I became the director of Michigan's Office of Enterprise Security almost seven years ago. Looking back, I've learned more from my mistakes than my successes. So I'd like to share four mistakes I've made as a chief information security officer and offer some tips on how to avoid them.

1. Giving up too soon on security improvement ideas. In 2003, we identified the need for agency privacy officers. After fighting for new positions for more than a year, I finally gave up. But recently, these positions were implemented in our customer agencies. Over the years, other great security ideas were offered, but for budget, staffing or other reasons, the improvements were never implemented.

Solution: Never say never on needed security enhancements. My brother Steve, who is a great sales executive, frequently says, "Making a sale takes the right product, at the right price, at the right time, with the right customer [need] and the right salesman." If you're missing one of those components, you probably won't close the deal.

Just because a certain architecture change or other enhancement didn't happen last year, don't give up. Use hot topics like "green IT" to advance cyber-security.

2. Not reading the fine print on contracts. I've lost count of how many security problems we've had with our vendors. From contractor laptops spreading worms on our networks to companies that neglected background checks or inadequate controls built into new computer systems, we've faced dozens of contract-related security issues. A lack of legally binding contract language will definitely lead to costly change orders or weaker security.

Solution: Ensure your boilerplate contract language is up to snuff. A good place to start is the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Computer Security Resource Center. In Michigan, we've also added payment card industry compliance language to relevant contracts, and we include provisions to ensure vendors run background checks on staff.

3. Neglecting the elephant in the room. Most organizations have one or more ongoing "challenges" that never seem to get fixed. Whether it's a security policy that needs to be written, an existing policy that's never enforced or a powerful executive who openly violates the rules, the masses quietly watch as the situation festers.

On one occasion, I was too slow to do the right (but hard) thing when it came to disciplining an employee for unacceptable behavior. Once I acted, many other (seemingly unrelated) security issues were quickly resolved.

On another occasion, I became the elephant when I opposed wireless network projects. Armed with a mountain of data, I seemingly won that battle. But I became isolated and started to lose ground on other security issues as executives started going around me.

Solution: Identify the elephant and correct the situation. Get honest feedback on hot-button security issues. Ask what internal and external customers are complaining about. There are usually no easy fixes, but make incremental progress. Failure to act will undermine your reputation. Today I support "secure wireless."

4. Inattention to detail or identifying the wrong root cause. I once went into an important briefing with a huge amount of data, metrics showing more security attacks and plenty of war stories. However, one executive questioned my metrics, our office's approach and even our progress at resolving various security problems. I became very defensive and went off message. I even questioned the questions.

Solution: Know your audience. Do a dry run before briefings. Let trusted colleagues ask hard questions.

I was overconfident and bigheaded during that briefing. Rather than going on the offensive, I should've been humble and offered to get back to her with answers. I knew the axiom, "the devil is in the details," but I was too quick to assume these new questions were flawed. In reality, I was the one who didn't do my homework.

Getting to root security issues can be difficult. Later I realized that she had many excellent arguments and I apologized. Over time, we developed a positive professional relationship. She even apologized to me for not taking the issues offline. Today she helps our security office in many positive ways.

Henry Ford once said, "Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement." I couldn't agree more.

Dan Lohrmann Dan Lohrmann  |  Contributing Writer

Daniel J. Lohrmann became Michigan's first chief security officer (CSO) and deputy director for cybersecurity and infrastructure protection in October 2011. Lohrmann is leading Michigan's development and implementation of a comprehensive security strategy for all of the state’s resources and infrastructure. His organization is providing Michigan with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with Michigan assets, property, systems and networks.

Lohrmann is a globally recognized author and blogger on technology and security topics. His keynote speeches have been heard at worldwide events, such as GovTech in South Africa, IDC Security Roadshow in Moscow, and the RSA Conference in San Francisco. He has been honored with numerous cybersecurity and technology leadership awards, including “CSO of the Year” by SC Magazine and “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine.

His Michigan government security team’s mission is to:

  • establish Michigan as a global leader in cyberawareness, training and citizen safety;
  • provide state agencies and their employees with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with state of Michigan assets, property, systems and networks;
  • develop and implement a comprehensive security strategy (Michigan Cyber Initiative) for all Michigan resources and infrastructure;
  • improve efficiency within the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and
  • provide combined focus on emergency management efforts.

He currently represents the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) on the IT Government Coordinating Council that’s led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also serves as an adviser on TechAmerica's Cloud Commission and the Global Cyber Roundtable.

From January 2009 until October 2011, Lohrmann served as Michigan's chief technology officer and director of infrastructure services administration. He led more than 750 technology staff and contractors in administering functions, such as technical architecture, project management, data center operations, systems integration, customer service (call) center support, PC and server administration, office automation and field services support.

Under Lohrmann’s leadership, Michigan established the award-winning Mi-Cloud data storage and hosting service, and his infrastructure team was recognized by NASCIO and others for best practices and for leading state and local governments in effective technology service delivery.

Earlier in his career, Lohrmann served as the state of Michigan's first chief information security officer (CISO) from May 2002 until January 2009. He directed Michigan's award-winning Office of Enterprise Security for almost seven years.

Lohrmann's first book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, was published in November 2008.  Lohrmann was also the chairman of the board for 2008-2009 and past president (2006-2007) of the Michigan InfraGard Member's Alliance.

Prior to becoming Michigan's CISO, Lohrmann served as the senior technology executive for e-Michigan, where he published an award-winning academic paper titled The Michigan.gov Story — Reinventing State Government Online. He also served as director of IT and CIO for the Michigan Department of Management and Budget in the late 1990s.

Lohrmann has more than 26 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a U.S./UK military facility.

Lohrmann is a distinguished guest lecturer for Norwich University in the field of information assurance. He also has been a keynote speaker at IT events around the world, including numerous SecureWorld and ITEC conferences in addition to online webinars and podcasts. He has been featured in numerous daily newspapers, radio programs and magazines. Lohrmann writes a bimonthly column for Public CIO magazine on cybersecurity. He's published articles on security, technology management, cross-boundary integration, building e-government applications, cloud computing, virtualization and securing portals.

He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

NOTE: The columns here are Dan Lohrmann's own views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the state of Michigan's official positions.

Recent Awards:
2011 Technology Leadership Award: InfoWorld
Premier 100 IT Leader for 2010: Computerworld magazine
2009 Top Doers, Dreamers and Drivers: Government Technology magazine
Public Official of the Year: Governing magazine — November 2008
CSO of the Year: SC Magazine — April 2008
Top 25 in Security Industry: Security magazine — December 2007
Compass Award: CSO Magazine — March 2007
Information Security Executive of the Year: Central Award 2006