Standardization of processes is key to success at information security companies. But these companies also face cultural obstacles, such as the idea that imposing rigid standards stifles worker creativity and spontaneity. This article explains why process improvement at an InfoSec company actually leads to more opportunities for creative expression, not less. It also gives tips on starting a standardization process, given these cultural obstacles.
Streamlining Your InfoSec Company’s Workload: How Standardization Makes You Smarter and More Responsive
Streamlining Your InfoSec
Makes You Smarter and
So far in our series of articles on InfoSec business
improvement, we’ve talked a lot about the beneﬁts
of setting up processes. Established processes, like
having deﬁned and regularly updated
methodologies, improve the consistency and
accuracy of your tests; this beneﬁts your clients
and, as a result, your company.
And we know we’re probably preaching to the choir
a bit on this one. Most owners and managers would
agree that having set methodologies in place is
ideal. The problem comes in implementation: getting
people to follow the established procedures all the
time, every time.
Process improvement can be especially diﬃcult at
InfoSec companies. This is often for cultural
reasons. One major obstacle is the hacker ethos,
which places a high valuation on creativity and
spontaneity. For many pentest professionals, the
mere idea of processes and procedures can be a
killjoy. Standardization is not, on the surface, fun or
But what is often not understood is that process
standardization actually leads to more opportunities
to be creative, not fewer. In this article, we’ll talk
—The reasons why standardization fosters creativity
—Other cultural obstacles you may be facing that
—Some steps you can take to start shifting your
company culture towards acceptance of
Why does putting standards in place lead to more
To make a long story short:
1. Standardization reduces time spent on oft-
repeated tasks that you already consider correct
(e.g.; your up-to-date methodologies and
procedures that don’t need to be reinvented).
2. By saving time on those oft-repeated tasks,
there’s more time left to work creatively on the
problem at hand.
Let’s imagine a craftsman who
makes wooden chairs by hand.
The craftsman has a process he
follows. He selects the wood a
certain way, he cuts the wood a
certain way, he assembles the
pieces using established, proven
It’s only towards the end of his process that he adds
the details that are most outwardly creative and that
have the most in common with art: ornamental
carvings and designs, maybe some painting.
The main bulk of his work, though, is a set process
that he follows. The more eﬃcient he makes his
fundamental process, the more time he has to
dedicate to the more creative elements.
This is a bit similar to pentesting. Pentesting is also
more a craft than it is an art, but it does oﬀer the
opportunity for creative and artistic problem-solving.
The bulk of the time on a pentest (maybe 75%)
should be established procedures: i.e., your testers
are using a given methodology for the technologies
The remainder of the project time (maybe 25%) can
then be spent on creative approaches to breaking
Pentesters Are Wasting Time
Without set, standardized, and organized
methodologies in place, your testers are often
winging it on a job. They are spending a lot of time
“re-inventing the wheel.”
For example, a tester may be doing the same
vulnerability test on a Citrix environment as another
tester did the week before, but because there’s no
set repository for your company’s knowledge and no
set methodology, the tester spends time researching
the most current attack vectors and techniques
And that’s time he could have spent creatively
hacking, after performing the minimum, required
So instead of spending 25% of
the project time trying some
unique approaches to breaking
the system, he winds up running
out of time, having only enough
time to complete the bare
minimum required tests.
He may get some small satisfaction out of feeling he
“did everything on his own”, but at what price? He
has lost an opportunity to really focus his creative
talents on the system at hand. Most importantly, the
client has not been served optimally, either.
Let’s look at the major cultural obstacles to
instituting established methodologies at InfoSec
People who are interested in hacking and pentesting
often have a lot of traits in common, such as:
—A high value on creativity.
—A high value on being able to do things
spontaneously and oﬀ the cuﬀ (because that
shows true understanding).
—Disdain for following rules.
—Disdain for authority.
Understanding that these traits may be true for
some of your team members will help you
communicate with them.
This may also help you convince them why
standardization should be something they support
and not something to ﬁght or run from.
Standardization will leave them more time to have
fun (i.e., break stuﬀ and learn new things).
In our last article we talked about knowledge
transfer and how important it is for your team
members to share information.
But tech workers can have a lot of ego and pride
associated with the knowledge and experience
they’ve accumulated. This can manifest as an
unwillingness to share knowledge, and possibly
even a desire to hide knowledge.
This is not just a problem in InfoSec. This happens in
many companies, across all industries.
Hiding knowledge can also be seen as a strategy to
make oneself more irreplaceable. The thinking goes:
“If I tell my coworkers everything I know, what use
am I? They’ll easily replace me.”
But this is a false conclusion. It is based on the idea
that an employee’s worth is based on mere facts,
checklists, and procedures when, in fact, an
employee’s worth is based on much broader factors,
—The ability to learn new things and understand
how things work together.
—A willingness to contribute to a team.
One way to combat this obstacle is to show the
many beneﬁts of sharing knowledge, including:
—Other people more easily recognize your
expertise, which leads to respect from peers.
—Other people recognize your willingness to share
and teach others, which also leads to respect.
—Others are more willing to share with you the
things that they know, which increases your
Again, these can be ingrained cultural obstacles that
are hard to overcome. But the more you can make
your team members see these beneﬁts, the more
you can start to make progress in shifting the
Past Process Failures
Another obstacle may be that your workers have
negative associations with past company attempts
at standardization. This may be attempts made at
your company or at companies they’ve previously
For example, one of your testers may hear that
you’re trying to set up repositories for
methodologies and think something like: “They tried
this at my last company.
They had me go through weeks of establishing
methodologies and putting them in certain places.
And what happened? Nobody cared and nobody
ended up using them. These attempts at
standardization are a waste of time.”
Unfortunately, due to the sub-par way most process
improvement is implemented, this can be an
understandable reaction. Understanding this
resistance on the part of your team members can
help you combat that resistance in terms they will
For all the obstacles mentioned above, it’s important
to start with small steps.
One of the ﬁrst small steps is simply communicating
with your team. Talk to your team members and try
to educate them on the ideas in this article.
Have team meetings where you emphasize that
standard protocols won’t constrict them; they’re a
ticket to more creative freedom.Tell them you want
to save their prime brainpower for solving the big
problems, not reinventing the wheel on the usual
ones, and standardization allows them to do that.
As we talked about in our last article on Knowledge
Transfer, it’s important to ﬁrst ensure that a process
is being used by everyone. In other words, don’t
spend massive amounts of hours on trying to set up
a process and getting people to contribute to
methodology repositories if you’re not sure or can
even verify if the process is being used.
Start small. Create a simple process that your team
members must follow (even if that means they are
still doing a lot of other things on their own). Make
sure the process is being followed by all team
members and establish a simple means of verifying
that it is a living, useful tool.
Once you have a system in place that is being used,
then you can incrementally improve it. As we’ve
been talking about in this series, this is the basis for
long-term, lasting improvement in a company.
This improvement process can play out in all other
aspects of your company.
For example, once you
standardize your scoping and
scheduling, and get them down
to an exact, eﬃcient science,
that leaves more time for your
team to work on more important
things, like brainstorming new,
creative ways to do those tasks,
or working on getting new
Or if your salespeople have a streamlined system for
handling and nurturing leads, this will result in them
spending more time on brainstorming better selling
In short: every system you standardize opens up
more room for creativity and improvement.
Hopefully with this article we’ve given you increased
clarity on some ways to combat some cultural
obstacles you may be facing at your company.
Speciﬁcally, we hope this article has helped you see
the reasons why process standardization leads to
your testers being more creative and productive, not
If this article strikes a chord with you, please reach
out and let us know the challenges at your company
and maybe some unique things you’ve done to enact
In the next few articles in this series, we’ll discuss
some other areas of InfoSec project management,
including ways to stabilize and/or increase revenue,
and more strategies for creating sustainable cultural
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