How To Choose A Security Vendor

Monday, January 16, 2012

Brent Huston

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How To Choose A Security Vendor: Beware of Free Infosec

In your search for security vendors, be aware of those who offer assessments on the “we find holes or it’s free” basis. 

Below are a few points to consider when evaluating your choices:

1. Security testing choices should not be based on price. They should be based on risk. The goal is to reduce the risk that any given operation (application, network, system, process, etc.) presents to the organization to a level that is manageable.

Trust me, I have been in the security business for 20 years and all vendor processes are NOT created equal. Many variations exist in depth, skill level, scope, reporting capability, experience, etc.

As such, selecting security testing vendors based upon price is a really bad idea. Matching vendors specific experience, reporting styles and technical capabilities to your environment and needs is a far better solution for too many reasons to expound upon here.

2. The “find vulnerabilities or it’s free” mentality can backfire.It’s hard enough for developers and technical teams to take their lumps from a security test when holes emerge, but to also tie that to price makes it doubly difficult — “Great, I pay now because Tom made some silly mistake!” is just one possibility. How do you think management may handle that? What about Tom?

Believe me, there can be long term side effects for Tom’s career, especially if he is also blamed for breaking the team’s budget in addition to causing them to fail an audit.

3. It actually encourages the security assessment team to make mountains out of mole hills.Since they are rewarded only when they find vulnerabilities and the customer expectations of value are automatically built on severity (it’s human nature), then it certainly behooves the security team to note even small issues as serious security holes.

In our experience, this can drastically impact the perceived risk of identified security issues in both technicians and management and has even been known to cause knee-jerk reactions and unneeded panic when reports arrive that show things like simple information leakage as “critical vulnerabilities”.

Clearly, if the vendor is not extremely careful and mindful of ethical behavior among their teams, you can get seriously skewed views between perceived risk and real-world risk, again primarily motivated by the need to find issues to make the engagement profitable.

In my opinion, let’s stick to plain old value. We can help you find and manage your risk. We focus on specific technical vulnerabilities in networks, systems, applications and operations that attackers could exploit to cause you damage.

The damages we prevent from occurring saves your company money. Look for a service vendor that provides this type of value and realize in the long run, you’ll be coming out ahead.

Cross-posted from State of Security

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