help your organization better prepare for the asymmetric threat posed by cyber attackers.

The next post in this series will explore steps organizations can take to build strong cyber resilience. We’ll build on the analogy of how a museum protects assets and show concrete steps for implementing cyber resilience within your organization.