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Security is a mindset not a technology

I often get asked what I look for when hiring security professionals and my answer is usually that I want the right attitude first and foremost - knowledge is easy to gain and those that just collect pieces of paper should maybe think about gaining experience rather than yet more acronyms. However, it's difficult to get someone to change their mindset, so the right attitude is very important. But what is the right attitude?


Firstly, security professionals differ from developers and IT engineers in their outlook and approach, so shouldn't be lumped in with them, in my opinion. The mindset of a security professional is constantly thinking about what could go wrong (something that tends to spill over into my personal life as well, much to the annoyance of my wife). Contrast this with the mindset of a developer who is being measured on their delivery of new features. Most developers, or IT engineers, are looking at whether what they have delivered satisfies the requirements from the 'customer', the positive case, i.e. does it perform the function we intended? Security professionals look for the negative case, i.e. can I do anything other than the function intended? Of course, as a security professional, if you don't understand the intended function then you cannot set appropriate security controls or assess the potential impact if things go wrong, but your mind will immediately go to the 'what if' scenario. Therefore, expecting an IT engineer to deliver effective security is unrealistic.

Secondly, security professionals have to be curious (and I don't mean odd), continuously learning and embracing change. The threat landscape is constantly changing and technology doesn't stand still, so it isn't possible, as a security professional, to know everything. What you have to be able to do is go back to first principles and work out what you should be worrying about, not just churning out the same solutions and technologies you always have in the past. Anyone who turns up for an interview with me pretending to know everything, or puts little effort into understanding the scenario, is going to get dismissed pretty quickly. Equally, I'm not interested in someone who knows one single technology inside-out and shows no interest in learning something new - their knowledge will be obsolete very soon and then they're of no use.

Finally, a key identifier of a good security professional is whether they're interested in learning the business - if they're not, then they'll never understand the impact of what can go wrong and they'll probably default to deploying tried and tested technologies rather than embracing change and setting appropriate controls. Security professionals have to spend time understanding the business in order to gauge the impact and assess risk correctly so that work can be prioritised and the risk appetite of the business met.

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