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Never mind sending sysadmins off to firewall configuration courses, corporate security could be substantially improved by persuading BOFHs to joint debating clubs.

While technical skills are relatively easy to measure for IT security staff, managers need to place a greater emphasis on measuring communication skills, META Group advises.

The analyst firm argues a significant part of the security jigsaw consists of policies governing the behaviour of individuals.

Traditionally, security professionals regard "awareness programmes" as a requirement, but few organisations have proven willing to fund strong communication programmes to help its technical staff get their message across or - we'd add - encourage users to listen.

META Group research indicates that more than 75 per cent of organisations identify a lack of user awareness as either "moderately or severely" reducing the effectiveness of their current security programme. In addition, two in three (66 per cent) of those quizzed believe a lack of awareness about risk management at board level in having a similar negative impact on corporate security.

"An ideal answer is to establish a well-funded and well-staffed security communication programme. But developing the corporate culture to support that level of investment takes years of effective communication by the existing security staff," said META Group security analyst Tom Scholtz.

"In fact, most organisations will fail to successfully secure their technology environment simply because the security staff lacks the communication skills to create this shift in corporate culture."

META suggests that 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, META advises.

"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 Scholtz.

"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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