Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Best of breed

The debate about whether it makes sense to buy best of breed products for security or if “good enough” is good enough (Ok, that was ugly J). Mike Rothman wrote a very good post about this a few years ago. I agree with most of his point on this, that “best of breed” makes sense for innovative products but not for mature technologies. But lately I’ve been seeing some discussion that expands the discussion.

I think that Mike’s post makes all sense for products. However, I’ve been seeing the same rationale being applied to services. But I’m really not sure that the same thing applies to services. Let’s think about Managed Security Services, for example. If you are outsourcing your SOC, even if it’s a mature service offering in the market, does it make sense to go for the “good enough”? Doesn’t look like it does. For mature products there isn’t a big difference between the best products and rest of the pack. In addition to that, there are usually benefits to get a product that is part of a suite you already have in place, from a vendor that you already have an enterprise license agreement or provides better integration with your other tools. But services are about human intelligence. You get what you pay, plain and simple. You can have you big box IT services provider doing that, but if you look the way they operate you’ll always see the same things: high turnover, low salaries, unskilled and inexperienced employees. It’s just not possible to provide the same level of service as the boutique providers that are specialized in that type of service and thus put a lot more energy on getting the right people doing it. The features of a service are directly linked to the people providing it, so the differences between the best and rest are higher than for products.

There are services where that wouldn’t matter, where you really don’t need intelligence and content, just a bunch of eyes and hands. Those are the services that are usually outsourced in all other disciplines, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be different in IT or Infosec. But we often underestimate the skills necessary for some services, and MSS are usually the case. A SOC manned by unprepared analysts will only spit alerts provided by default configuration and out of the box rules from standard tools. A best of breed SOC will bring intelligence to the work, providing customized rules, configurations, threat information, ingest internal context information and prove meaningful alerts. Be careful when discarding the best of breed. For things like highly specialized services the “best” is the minimum you should expect, and “good enough” will almost always be “not enough”.

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