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Good Security Metrics Build Relationships and Trust

Tenable recently sponsored the publication of an ebook, Using Security Metrics to Drive Action. This ebook is a compilation of thoughtful essays from 33 CISOs and other experts, who all share their strategies for communicating security program effectiveness to business executives and the board. In this article, excerpted from the ebook, Nikk Gilbert, Director of Global Information Protection and Assurance for ConocoPhillips, explains how metrics can strengthen team relationships.

For Nikk Gilbert, the secret sauce to success as a chief information security officer (CISO) is forging relationships. Metrics, he says, can be a great way to solidify those relationships.

Rather than advising readers to select a group of generalized metrics to monitor, Gilbert prefers to tell a story. Metrics, after all, are designed to tell the story of how well you’re succeeding at digitally securing your enterprise.

Metrics are designed to tell the story of how well you’re succeeding at digitally securing your enterprise

After starting work at a previous company, Gilbert avoided making aggressive changes to the way security was handled. Instead, he took co-workers out to lunch, one at a time. Some panicked—what does the CISO want? Did I do something wrong? It wasn’t about that, Gilbert says. “Quite frankly, I sat there and talked to them about everything but security,” he states. “It was creating the relationships.”

After establishing himself as an approachable leader, it was easier to talk about changes that needed to be made to protect customer data, intellectual property, and other proprietary information from malicious outsiders. During this process it was important to avoid drowning people in metrics.

“There are so many metrics out there that you can use to show different things,” he says. “What I’m trying to do from a strategic point of view is find those metrics that are really going to resonate with the business.”

From a strategic point of view, find those metrics that are really going to resonate with the business

Right around the same time, Gilbert’s team created a real-time online dashboard to monitor internal networking metrics. He used it to show key team members the value of monitoring several operations-level metrics, including:

  • Web proxies. This software allows authorized employees to surf authorized websites while blocking risky sites. “It’s a tool that helps us protect users from themselves,” Gilbert states.
  • Admin account accesses. Administrative accounts are extremely sensitive. “We have a real-time dashboard that watches access to admin accounts,” he says. If someone tries over and over to access an account unsuccessfully, the account gets flagged and additional actions can be taken as appropriate.
  • Data in/data out. The dashboard has a plug-in that reveals how much data is moving in and out of the network and through which ports—crucial information that can reveal whether, say, a denial-of-service attack is beginning.
  • Antivirus activity. If a computer is infected, the dashboard throws up an antivirus alert.
  • Firewall alerts. The dashboard monitors the network firewall’s sensors, which can detect a variety of network based indicators.

Individually, Gilbert acknowledges, there’s nothing spectacular about these metrics, but holistically, they demonstrate how it’s possible to use resources to respond to the metrics and stop an attack from grinding the business to a halt. They also help reveal which resources were still lacking. “That’s when we became invaluable to the executive team,” he notes.

More information

About the author

Nikk Gilbert has 18 years of executive-level experience in the government and private sectors and is a respected information security leader. Currently the Director of Global Information Protection and Assurance for ConocoPhillips, he’s a Distinguished Fellow of the Ponemon Institute, a recipient of the US Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, and a frequent speaker at technology events throughout the world.

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