February 26, 2013, 1:50 PM — The IT security world is full of charlatans and wannabes. And all of us have been "advised" by at least one of them.
All you want in an IT security consultant is expertise, unbiased advice, and experienced recommendations at a reasonable price. But with some, you get much more than you bargained for.
For example: Big-ticket items that solve tiny problems you don't have. Surprises about the feature set after you've already signed the dotted line. Disregard for your deadlines or what happens to your systems once the work is done.
It's often challenging to see the shady practices coming. After all, those who employ them sometimes work for the most prestigious firms, have the friendliest handshakes, express compassion for your security woes. Some aren't even malicious; they just don't know how to efficiently solve your problems.
Here are 14 dirty IT security tricks to be aware of before you bring in that outside consultant or vendor. If you have experienced one of these or have another to offer, share it in the comments.
Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 1: Feigning practical experience
A funny TV commercial once depicted a couple of tech consultants getting nervous when asked to help deploy the solution they just designed. "Hey, we're only consultants!" they retort.
Like most "Dilbert" cartoons, there's more than a little bit of truth at work here: Many consultants have never deployed the solutions they are selling.
We've all encountered this ploy, either in the form of an outright lie about hands-on experience or just an IT consultant who is less forthcoming than they should be about how often they roll up their sleeves and get work done.
If you want to avoid consultants who employ this trick, just ask, "How many times have you implemented the specific solution you are recommending right now?" Then follow it up: "Can I have references?"
Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 2: Proposing one solution for all
Some IT security consultants are all too ready to describe their solution as the one solution you've been waiting for to solve all (or most) of your IT security problems.
Not that they take the time to even listen to your problems. Their eyes glaze over anytime they aren't actively speaking. They can't wait to interrupt you to start in again about this wonderful solution they've brought to you in the nick of time.
There's just one problem: None of the consultant's past customers has solved all their security problems.
When you ask a consultant employing this tactic whether prior customers solved their security issues, he'll say yes. When you ask for customer references, he'll look surprised, give you caveats, and push you not to call them. If you do call and find out the truth, wait to hear the consultant claim the installation failed because the customer didn't implement the solution the way he told them to, customized it too much, or simply didn't listen to him.
Don't be fooled by claims of incompetence when it comes to previous customers.
Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 3: Knowledge bluffing
How many times has a consultant claimed to be an expert in a particular area, only to have their bluff unmasked because they muff the correct use of technical terms?
Sometimes you don't even have to dig too deep or ask them anything technical. One of my favorite encounters with this particular practice was when a "certified novel expert" showed up to help my company with its Novell network. I kid you not. The guy claiming to be the master at a particular technology couldn't even pronounce the name correctly. It'd be funny if it weren't so embarrassing.
Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 4: Full-court sales press
Rushing decisions reeks of recommended sales tactics. How many times have we heard this: "Hey, I'll give you 20% off the regular pricing if you buy today, before the end of our quarter."
It doesn't bother your security consultant that it's the 13th of the month and you're thinking his company has a weird fiscal calendar. I don't know about you, but whenever I'm offered a discount to buy by a particular day, I always wait until after the day and expect the same discount.
I'm sure buying early would help make their bonus bigger -- but I don't care about their bonus. I care about my company. If they want a bigger bonus, they better make me feel like I'm am an idiot for not implementing their product today. An appeal to their own financial gain is the least of my concerns, especially if I feel they're trying to rush my thoughtful consideration.
Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 5: Eye candy
I don't mind vendors bringing beautiful people to a sales meeting, as long as they're knowledgeable about the product. But when these trophy salespeople are clueless about the offering and have little to no experience in the industry, they're wasting a seat in the conference room.
Employing models at a security conference is one thing. But when we've moved beyond handing out brochures and have begun the product demo and question-and-answer session, it's time to get serious. Sway me with knowledge and experience, not a pretty smile.
Dirty IT security consultant trick No. 6: Recommending tiny solutions to specific problems for big money
Ever have a consultant pitch you a new, whiz-bang product that's just great at detecting XYZ? "It's a complex issue that is hard to stop, but this product does it better than anything else."
Before you sign up for this expensive, targeted solution, ask yourself two questions: Has your company been exploited by XYZ before, and is your company likely to be exploited that way in the future?
If the answer is no to both of these questions, then reconsider the purchase no matter how awesome the solution.