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You say it's 'Security Best Practice' - prove it!

Over the last few weeks I have had many conversations and even attended presentations where people talk about 'Security Best Practices' and how we should all follow them. However, 'Best Practice' is just another way of saying 'What everyone else does!' OK, so if everyone else does it and it's the right thing to do, you should be able to prove it. The trouble is that nobody ever measures best practice - why would you? If everyone's doing it, it must be right.

Well, I don't agree with this sentiment. Don't get me wrong, many of the so-called best practices are good for most organisations, but blindly following them without thought for your specific business could cause as many problems as you solve. I see best practice like buying an off-the-peg suit - it will fit most people acceptably well if they are a fairly 'normal' size and shape. However, it will never fit as well as a tailored suit and isn't an option for those of us who are outside the bounds of 'normal' according to the retailers.

The real problem is that no company is actually normal, i.e. exactly the same as other companies. Best practice is very useful for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), who can't afford to have an expensive security team on hand permanently - security architects and strategic security leaders that can actually turn security into a business enabler demand 6-figure salaries. In the absence of these people, you have little choice other than to follow everyone else or hire consultants in to advise on what really matters and what is right for your business.

Large enterprises, however, can afford in-house security teams and should be demanding more from their security leadership than simple, formulaic repeating of the toolsets that everyone else deploys and that they've seen implemented in their previous organisations. So why do large enterprises follow best practice without much thought? To my mind it's for one of two reasons: it's either that they know no better, or it's so they can defend an audit and protect their jobs. For example, the ICO won't fine you after a breach if you've followed best practice, but if you've done something unusual then you'll have to justify it and defend it. If you have done the job properly though, this defence is easy as you will have gone through a logical set of steps to arrive at that solution. It is a much stronger defence to be able to justify your deployed capabilities rather than just saying that everyone else does it.

Technology should be the last thing that you decide upon once you know what your control objectives are, which you will only be able to articulate when you really understand the specific business in front of you and the strategic objectives. Then you have to look at the threat scenarios for your business and balance the risks accordingly. Don't follow the crowd blindly; I encourage you to strive for the best solution, not best practice.


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