How do you choose a software security consultant for an IT project?
Before we answer that question, I should first explain why companies need security consultants at all, and what their responsibilities typically entail. This will help you figure out whether this is a good option for you.
While security in general should be one of the most crucial aspects of software development (and digital transformation) for every organisation, some will be able to handle their security-related issues internally without a problem.
However, if you work with large amounts of sensitive data, operate in healthcare or finance, or if you’re planning to expand into international markets — hiring a dedicated security consultant should happen sooner rather than later.
What are the benefits of hiring a software security consultant?
There are 4 main advantages that cross my mind immediately:
- Unbiased perspective
No matter how well you know your business, in order to solve certain problems, you may need to stop circling around the same old ideas. An external consultant, regardless of his or her fields of expertise, will bring a fresh set of eyes to the table. No insider who is already familiar with your project could have the same level of objectivity and neutrality.
- Broad experience
Experience handling various security issues (whether they are the same, similar, or even totally different issues) gives any expert invaluable knowledge and insight that only works to the benefit of their clients. Because this experience could help them find a solution that you would never have thought of yourself or notice problems that you would have easily overlooked or simply marked as harmless.
- Up-to-date knowledge
Security requirements are constantly changing and have to be carefully monitored — especially when your business is not limited to one country only. A dedicated consultant will keep their finger on the pulse of your compliance requirements, making sure that you follow any relevant laws and regulations.
- Full-time focus
A software security consultant won’t be distracted by any other tasks, as their sole responsibility revolves around one aspect of product development only. They lighten the workload (and also a lot of pressure!) for an IT team, freeing up internal resources and allowing them to focus on the things that they’re best at.
So, let’s see what security consultants usually do once hired.
What are the responsibilities of a security consultant?
There are 7 main tasks that they are responsible for:
- Looking for weaknesses
Any existing piece of software requires an evaluation of its weaknesses in order to detect and also prevent potential threats early on. And this is more of a continuous process than a one time thing.
- Recommendations and cost estimations
Once any analysis has been made, it is always followed by certain recommendations as well as specific cost estimates. This way, you know exactly how to address your security issues and how big of an investment it is going to be.
- Testing cybersecurity measures
Every implemented solution should be thoroughly tested, from different angles, and with varying degrees of force.
- Building better defence systems
In case your legacy solution doesn’t work as it should, even after important modifications have been made, a security consultant will design and implement a better one.
- Keeping systems up-to-date and in compliance
Every system — whether old or brand new — should meet the latest security standards and regulations. Plus, any changes in the law should be constantly monitored, so that a company is already prepared whenever a relevant amendment goes into effect.
- Dealing with everyday security tasks
This may include: managing networks, installing and configuring firewalls, sharing knowledge with other team members, interviewing employees to better understand security issues, educating C-level managers, preparing security guidelines, and providing regular reports, etc.
- Responding to security emergencies
Any sudden and critical incidents should be addressed immediately and nipped in the bud, so that they won’t develop into something which could negatively affect your business.
5 things to consider when hiring a security consultant
If you want to hire an external security consultant — whether it’s a freelance specialist or a bigger IT partner with their own security experts on board — there are a few things that you should take into consideration.
- Project-specific requirements
First, you have to know what you really need because security in general is a pretty broad topic that can be divided into several categories, such as: cloud security, secure DevOps, penetration testing, data loss prevention, access control and cryptography, network defence, operations security, and so on. Some experts and companies are more specialised in their areas of expertise, while others may be able to cover every aspect of security that you can think of. Prepare a list of your requirements before you start searching for consultation services.
- Expertise and experience
Once you’re clear on your expectations, you can start checking out the expertise of your security consultant candidates. They should also be able to demonstrate experience in the necessary fields, followed by actual examples of their work.
- Verified record
It would be great if you could contact their clients and verify the information that they put in their portfolio. Ask about their level of satisfaction with the services that were provided, and see how hiring an external consultant has changed the way they operate. This will give you a taste of what your cooperation may look like, and the results that you can expect.
- Ability to train employees
A software security consultant should have both hard and soft skills and also be able to pass their knowledge onto other employees, helping them become more aware of security issues in general (especially if some of them work remotely). The educational aspect is one of the most critical ones, because humans are usually the weakest link in cybersecurity.
- Willingness to learn
If, during the interview, you get the impression that your potential IT partner is trying to convince you that they are totally infallible — beware! Being humble, passionate about security, and having the willingness to learn is much more important than self-righteousness, especially since the latter doesn’t usually reflect ability.
Security is king and so is your approach
Realising the significance of cybersecurity is the first step on the road to success. The second (and actually never-ending) step is about taking the adequate measures to handle your security issues, which may include hiring external help or carefully delegating security tasks to the most qualified specialists within your organisation.
If you have any questions or need assistance in this area, don’t hesitate to contact us.