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The Trustwave Blog empowers information security professionals to achieve new heights through expert insight that addresses hot topics, trends and challenges and defines best practices.

A smart approach to monitor and maintain a secure network

Following our recent and successful webinar on the upcoming PCI DSS version 3.0 release, we asked the audience which requirements are the toughest to maintain throughout the compliance cycle. 

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The most popular responses were the need to regularly monitor and test network environments (36 percent) and the need to build and maintain a secure network and a vulnerability management program (30 percent).

These findings were not surprising and reflect one of the largest challenges that any company faces: recruiting and retaining suitably qualified specialist IT security staff. Current wages show that demand outstrips supply - and has done for some time. Many companies also conclude that IT is not a core business function. As such, investment in expensive support staff is even harder to justify.

However, regular testing and maintenance procedures remain the cornerstone of proficient network management, so it is necessary to do these things. This is where outsourcing and the use of managed service offerings can help offset the staffing issues. Third-party and managed service providers also benefit from economies of scale, which allow them to deliver services to multiple clients. Clients can also benefit from a potential reduction in their PCI DSS scope by outsourcing certain functions or services.

Another reason why companies struggle with establishing adequate maintenance and testing regimes is that they fail to recognize the value that these good practices bring. Thus, it is difficult to justify the investment required to establish and maintain them. Often this is because of a lack of risk management and risk assessment procedures.

By conducting a risk assessment, you are able to demonstrate to the rest of the business the value of the data you hold and the impact of someone stealing that information. Once you can establish the inherent risks, it is much easier to understand and justify the investment required to protect that data and securely run a network.

Repeating the risk assessment on a regular basis allows the customer to establish a baseline and track progress - and hopefully reduce risks. This is a positive reinforcement of the work that an IT department performs and will help convey the value it brings to their organization.

Chris Leppard is a managing consultant at Trustwave.