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AID Sees Security as Essential to Good Business Practices

Liberty Mutual Insurance melds regulatory compliance and security awareness to better protect assets, customers, and employees

Welcome to the latest edition of the HP Discover Performance Podcast Series. Our next discussion examines how Liberty Mutual Insurance is effectively building security more deeply into its overall business practices.

We'll see how the requirements of compliance and regulatory governance are aligning with security best practices to attain the higher goals of enterprise resiliency, and deliver greater responsiveness to all varieties of risk.

Here to explore these and other security-related enterprise IT issues, we're joined by our co-host Raf Los, Chief Security Evangelist at HP Software, and special guest John McKenna, Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for Liberty Mutual Insurance, based in Boston. The chat is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Why is security so important to your business now, and in what ways are you investing?

McKenna: It’s pretty clear to us that the world has changed in terms of the threats and in terms of the kinds of technologies that we're using these days to enable our business. Certainly, there's an obligation there, a responsibility to protect our customers’ information as well as making sure that our business operations can continue to support those customers.

John McKenna

So, as I said, it's the realization that we need to make sure we’re as secure as we need to be, and we can have a very deep discussion about how secure we need to be.

In addition to that, we have our own employees, who we feel we need to protect to enable them to work and get the job done to support our customers, while doing so in a very secure workplace environment.

Gardner: How do you think things are different now than, say, four or five years ago?

McKenna: I'll start with just the technology landscape itself. From mobility platforms and social networking to cloud computing, all of those are introducing different attack vectors, different opportunities for the bad guys to take advantage of.

Reducing the threat

We need to make sure that we can use those technologies and enable our business to use them effectively to grow our business and service our customers, while at the same time, protecting them so that we reduce the threat. We will never eliminate it, but we can reduce the opportunities for the bad guys to take advantage.

Los: John, you talk about for your customers. From a security perspective, your customers are your external customers as well as internal, correct?

McKenna: We absolutely have our internal customer as well. We have partners, vendors, agencies, and brokers that we're doing business with. They're all part of the supply chain. We have an obligation to make sure that whatever tools and technologies we are enabling them with, we’re protecting that as well.

Gardner: Liberty Mutual, of course, is a large and long-time leader in insurance. Help us understand the complexity that you're managing when it comes to bringing security across this full domain.

McKenna: We're a global company in the Fortune 100 list. We have $35 billion in revenue and we have about 45,000 employees worldwide. We offer products across the personal and commercial lines products, or P&C, and life insurance products. We’ve got somewhere in the range of 900-plus offices globally.

So we have lots of people. We have lots of connections and we have a lot of customers and suppliers who are all part of this business. It’s a very complex business operation, and there are a lot of challenges to make sure that we're supporting the customers, the business, and also the projects that are continually trying to build new technology and new capabilities.

In the past, security was really something that was delegated and was an afterthought in some respect.

Gardner: Raf, when we talk about what’s different in companies, one of the things is that in the past security was really something that was delegated and was an afterthought in some respect.

But security is now thought through right at the very beginning of planning for new services. Is that the case in your travels?

Los: That’s what I'm seeing, and there's still the maturation that’s happening across the enterprise spectrum where a lot of the organizations -- believe it or not, in 2012 -- are still standing up formalized security organizations.

Not a given

So security is not a given yet, where that the department exists, is well-funded, well-staffed, and well-respected.You're getting to that state where security is not simply an afterthought or as it was in an organization in my past job history a decade ago or so. In those types of companies, they would get it done and the say, "By the way, security, if you take a look at this before we launch it, make sure it’s given virtual thumbs up. You’ve got about 20 minutes to go."

Raf Los

If you can get away from that, it’s really about security teams stepping up and demonstrating that they understand the business model and that they're there to serve the organization, rather than simply dictate policy. It’s really a process of switching from this tight iron-grip on control to more of a risk model.

It's sort of a cliché, but IT technology risks understanding acceptance and guidance. I think that’s where it’s starting to win over the business leaders. It’s not that people don’t care about security. They do. They just don’t know they do. It’s up to us to make sure that they understand the context of their business.

Gardner: John, is that ringing true for you at Liberty Mutual?

McKenna: It absolutely is. It goes from the top on down. Our board certainly is reading the headlines every day. Where there are new breaches, their first question is, "Can this happen to us?"

As we're rolling out new capabilities, we have a responsibility to protect the brand and the reputation.

So it certainly starts there, but I think that there absolutely is an appreciation at our strategic business units, the leadership, as well as the IT folks that are supporting them, that as we're rolling out new capabilities, we have a responsibility to protect the brand and the reputation. So they're always thinking first about exactly what the threats and the vulnerabilities might be and what we have to do about it.

We’ve got a lot of programs under way in our security program to try to train our developers how to develop application, secure coding practices, and what those need to be. We’ve got lots of work related to our security awareness program, so that the entire population of 45,000 employees has an understanding of what their responsibilities are to protect our company's information assets.

I will use a term used by a colleague that Raf and I know. Our intent is not to secure the company 100 percent. That’s impossible, but we intend to provide responsible defenses to make sure that we are protecting the right assets in the right way.

Los: That’s very interesting. You mentioned something about how the board reads the headlines, and I want to get your take on this. I'm going to venture a guess. It’s not because you’ve managed to get them enough paper, reams of paper with reports that say we have a thousand vulnerabilities. It’s not why they care.

Quite a challenge

McKenna: Absolutely right. When I say they're reading the headlines, they're reading what’s happening to other companies. They're asking, "Can that happen to us?" It's quite a challenge -- a challenge to give them the view, the visibility that is right, that speaks to exactly what our vulnerabilities are and what we are going about it. At the same time, I'm not giving them a report of a hundred pages that lists every potential incident or vulnerability that we uncovered.

Los: In your organization, whose job is it? We’ve had triangulation between the technical nomenclature, technical language, the bits and bytes, and then the stuff at the board actually understands. I'm pretty sure SQL injection is not something that a board member would understand.

McKenna: It's my job and it's working with my CIO to make sure that we are communicating at the right levels and very meaningfully, and that we’ve, in fact, got the right perspective on this ourselves. You mentioned risk and moving to more of a risk model. We're all a bit challenged on maturing, what that model, that framework, and those metrics are.

When I think about how we should be investing in security at Liberty Mutual and making the business case, sometimes it's very difficult, but I think about it at the top level. If you think about any business model, one approach is a product approach, where you get specific products and you develop go-to-market strategies around those.

If you think about the bad guys and their products, either they're looking to steal customer information, they are looking to steal intellectual property (IP), or they're looking to just shut down systems and disable services. So at the high level, we need to figure out exactly where we fit in that food chain? How much bigger risk are we at at that product level?

It's working with my CIO to make sure that we are communicating at the right levels and very meaningfully.

Gardner: I've seen another on-ramp to getting the attention and creating enough emphasis on the importance of security through the compliance and regulation side of things, and certainly the payment card industry (PCI) comes to mind. Has this been something that's worked for you at Liberty Mutual, or you have certain compliance issues that perhaps spur along behaviors and patterns that can lead to longer-term security benefit?

McKenna: We're a highly-regulated industry, and PCI is perhaps a good example. For our personal insurance business unit, we've just achieved compliance through QSA. We’ve worked awfully hard at that. It’s been a convenient step for us to address some of these foundational security improvements that we needed to make.

We're not done yet. We need to extend that and now we're working on that, so that our entire systems have the same level of protections and controls that are required by PCI, but even beyond PCI. We're looking to extend those to all personal identifiable information, any sensitive information in the company, making sure that those assets have the same protections, the same controls that are essential.

Gardner: Raf, do you see that as well that the compliance issues are really on-ramp, or an accelerant, to some of these better security practices that we've been talking about?

Los: Absolutely. You can look at compliance in one of two ways. You can either look at a compliance from a peer’s security perspective and say compliance is hogwash, just a checkbox exercise. There’s simply no reason that it's ever going to improve security.

Being an optimist

Or you can be an optimist. I choose to be an optimist, and take my cue from a mentor of mine and say, "Look, it's a great way to demonstrate that you can do the minimum due diligence, satisfy the law and the regulation, while using it as a springboard to do other things."

And John has been talking about this too. Foundationally, I see things like PCI and other regulations, HIPAA, taking things that security would not ordinarily get involved in. For, example, fantastic asset management and change management and organization.

When we think security, the first thing that often we hear is probably not a good change management infrastructure. Because of regulations and certain industries being highly regulated, you have to know what's out there. You have to know what shape it's in.


If you know your environment, the changes that are being made, know your assets, your cycles, and where things fall, you can much more readily consider yourself better at security. Do you believe that?

McKenna: It's a great plan. I think a couple of things. First of all, about leveraging compliance, PCI specifically, to make improvements for your entire security posture.

Because of regulations and certain industries being highly regulated, you have to know what's out there. You have to know what shape it's in.

So we stepped back and considered, as a result of PCI mapped against the SANS Top 20 cyber security controls, where we made improvements. Then, we demonstrated that we made improvements in 16 of the 20 across the enterprise. So that's one point. We use compliance to help and improve the overall security posture.

As far as getting involved in other parts of the IT lifecycle, absolutely -- change management, asset management. Part of our method now for any new asset that's been introduced into production, the first question is, is this a PCI-related asset? And that requires certain controls and monitoring that we have to make sure are in place.

Level of sophistication

We're certainly dealing with a higher level of sophistication. We know that. We also know that there is a lot we don't know. We certainly are different from some industries. We don't see that we're necessarily a direct target of nation-states, but maybe an indirect. If we're part of a supply chain that is important, then we might still get targeted.

But my comment to that is that we've recognized the sophistication and we've recognized that we can't do this alone. So we've been very active, very involved in the industry, collaborating with other companies and even collaborating with universities.

An effort we've got underway is the Advanced Cyber Security Center, run out of Boston. It's a partnership across public and private sectors and university systems, trying to develop ways we can share intelligence, share information, and improve the overall talent-base of and knowledge base of our companies and industry.

Los: This is something that's been building. When we started many years ago, hacking was a curiosity. It moved into a mischief. It moved into individual gains and benefits. People were showing off to their girlfriend that they hacked a website and defaced it.

There are entire cultures, entire markets, and strata of organized crime that get into this.

Those elements have not gone away, by the way, but we've moved into a totally new level of sophistication. The reason for that is that organized crime got involved. The risk is a lot higher in person than it is over the Internet. Encrypting somebody's physical hard drive and threatening to never give it back, unless they pay you, is a lot easier when there is nobody physically standing in front of you who can pull a gun on you. It's just how it is.

Over the “Internet,” there is anonymity per se. There is a certain level of perceived anonymity and it's easier to be part of those organized crimes. There are entire cultures, entire markets, and strata of organized crime that get into this. I'm not even going to touch the whole thing on activism and that whole world, because that’s an entirely different ball of wax.

But absolutely, the threat has evolved. It's going to continue to evolve. To use a statement that was made earlier this morning in a keynote by Bruce Schneier, technology is often adapted by the bad guys much faster than it is with good guys.


The bad guys look at it and say, "Ooh, how do we utilize it?" Good guys look at a car and say, "I can procure it, do an RFP, and it will take me x number of months." Bad guys say, "That’s our getaway vehicle." It’s just the way it works. It's opportunity.

Insurance approach

Gardner: I want to go out on a limb a little bit here and only because Liberty Mutual is a large and established insurance company. One of the things that I’ve been curious about in the field of security is when an insurance approach to security might arise?

For example, when fire is a hazard, we have insurance companies that come to a building and say, "We'll insure you, but you have to do x, y and z. You have to subscribe to these practices and you have to put in place this sort of infrastructure. Then, we'll come up with an insurance policy for you." Is such a thing possible with security for enterprises. Maybe you’re not the right person, John, but I am going to try.

McKenna: It’s an interesting discussion, and we had some of that discussion internally. Why aren’t we leveraging some of the practices of our actuarial departments, or risk assessors that are out there working our insurance products?

I recently met with a company that, in fact, brokers cyber insurance, and we're trying to learn from them. This is certainly not a mature product yet or mature marketplace for cyber insurance. Yet they're applying the same types of risk assessments, risk analysis, and metrics to determine exactly what a company’s vulnerabilities might be, what their risk posture might be, and exactly how to price a cyber insurance product. We're trying to learn from that.

The fact that you don’t have the metrics is one side of this. It’s very difficult to price.

Los: As you were talking, I kept thinking that my life insurance company knows how much they charge me based on years and years and years and years of statistical data behind smokers, non-smokers, people who drive fast, people who are sedentary, people who workout, eat well, etc. Do we have enough data in the cyber world? I don’t think so, which means this is a really interesting game of risk.

McKenna: It’s absolutely an interesting point. The fact that you don’t have the metrics is one side of this. It’s very difficult to price. But the fact that they at least know what they should be measuring to come up with that price is part of it. You need to leverage that as a risk model and figure out what kind of assumptions you're making and what evidence can you produce to at least verify or invalidate the model.

Los: On the notion of insurance, I can just think of all the execs that have listened to that, if it’s that insurance,saying, "Great. That means we don’t have to do anything, and if something bad happens the insurance will cover it." I can just see that as a light bulb going on over somebody’s head.

McKenna: We're just trying to learn from it, to understand how we should be assessing our own risk posture and prioritizing where we think the security investment should be.

Away from the silo

Los: Security is going to continue to move away from being a silo in the enterprise. It's something that is fundamental, a thread through the fabric. The notion of a stand-alone security team is definitely becoming outdated. It’s a model that does not work. We demonstrated that it does not work.

It cannot be an afterthought and all the fun clichés to go with it. What you're going to start seeing more and more of are the nontraditional security things. Those include, as I said, like I said change management, log aggregation, getting more involved into business day to day, and actually understanding.

I can't tell you how many security people I talk to that I asked the question, "So what does your company do?" And I get that brief moment of blank stare. If you can’t tell me how your company survives, stays competitive, and makes money, then really what are you doing and what are you protecting, and more importantly, why?

That’s going to continue to evolve, it’s just going to separate the really good folks, like John, that get it from those who are simply pushing buttons and hoping for the best.

Gardner: I'm afraid we will have to leave it there. Please me join me in thanking our co-host, Raf Los, Chief Security Evangelist at HP Software, and our special guest John McKenna, Vice President and CISO for Liberty Mutual. You can gain more insights and information on the best of IT Performance Management at

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At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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