Six ways to justify security training

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A few days ago, a reader asked if I could help him justify the cost of security training that he and his fellow Unix system administrators felt they needed.

I gave the reader a variety of ideas, one of which is sure to resonate with his manager. When making your pitch, you might want to try these reasons:

1. Avoidance of a costly security incident. The knowledge and skills gained in security training will help system administrators do a better job of securing systems. For instance, host hardening may help to prevent a break-in. Improving password quality may fend off a dictionary attack. Security incidents are expensive, disruptive and could cause long-term pain for people’s careers. Incidents interrupt and take the momentum out of projects and turn department priorities upside down.

2. Avoidance of disruptive downtime. Often, when the knowledge gained in security training is applied to host hardening, those systems have added resiliency. This will make them more resistant to attacks, improving availability. No one likes downtime, especially unscheduled downtime for security reasons. Unscheduled downtime hurts those end-of-month metrics and other performance indicators.

3. Improved availability. Learning security skills sharpens a system administrator’s overall skills: To secure a system, one must be intimately familiar with a system. Administrators trained in security will be more familiar with all of the systems’ switches and knobs and will be less likely to make mistakes. Mistakes decrease availability and reliability.

4. Improved consistency. Meticulous system administrators will want to secure not just one system, but all of the systems in his sphere of influence. This will tend to make the configuration of many systems more consistent. Consistency is a good thing in busy environments where several people are managing a large population of systems. The more consistent the systems are, the less likely things are going to go wrong.

5. Improved failure analysis. Administrators who have received security training will know more about how their systems work. Consequently they’ll do a better job of root-cause analysis the next time something goes wrong.

6. Improved audit results. Many companies’ IT shops are under more scrutiny than ever. Increased regulation, stricter requirements from customers or suppliers, or the need to reduce the probability of security incidents are driving home the need to improve the security of systems, processes and people. More companies than ever are facing audits. In many cases, the high-level results of those audits are publicly available (in particular, audits performed on government systems and publicly held companies).

Many companies are having security companies perform security assessments on their systems, networks and operations, in order to discover opportunities for improvement. In the face of this, management often opens the training spigot a little to help improve the results of upcoming assessments.

Increased marketability
The more training you can put on your resume, the more marketable you will become. As a longtime IT manager, I have always encouraged my staff members to improve their skills through training and certifications. I have long held to what was first a counterintuitive fact: The more marketable your staff members are, the more likely they are to stay.

There are two reasons for this. First, technologists love to learn new skills and technologies. If I provide both, they’re more likely to stay put and ride the learning train for as long as possible. Second, if I’m providing my staff with learning and training opportunities, they’ll feel more secure in their jobs and be less likely to develop anxiety that can lead to a job change.

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