Why you need a security buddy (and how to find one)

Michael Santarcangelo explains why pairing security pros with non-security people helps each partner do their job more effectively - and reduces risk for the enterprise

Michael Santarcagelo, security career catalyst

At a school event, I noticed my son sitting and talking with a younger boy. When I asked who he was, my son explained, "he's my kinder buddy!"

A few more questions revealed that the school has a program that purposefully mixes older students with younger students to improve reading. The pair work together to select a topic of mutual interest, pick out a book, read together, and then have time to "work" and play together.

The teachers rave about the program. The older students take the program seriously. They get excited to guide another student to pick out and read books. They don't even realize their reading skills improve in the process. The younger students are thrilled to have someone "just like them" to work with. Both benefit while having fun.

[Related: To work better, you need a change in perspective]

In my view, this program does more, too:

  • Older children are exposed to the process of teaching younger children; as a result, the older children come away with new insights... and more questions
  • Younger children learn differently from children a few years older (peers) than they do from teachers (authority); this blend allows the children to work in a shared context and experience that increases relevance for both
  • As I witnessed, they form friendships and are able to "network" through the school; admittedly, they don't see it as networking in the business sense, but it ultimately builds a stronger school of personal relationships

The same approach applied to the business world, with some slight changes, brings similar benefits.

Who is your security buddy?

The school program pairs older students gaining confidence in reading with younger students learning to read. When applied to security, the focus shifts from age to experience. Not more or less, but "different" experience.

It means security professionals pair up with a non-security person — a professional in some other aspect of the business. Two professionals working together allows each to learn about the other. Security shares. Security learns. As a result, each learns how to do their jobs better.

This forces security professionals to explain what they do in a way that makes sense to others. In the process, they establish personal, professional relationships and friendships across the organization. Real connections with real people that work to improve communication and reduce risk across the enterprise.

How to find a buddy? The shadow knows....

One of the easiest ways to find a security buddy and build a successful relationship is to start with "shadowing."

Consider one of the following approaches and pick someone:

  • With a role in a complimentary business function (willing to participate and share); marketing, sales, or other business function of potential direct benefit
  • Who works in an area you don't currently understand, but want to; maybe it's a real challenge — with the real benefit of not understanding and experiencing some confusion at the words and concepts used.
  • From a group or department that appears to resist security; learning about their experience and operations, first hand, creates the ability to build bridges and offer the right security solutions.

The key is finding and partnering with someone curious about security and able to teach the elements of what they do. This works across the business, including development, marketing and sales. In fact, security professionals focused on security awareness should make an effort to seek out a marketing or sales buddy.

Build a mutually beneficial program

Calling it the "buddy" program could work. Might be foolish. The name is not as important as the program. Select the right name to drive the right results.

Set the expectation that the goal is to learn as much as it is to share and explore (like teaching, but less formal). Seek a partner equally willing to participate. Find someone prepared to reveal candid insights, challenges, and opportunities.

Find out what others want to learn about. Then explore and practice ways to make the information accessible. Learn enough from the other person to bring security concepts to life in their world, using their words. In the process, learn more about how to ease security into the business.

Finding a security partner is educational. It creates friendships. It is a sure way to build a better security team. If you get stuck, send me a note. Together we can make it work.

About Michael SantarcangeloInto the Breach, Michael Santarcangelo is the founder of Security Catalyst, a practice devoted to harnessing the human side of security. Michael offers keynote presentations, seminars and consulting on security awareness, effective communication of security, security career management for teams and support for security leadership. Learn more at securitycatalyst.com

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