Lessons in security leadership: Jennifer Bayuk

The 2011 CSO Compass Award winners discuss prioritizing investments, learning lessons the hard way, and much more

Jennifer Bayuk likes to say that "any job in information security, I've had at least once." Currently an independent consultant and program director of the Systems Security Engineering program at Stevens Institute of Technology, Bayuk has previously been a CISO, a security architect, a manager of information systems for internal audits, a security consultant and auditor for one of the big four auditing companies, and a security software engineer at such industry giants as Bear Stearns and AT&T Bell Labs. Bayuk frequently publishes on information security and audit topics and has lectured at such organizations as ISACA, NIST and the Computer Security Institute.

CSO: What was the most difficult or rewarding accomplishment of your career?

Jennifer Bayuk: The most difficult and rewarding is the graduate curriculum I developed in systems security engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology. I've always looked to security architecture as the ultimate solution to the majority of enterprise security problems, but when I had to sit down and teach others to do it, there was almost no material. I had to create a lot of it, and I had to make it comprehensible to others in a way that aligns well with what an engineer typically learns in engineering school. I couldn't just say, "This is how you do security," without making sure students were firmly grounded in the concepts that others are using in engineering.

Graduates have the ability to recognize and plan enterprise security architecture in a way that integrates with the rest of the technology in the enterprise. In computer science, the focus is often software and not how the whole system works. But system security engineers see problems in security as systemic issues, not just a vulnerability here or there.

What has been the biggest change to the CSO role in the past few years?

CISOs today are often charged primarily with compliance rather than security, but they are still expected to perform the security role. Yet metrics for compliance are different from those for security. Security has been perceived as a cost center, and there are a lot of challenges to showing what our value is. You might spend $5 million or $50 million on a security program and still get hacked. But in systems security engineering, we're starting to use metrics that show whether security spending is effective, and we make use of validation tests to see if you've built the system right and if it works. If you don't have these metrics, you can't show that you've achieved your goals.

What we teach in systems security engineering is that every system has its own measure of validity, and the key to being successful is to find it. And it will be a construct, not one thing that you measure or one test you do every year.

Can you name one of the biggest mistakes you've made during your security career and what you learned from it?

Bringing down the system while running a penetration test. Everyone does it once, but no one believes it will happen to them. The reason is, we expect the system to act as it did before, but every system and situation is unique. Even if it looks like the same operating system and the same type of application, until you know how the system works, you shouldn't be testing the security. It's something a lot of people experience, but not everyone learns the same thing from the experience.

[Also see Bayuk's articles Information systems audit: The basics | How to write an information security policy]

What are your fail-proof principles of security leadership?

Trust no one. I learned that from my mentor at Bear Stearns, Pat Ripley. As a design tool, it's a very sharp knife--it helps you figure out how to design a system or project when you don't know who's going to be running it. You can't assume an operator is trusted, so you build checks and balances into the system and ensure it's operable with segregation of duties in place. If you're very trusting, you won't be good at security. People in security are naturally critical thinkers and maybe on the paranoid side.

Second, know how things work. If you don't, you don't know how to secure them.

What will be (or do you think should be) the next big topic in the security field?

Nation-state-sponsored organized crime like the Russian Business Network. This type of situation is getting more rampant, and business is not prepared for it at all. Even if we fix everything we can in the United States, other countries' laws are different. All aspects of organized crime can be done with computers, like cyber­espionage or sabotage. It's more reality than science fiction. The headlines are increasing, but there's a low level of awareness.

What is the most over-hyped topic in the security field? Compliance. If you're doing security well, compliance should come naturally. But if you're just aiming for compliance, it doesn't mean you're doing security right. Always start with security, and then let your auditors determine whether you're compliant.

This story, "Lessons in security leadership: Jennifer Bayuk" was originally published by CSO.

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