Employees working in IT security should not firewall off their own lines of communication, according to META Group, Inc. While technical skills are relatively easy to measure for IT security staff, managers need to place a greater emphasis on measuring communication skills.

Policies that control the selection and deployment of technology may have automated enforcement, but a significant part of security consists of policies governing the behavior of individuals. Traditionally, security professionals have regarded "awareness programs" as a requirement, but few organizations have proven willing to fund strong communication programs of this type. META Group research indicates that more than 75 percent of organizations identify a lack of user awareness as moderately or severely reducing the effectiveness of their current security program. In addition, 66 percent identify a lack of executive awareness as having similar levels of impact.

"An ideal answer is to establish a well-funded and well-staffed security communication program. But developing the corporate culture to support that level of investment takes years of effective communication by the existing security staff. In fact, most organizations will fail to successfully secure their technology environment simply because the security staff lacks the communication skills to create this shift in corporate culture," said META Group security analyst Chris Byrnes.

Annual reviews and initial hiring criteria should not only measure a security staffer's technical capabilities, but also the ability to communicate. Whether disseminating policy to end users or presenting budgets for senior-level executives, communication is a critical skill for most security staff and should therefore be given equal opportunity for review. One area that managers can focus on as a measure of security communication skills is the end user's knowledge of policy and policy awareness.

"Certainly, the ability to configure and maintain security enforcement tools is at the core of the position, but the importance of communicating security policy to end users is critical to obtain their cooperation in security initiatives and therefore should not be given short shrift," said Byrnes. "As security teams focus on policy and audit/compliance, the success of those security initiatives depends on obtaining cooperation from end users, executive management, and IT and business managers."

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