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Security Policy Begins With 'Can It Happen Here?'

Security Policy Begins With 'Can It Happen Here?'

"We've got lots of work related to our security awareness program, so that the entire population of 45,000 employees has an understanding of what their responsibilities are to protect our company's information assets," said John McKenna, vice president and chief information security officer at Liberty Mutual.

By Dana Gardner E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
11/12/12 5:00 AM PT

For a Fortune 100 company such as Liberty Mutual Insurance, security involves much more than preventing hacks and phishing attacks. There is customer data to protect; and vendors, partners, agencies and brokers that make up the supply chain, which also must be secured.

The introduction of personal devices has created an array of new potential attack vectors that must be dealt with, not to mention regulatory compliance.

Security must now be introduced at the conception of a project, not as an afterthought. It needs to start with the board and work its way through the organization to every employee.

Listen to a discussion on how Liberty Mutual is effectively building security more deeply into its overall business practices. The conversation is cohosted by Raf Los, chief security evangelist at HP Software, and features John McKenna, vice president and chief information security officer at Liberty Mutual. The chat is moderated by Dana Gardner.


Download the podcast (29:04 minutes) or use the player:

Here are some excerpts:

Dana Gardner: Why is security so important to your business now, and in what ways are you investing?

John McKenna: It's pretty clear to us that the world has changed in terms of the threats and in terms of the kinds of technologies that we're using these days to enable our business. Certainly, there's an obligation there, a responsibility to protect our customers' information as well as making sure that our business operations can continue to support those customers.

So, as I said, it's the realization that we need to make sure we're as secure as we need to be, and we can have a very deep discussion about how secure we need to be.

In addition to that, we have our own employees, who we feel we need to protect to enable them to work and get the job done to support our customers, while doing so in a very secure workplace environment.

Gardner: How do you think things are different now than, say, four or five years ago?

McKenna: I'll start with just the technology landscape itself. From mobility platforms and social networking to cloud computing, all of those are introducing different attack vectors, different opportunities for the bad guys to take advantage of.

Reducing the threat

We need to make sure that we can use those technologies and enable our business to use them effectively to grow our business and service our customers, while at the same time, protecting them so that we reduce the threat. We will never eliminate it, but we can reduce the opportunities for the bad guys to take advantage.

Raf Los: John, you talk about for your customers. From a security perspective, your customers are your external customers as well as internal, correct?

McKenna: We absolutely have our internal customer as well. We have partners, vendors, agencies, and brokers that we're doing business with. They're all part of the supply chain. We have an obligation to make sure that whatever tools and technologies we are enabling them with, we're protecting that as well.

Gardner: Liberty Mutual, of course, is a large and long-time leader in insurance. Help us understand the complexity that you're managing when it comes to bringing security across this full domain.

McKenna: We're a global company in the Fortune 100 list. We have $35 billion in revenue and we have about 45,000 employees worldwide. We offer products across the personal and commercial lines products, or P&C, and life insurance products. We've got somewhere in the range of 900-plus offices globally.

So we have lots of people. We have lots of connections and we have a lot of customers and suppliers who are all part of this business. It's a very complex business operation, and there are a lot of challenges to make sure that we're supporting the customers, the business, and also the projects that are continually trying to build new technology and new capabilities.

Gardner: Raf, when we talk about what's different in companies, one of the things is that in the past security was really something that was delegated and was an afterthought in some respect.

But security is now thought through right at the very beginning of planning for new services. Is that the case in your travels?

Los: That's what I'm seeing, and there's still the maturation that's happening across the enterprise spectrum where a lot of the organizations -- believe it or not, in 2012 -- are still standing up formalized security organizations.

Not a given

So security is not a given yet, where that the department exists, is well-funded, well-staffed, and well-respected. You're getting to that state where security is not simply an afterthought or as it was in an organization in my past job history a decade ago or so. In those types of companies, they would get it done and the say, "By the way, security, if you take a look at this before we launch it, make sure it's given virtual thumbs up. You've got about 20 minutes to go."

If you can get away from that, it's really about security teams stepping up and demonstrating that they understand the business model and that they're there to serve the organization, rather than simply dictate policy. It's really a process of switching from this tight iron-grip on control to more of a risk model.

It's not that people don't care about security. They do. They just don't know they do. It's up to us to make sure that they understand the context of their business.

Gardner: John, is that ringing true for you at Liberty Mutual?

McKenna: It absolutely is. It goes from the top on down. Our board certainly is reading the headlines every day. Where there are new breaches, their first question is, "Can this happen to us?"

So it certainly starts there, but I think that there absolutely is an appreciation at our strategic business units, the leadership, as well as the IT folks that are supporting them, that as we're rolling out new capabilities, we have a responsibility to protect the brand and the reputation. So they're always thinking first about exactly what the threats and the vulnerabilities might be and what we have to do about it.

We've got a lot of programs under way in our security program to try to train our developers how to develop application, secure coding practices, and what those need to be. We've got lots of work related to our security awareness program, so that the entire population of 45,000 employees has an understanding of what their responsibilities are to protect our company's information assets.

I will use a term used by a colleague that Raf and I know. Our intent is not to secure the company 100 percent. That's impossible, but we intend to provide responsible defenses to make sure that we are protecting the right assets in the right way.

Los: That's very interesting. You mentioned something about how the board reads the headlines, and I want to get your take on this. I'm going to venture a guess. It's not because you've managed to get them enough paper, reams of paper with reports that say we have a thousand vulnerabilities. It's not why they care.


Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: HP sponsored this podcast.


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