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Organizations Cutting Back on IT Security Staff

The IT security function, as a percentage of total IT staff at enterprise organizations, appears to be in decline, according to an addendum on security in a research report released this week by Computer Economics.

The findings of the report, titled "IT Staffing Ratios and Trends," were gathered from respondents at 200 IT organizations and covered what the Irvine, Calif.-based research shop identified as 14 key IT functions, including security.

The study found that even as overall IT staffing across other functions -- such as database administration and application development -- are still increasing, staffing levels for security pros have been in steady decline over the last three years, coming in at just 1.5 percent in 2008 (compared to 1.8 percent in 2007 and 2 percent in 2006).

This leads to the question: Is security no longer a top priority in lean times?

"Clearly, there are a variety of reasons for this decline but the lack of a focus on security isn't one of them," said Frank Scavo, president of Computer Economics. "Qualified security personnel are in short supply and security as a mechanism of an IT department inside an organization is becoming less specialized. Plus, you have people in other areas whose duties also include a security element."

Scavo added that if an enterprise does has a staff member or a small group of workers whose sole purpose is the design, implementation and monitoring of a comprehensive security program, then "you don't need a lot of people for that."

For instance, a systems administrator and network administrator who can configure security parameters for the processing environment can, in tandem with an outside consultant or a third-party security software, eliminate the need for a full-fledged security staffer.

In that vein, the reality that specialized security personnel must take into account is that even though they are still in high demand, the high cost involved in deploying in-house security professionals in a real-time, 24/7 environment can be prohibitive.

To that end, security software and outsourced security functions are becoming an ever-increasing alternative to hiring actual people -- which may also account for the decline in in-house security staffers.

In the end, though, there's still another level of security involved in, well, deploying security.

"Needs in the enterprise security space are definitely changing," said Kelly Kavanagh, a senior analyst for information security strategy at Gartner. "Yet and still, the IT executive should so some footwork himself. This means logging on and making sure who you're hiring is not a couple of guys with beepers in an office suite. If you can, get references. We are talking about security, after all."

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.

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