Price versus Value; Why it is Important in Information Security

Running my own business now means I have to work out how much I am going to charge for my services, and if the market (or client) is going to be willing to pay me that price. It makes for an interesting internal dialogue, especially as I have always been told to not sell myself short or underestimate the skills I have and the value they bring to a client.

I recently lost out on some work because the client decided to go with somebody established rather than a new company like me. To be fair to them they had paid me well for five days consultancy to help them work out what they wanted, and they were very pleased with what was delivered so I honestly thought they would choose me. Hubris at its best I suppose.

I suspect that by going with a larger, established company they may well be paying less than I quoted for (it was assistance with ISO27001 certification by the way). The established company would have a larger range of resources, some certainly more junior than me and the people I was going to subcontract with, a tried and tested approach they have used hundreds of times before, and larger resources to back them up throughout the process. The client will certainly become compliant and obtain the certification.

Now, I am not going to denigrate the work this competition do, but I imagine they would be very task oriented, focussed on getting the certification for their client, and ensuring they come back year after year for more support. Then they will be onto the next job and doing the same thing again in short order. I have been a part of this process myself in my old consulting days.

So what value would someone like me bring then, especially if the end goal is the same, i.e. certification? Put simply, I strongly believe in the differing cultures of one company to the next, and the fact that what is left at the end of the certification needs to be reflective of that culture and able to be adopted for the long term. That means policies, procedures, communications and the overarching ethos of the programme must be in harmony with the clients vision and goals. That is very hard to do with a boilerplate approach. I guess it comes down to “the personal touch” as well as a somewhat selfless approach in ensuring the client is educated in the process enough along the way that they could actually go through the process again with significantly less of your support.

Is it the most immediately profitable approach? Of course not, but it is how you build “sticky” relationships with potential clients by ensuring they see you are there for their benefit and not yours. With a bit of luck this will mean more opportunities with them in the future or recommendations to other potential clients.

There are certainly no hard feelings between me and the client I mentioned at the beginning, they are lovely, honest and transparent people who I enjoyed working with and who paid me a fair price for my time in the analysis phase, and I really do wish them the best of luck in their certification with their new vendor.

I just hope they call me when they realise what they could have had. <Disengage hubris mode>


From Paris With Love; the oncoming storm of the generational gap

frompariswithlove_1The media has been awash with stories about Paris Brown, the UK’s first youth police and crime commissioner who felt she had no option to resign even before formally taking up her post as a result of allegedly offensive messages she had posted on Twitter.

To many, she had done nothing wrong; here was a teenager who was simply testing and pushing the boundaries of her adolescent world, sharing views and comments in her private life in an attempt to learn, identify with and grow into an adult. She had been chosen from a large number of candidates for this role precisely because she was typical of many of her peers, and her views of the world and the society she lived in, warts and all, were almost a requirement of the role in the first place.

To others, she was demonstrating vulgar and offensive sensibilities in a public domain that have no place in a role in public office. To that end Kent Police are currently reviewing the tweets in question so ascertain if a case should be made against her.

I believe this is going to be the thin end of the wedge, and that many more instances of issues like this will come through over the coming  years. This is going to have, in my opinion, a number of ramifications in our industry in a number of areas:

BYOD. The adoption of smartphones across society combined with bring your own device policies across industries has meant that the boundaries between personal and professional life are becoming increasingly blurred. This blurring means that people will increasingly lose the definition between what can and can’t be shared from the workplace which is going to become an issue. Sharing confidential documents via a BYOD enabled smartphone to personal accounts so they can be worked from home is not going to be seen as an issue; the content is on “my” device after all. Tweeting or blogging about activities from the workplace is increasingly the norm, even if those activities are confidential or secret. Even the acronym NSFW, not safe for work, has evolved to identify what content may or not be suitable for viewing and sharing in the workplace (how else can I get the time to view all of this awesome content?). As quickly as NSFW has come about I predict it’s demise as these boundaries crumble and fall and anything and everything will be considered as acceptable to view at work as long as it is on “my device”.

Privacy vs Personal.  There has been a growing trend amongst recruiters to look at the social media profiles of potential candidates. There is nothing illegal or unethical in this per se, although even standard police employment checks for the kind of role Paris Brown was entering into don’t specifically call out the need for social media checks/reviews. This is the dichotomy of the situation; how can I expect privacy when I do not observe it with my company data, and yet posting my weekends antics to my friends should remain with my friends, and yet this is the very real expectation it seems. How long will it be before this crashing realisation for a generation of people that what they have done in their adolescent years as they grew up really wasn’t just between friends but between the whole world, and put them at a distinct disadvantage in the job market? And will this realisation bring a raft of legislation along the lines of age discrimination, that disallows the use of this information during interview? There have already been cases of prospective employers in the US asking for Facebook credentials of candidates in order to check their backgrounds. Whilst this does cross moral, ethical and professional lines in many of our books, this is the inevitable alternative if this legislation doesn’t come in. As an infosec industry we will be on the front line of educating people of these consequences and potentially enforcing any incoming legislation in the workplace.

Professionalism in our Industry. But what about the here and now? As a profession we are held to a high standard of professional standards and ethics. All the organisations that we affiliate ourselves with to one extent or another have clear professional ethics. If during the recruitment process you have an opportunity to review somebodies social media background, would you take it? How would you use that information, and to what extent would a checkered social life influence your decisions? There are two sides to this of course; do your professional ethics stop you from looking (or just taking action from them), but then again would you want someone who appears to display a lack of self control and publicly put themselves into position of vulnerability that may allow them to be more easily bribed or blackmailed in an area that demands high levels of security and trust?

This generational gap in appreciation of the long lasting impacts of current social media in the world of big data is an area I believe is yet to be addressed fully. The sociological impacts of a series of younger generations engaging with an always on culture of social media are not yet fully understood and should be explored further. I hope the above is dipping a toe in the water of this huge body of water. Ultimately, if you are not paying for it, you are not the customer; you are the product…

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Presentation Style IS Important

Poor Presenter Type.004Just before Christmas I had an excellent opportunity to co present one of Javvad’s (@j4vv4d) eponymous InfoSec video blogs. In it we took a tongue in cheek look at the variety of styles of bad presentation that we have observed at various conferences and forums. I should of course stress that neither one of us claims to be keynote material with regards to our own presentation style, but we are constantly struck by how many presentations are unintelligible, difficult to follow, underprepared or any other myriad of things that dramatically reduce the impact and message a presentation is supposed to give.

The video blog (here) looks at ten different styles that we felt were the most heinous; there were a further ten left on the cutting room floor! Obviously it was a humorous view in order to best get the point across but it does underscore a serious point, namely that it is astonishing that for a so called professional industry the quality of presentations is often so low, even at events that you have to pay for. I for one expect more.

What I want to look at now though is not “what” we should be doing to improve these presentations because that has been done elsewhere (here and here); rather I will focus on the “why” because it is important to understand the reasons for improving our presentations and the positive outcomes it will have to our community.

In my opinion, it comes down to three points:

Firstly (and in reference back to the video blog), I see so many people in the audience quite simply just turning off in the face of poor presentation style (be it the slide, the verbal delivery etc). All of us attend these forums and conferences to learn from other people, observe their real world experiences and look to see how we can apply the learning into our own professional lives. And yet the first message we get is that the topic in hand is dull, or inaudible or illegible. In any kind of information security conference all topics should be interesting to one extent or another to all attendees. It is the presenters primary responsibility to make the topic interesting, grab the audiences attention and maintain it throughout.

Secondly, it is a question of value for money. This is very apparent in the situations where an event costs money to attend; I expect a certain level of professionalism, content and delivery, and in too many cases it is simply not apparent. In free events, this is less obvious for the audience (who are often getting free beer and food at the same time), but the poor presenter is letting down the sponsor and perhaps sullying their name and reputation. Of course there is also the reputational damage to the individual giving the poor presentation!

Finally, it is a matter of professionalism for the industry and community. Not only do we need to be taken seriously amongst ourselves but we must ensure we can speak convincingly within our own organisations. If we cannot put across our thoughts, analysis, reasoning, proposals and perhaps most importantly our requests for budget in a convincing and professional manner the infosec industry (and your department) will never be taken seriously.

None of us are perfect, especially when it comes to standing up in front of a demanding audience, but I strongly believe we should be asking our trusted colleagues, peers and acquaintances for feedback each and every time we present. What we get back from them may make for uncomfortable listening, but as long as the feedback is given constructively, openly, without fear of reprisal and with good intentions we will all benefit, as individuals, as organisations and as an industry.