A Security Plan with Teeth

Technology is essential, but security hinges much more on sound management.

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In the signature scene of the movie Marathon Man, the protagonist, Thomas “Babe” Levy, is asked a very simple question:

“Is it safe?”

Yes, yes, absolutely, very safe, he assures his interlocutor, who happens to be both a Nazi and a dentist (the mind boggles at the genius of that). But his answer isn’t convincing, and after a little prodding (with a dental drill) when the evil Dr. Szell again asks, “Is it safe?” Babe swears that it—whatever it is—is not safe at all, is in fact very unsafe, etc. Unfortunately, that answer doesn’t fly either, and since Levy (Dustin Hoffman) has absolutely no idea what Szell (Laurence Oliver) is talking about, his ignorance threatens to cost him his life.

Your CEO is, presumably, neither a Nazi nor a dentist, but when he or she next asks, “Is it safe?” will you feel every bit as uncomfortable as poor Babe? And can you run as fast?

Computer security has become the single most important topic in the IT world. If spending is any indication, companies seem to know this, because security budgets have outpaced overall IT expenditures for some time. But as useful and indeed essential as firewalls, E-mail filters, passwords, encryption, and the other accoutrements of the well-protected enterprise may be, security hinges much more on policies, procedures, employee education, and other aspects of sound management.

In this issue we look at security from several vantage points: our cover story on identity theft details why this growing crime should be of concern to all companies, not just those in the E-payments loop. Our survey of 260 senior finance executives uncovers some decidedly mixed messages about perception, reality, and risk, while our look at new biometrics technologies suggests one possible (albeit limited) solution to certain kinds of security problems.

Scare tactics are common in this arena, and our reporting found again and again that level heads must prevail lest companies overspend while remaining underprotected. That’s where CFOs can make a significant contribution. Is it safe? If you can answer an unequivocal yes, you are in a distinct minority.

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