Core Belief #4 — Compliance is a Dead-End

Posted April 12th, 2007 by

Compliance is a Dead-End

Compliance is aimed at one thing: limiting risks to the organization that writes or enforces the standard.  How’s that for “Bottom Line up Front” writing?

I’ve been a critic of approaching FISMA with an eye toward compliance, and I just recently started to look at PCI.  I’ve started to come around to a different way of thinking.  It all makes perfect sense for the people who write or enforce the standard–they’re cutting their losses and making the non-compliant organization take the blame.  It’s risk management done in a very effective Macchiavellian style.

For an organization looking to improve their security posture, taking a compliance-based approach will eventually implode on itself.  Why?  Because compliance is binary–you are or you’re not.  Risk management is not binary, it’s OK to say “well, we don’t meet the standard here, but we don’t really need to.”

If you base your security on compliance, you are spending too much of your time, people, and money on places where you shouldn’t be, and not enough on where you should be.  In engineering words, you have had your solution dictated to you by a compliance framework.

The endgame of all compliance is either CYA, finger-pointing, or both.  Look at how data breaches with both PCI and the government get spun in the press: “$Foo organization was not compliant with $Bar standard.”  As Adam Shostack says, “Data Breaches are Good for You”, the one caveat being “except when you are caught out of compliance and smeared by the enforcers of the compliance framework”.

I remember a post to the Policy, Standards, Regulations, and Compliance list from Mark Curphey back in the neolithic age of last year about “Do organizations care about compliance or do they care about being caught out of compliance?”  It makes more sense now that I look at it.

On the other side of the coin, what I believe in is risk management.  Risk management realizes that we cannot be compliant with any framework because frameworks are made for a “one size fits all” world.  Sometimes you have to break the rules to follow the rules, and there isn’t room for that in a compliance world.

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Posted in FISMA, NIST, Rants, Risk Management, What Doesn't Work | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1.  The Guerilla CISO » Blog Archive » Rebuilding C&A Says:

    […] Confusing compliance (check the box) with risk management (are we providing “adequate security”?) […]

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