Tuesday, July 11, 2023

How WFH Accelerated IT and Security Transformation at Global Publisher HBG

Transcript of a discussion on how the rapid shift to remote work accelerated the digital transformation of a New York-based publishing organization to reduce risk while preserving a highly creative and distributed culture. 

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunesDownload the transcript. Sponsor: Bitdefender.


Dana Gardner: Welcome to the next edition of the BriefingsDirect podcast series. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator.



Our next security innovations discussion examines how the rapid shift to remote work has accelerated a rethinking of security and IT processes at a New York-based publishing organization.


Rearchitecting the security posture of a business means adjusting work patterns and IT in ways that both reduce risk and heighten performance. But the trick is to do so without alienating workers -- wherever they may be -- and maintaining strong productivity.


Here to share her story on how to digitally transform a traditional business structure, reduce risk factors, and preserve a highly creative culture is Heidi Holmes, Senior Director of Information Technology Services at Hachette Book Group (HBG) in New York. Welcome, Heidi.


Heidi Holmes: Thank you. It’s nice to be here and I’m looking forward to this.

Gardner: Let’s start by having you tell us about HBG and why you needed to significantly adjust your security objectives over the past couple of years.


Holmes: HBG is one of the world’s largest publishers. The United States branch is part of a larger global Hachette, and we have some very, very big authors, such as James Patterson and David Baldacci.



We literally print almost every kind of book you can think of. So, our company is highly creative, and very intelligent. On a personal note, it amuses me because at other IT organizations I’ve been with, I could send out an email and never think twice about it. But here, you send out an email and you’re going to be critiqued from every editor across the board. It’s amazing. Even the CEO, he spots things that aren’t quite in the right order. It’s awesome.

So, Hachette: We’re a pretty amazing company. I’ve been here since 2019. I came into a very different IT organization. The leadership in place was great, but around some of the security practices, we really had to mature, to grow our business, and to grow how we monitor, maintain, and secure everything -- from the PC all the way to the edge.


Gardner: It sounds like – being global and dealing with so many authors, editors, and artists – that you were already a fairly distributed organization. And then we all had the move to more remote work in 2020. How did that rapid shift impact your digital transformation journey?


Diversity strengthens security strategies


Holmes: In such a diverse organization, no two sets of tools are the same. Just in the IT organization, every group is unique. And we’re talking five to 20 people. We are an amalgamation because we’ve acquired many different companies over time.


For example, Orbit, which is our science-fiction department. They are amazing, but they operate in one way, whereas Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which is all of our young readers’ literature, operates completely differently. It’s almost as though it’s IT for a ton of small businesses that operate within a large business structure. It’s pretty interesting.

Once people began working from home, then all their data lived in their laptops. How do you manage and secure that? This is where our new challenges arose. 

So, they were diversified to begin with. But when more people began working from home, supporting them all became even more critical. The traditional IT model was moat and castle. We had to protect ourselves by using the best firewalls. You can protect anything, but once you’re outside the castle, everything is looser.


Once people began working from home, then all of their data lived in their laptops. How do you manage and secure that? What do you do to get your arms around that? This is where our new challenges arose. If you’re used to the castle technology, you have to create high-speed connections to and from every office to access all of your data for home workers.


Gardner: So, you had constellations of different businesses and cultures – as well as legacies of different IT. To corral that together, you almost have to be a managed service provider (MSP) as an IT organization. Is that fair?


Holmes: I do manage the help desk infrastructure. We also serve up all of the data, all the data center services, and the cloud data management, as well as cybersecurity. From my position, we are set up to service different groups on different platforms and support a wide range of tools across the larger IT organization.


It’s amazing. We’ve taken those requirements and built the tools to service the overall organization. And some of them are complex. Then we come back in with the security and managing compliance around how users access data inside of the tools and how it’s all unique across each of those separate publishing entities. It’s fascinating.


Gardner: In addition to a focus on endpoint security to support a distributed and remote work force, you’ve also had to look at transforming IT.


A lot of times, people have architected their IT -- and then they add on security. Did you try to simultaneous engineer for security and IT productivity and digital transformation? Is there a new way of doing security from your vantage point given your responsibilities?


Security as speed bump, not roadblock


Holmes: Yes, there is a new way of doing security. When I entered, security was a bolt-on, after-the-fact approach. For example, they may have already built a tool. But have they tested it? Or an application. What has been done with them?


We were at the ground floor, as new projects were coming up, on security. The teams were coming to us from a cybersecurity standpoint and saying, “What’s the best way for us to secure this? How about outside software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers?” Things like that.


We needed to make sure that they filled out the security forms to make sure that their architecture and best practices matched with what we were looking for with security. But we found out early in the game that they weren’t compliant. They didn’t have security as their first thought. 

It’s more about balancing risks and building in security. As I tell everybody here, cybersecurity is about being a speed bump -- and not a roadblock. Everything we do should be about slowing down, so you don’t bottom-out your car. You want to keep going, not come to a full stop. There’s no productivity if we have to come to a complete stop. We need to keep moving. We’re getting there.


Gardner: Of course, if you have a security breach, that’s one way of coming to a full stop. You need to have a balance between reducing risk, but also maintaining productivity and creativity.


What have you learned the past couple years about those balances? Has it changed with the remote work? How does digital transformation give you the tools to have the insights to reach that balance better?


Holmes: One of the tools we use, and why I’m here, is Bitdefender. We’re looking at their dashboards all the time. We can see what’s commonly going on. The [endpoint detection and response (EDR)] tools are great for our digital transformation because they’re on every one of our computers, on all of our servers, monitoring and automatically blocking risks.


If Bitdefender sees lateral movements on the network, it will block and halt those or delete certain files. It’s really given us an advantage. It gives us the capability to look at what’s going on. Because if we see a large increase, then we can look into our other tools that complement Bitdefender and say, “What are we seeing on our firewalls? What are we seeing in our security information management (SIM) tool? What are we seeing on our email filtering? Do we see a coordinated attack or is this just a run-of-the-mill type of attack?”

If Bitdefender sees lateral movements on the network, it will block and halt those or delete certain files. It's really given us an advantage. ... Bitdefender helps us be proactive on what's going on. For us, it's been great.

Bitdefender helps us be proactive on what’s going on. For us, it’s been great.


Gardner: And being proactive means you want to react swiftly. Is there a way that you’ve adjusted to the remote workforce -- all of those laptops and home desktops -- rather than being  inside the moat? Is there a way for you to take the information you’re getting from your Bitdefender dashboards and be more actionable with it?


Holmes: Absolutely. If we see a large number of attacks, even if they’ve stopped, we can open up a help desk security ticket and reach out to the user. If the incursion seems to be trying to install something or to attack others in the environment, we can remotely deactivate that device. We just have them ship their laptop to us so we can take a closer look, and we ship them out a new one.


We don’t play games with anything in our environment. It’s better to stop it at the source and move on. But, yes, the tools give us the capability to get out ahead of it all. And we’ve developed a team that is constantly monitoring, seven days a week. Our dashboards look for any correlation, anything ahead, and then work with us to automate or alert us if something needs to be acted on more quickly.


Gardner: And, Heidi, how does your background as a network engineer help in your digital transformation and with security concerns? Have you been able to bring more of an architect’s perspective to how you’re modernizing your IT and security?


Architecting for change


Holmes: Yes, I have. For the past 20-plus years, I’ve worked as an architect, network engineer, and network security engineer. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to go back to the business risk. We understand what the business risk is, and how to mitigate or isolate that risk. But that also means understanding the business you’re working with.


Part of an architecture isn’t designing the fanciest, most secure tooling -- because that’s how you get the balance versus the speed bumps. You have to learn the business, learn about the people, know where their risks are, and then architect around that to say, “Okay, stage one is where we see in our transformation the need to move certain things to the cloud.”

Or, “Our most vulnerable systems need to be isolated because some of them might be near end-of-life and we can’t do certain things with them anymore. We’re going to move them over to something such as a different layer or to firewall them with intrusion prevention and monitor it that way. Maybe some of our websites are older and we need to do something with that.”

We might put some sort of a web application firewall (WAF) in front of it. But you have to lay it all out in stages. And the easiest way to architect and build is to know what the business needs. And then you start designing to have the least productivity impact while giving the most security. So, the biggest bang for your buck: “Let’s start there, let’s hit the quick wins while we’re still planning out the other things.”


And part of architecture is understanding that when you build a process and a project that it changes. It’s a constant re-evaluation. What are the latest tools? The tools from 2019 are not the same tools that I’m working in at this point. Because every year, every six months, every month, something else is out there offering a better way to do things.


For example, a zero-trust architecture was at first a little bit nebulous. Trust nobody and everybody’s like, “Why can’t we trust people?” That’s like, “Well, not everyone’s your friend and even the computer next to you isn’t your friend necessarily either.”


Gardner: Well, that’s a perfect transition to my next question. In an organization like Hachette Book Group, the goal is for people to communicate, collaborate, be creative, and be open.


When you come to them with a security mentality of, “You need to be very suspicious and zero trust-oriented,” that creates potentially a cultural conflict. How have you been able to get people’s buy-in on what you need? Behavior is such an important part of security. At the same time, you want to allow them to be as open as possible and share ideas as they are used to.


Make wide, yet light, security footprints


Holmes: The right mentality is to have the least visible footprint in the things that you’re communicating on, on any given computer. But you also have to trust the communication tools. The things that you use such as Zoom or Teams or something like that. Those are commonly known ports and IP addresses.


We don’t have to overthink it like 15 or 20 years ago, when I needed to know every port that the teams used and qualify that. Our security tools will automatically understand, and part of the artificial intelligence (AI) built into them, knows that these are okay communication methods and it’s fine for us to continue to communicate that way.


So, there’s an openness with video communication and collaboration with a level of security and staying away from custom-built tools to communicate. That will protect you because inherently, custom-built tools usually need extra updating and the people who develop them don’t always keep them up to date. That also will protect you in a zero-trust environment.


But honestly, it’s gotten so much easier with zero trust … because Bitdefender is fantastic for that. It’s always monitoring. The AI is telling us as it’s looking at patterns instead of always at a specific port where you can lock people down and isolate them. So, it can see a lot of the lateral movements, you can see different firewall rules that are not industry-standard and as attacks try to pass through. It’s the only real way to go.

Gardner: You’re describing what people have come to think of as what a security operations center (SOC) as a service could be. Is that how you’re starting to view something like Bitdefender? Or is that a place you’d like to see it go, of where you have a SOC as a service benefit all the time and everywhere?


Holmes: Well, that would be fantastic. And we have spoken to Bitdefender about this. From my past experience, I’ve worked with SOCs, did a little bit of management of SOCs, and brought that into a new organization.


What you see a lot of times is they give you a lot of data. And traditionally, any SOC will overwhelm you with 3,000 alerts and events in a day. And you have a team of three and you’re hiring a SOC to help you. But instead, your team of three needs to remediate all of these things, otherwise they’ll keep showing up, and the SOC’s going to keep reporting and then it becomes completely useless to you.

Bitdefender is using more AI to filter out the things that are less meaningful. It's no longer every single thing that comes across your dashboard. That helps you dive in quicker when there's a problem. 

The modern SOCs, and a lot of what I understood from the Bitdefender side is, they’re using more AI to filter out the things that are less meaningful. It’s no longer every single thing that comes across your dashboard. That helps you dive in quicker when there’s a bigger problem. A SOC can become a benefit instead of a hindrance to a small team because the teams are always already trying to remediate their problems. They only need to know about the things that are brand new major holes because patching everything else should take care of the rest.


Another thing I wanted to mention on SOCs: Back to our transformation, when I mentioned the SIM tools, and having the different dashboards, it takes a while to bring a security team up to speed on what they should be watching for. That’s about identifying what’s meaningful to you. And then to fix the problems they’re finding from doing the scans. The last few years, we’ve been training security staff to do just that. When a SOC comes into play now is when the team is already expert at security and then everything is meaningful. Sometimes you can take the jump to a SOC too fast.


Gardner: A lot of what we hear in the marketplace now is that people are resisting tool sprawl. Too many security tools are not a good thing. They also want tools that will integrate, that play well together.


How are you looking at that balance between having the right number of tools, but also tools that are integrated well in advance?


Just say ‘no’ to tool sprawl


Holmes: I literally just said “no” this week to a couple of security tools because it was just more sprawl. We need to use our tools right. Tools should be useful. They should give you information you don’t already know, or they should coordinate multiple things into one tool so that you can easily discern where a problem is.


So, if a tool doesn’t have multiple uses and it’s not cost-effective, then we don’t want it. There has to be a very specific reason to look at it. Also, every tool needs to be easy to use because we can’t send somebody to three weeks of training. We can’t train a second person for when the first person goes on vacation.


And it has to be automated, it has to be able to page us if it hits certain thresholds. All of that needs to be set up very quickly. Because when we take holidays, there are always less eyes on dashboards. And we still need to know if something’s going on. We need to get paged, woken up, and brought back to the dashboard.

So that’s what we’re looking for. The tool sprawl: Everybody has a tool that they want to sell you -- everybody. It needs to work for on-premises, and it also needs to work in the cloud. It needs to give us all of the information we need. It needs to work in your home to tell me what’s going on in your laptop there. That’s what we need from our security tools.


Gardner: Whenever you ask folks to qualify and quantify how their security is working, the number one response is, “Well we’re not getting hacked, so that’s good.” But because you’re involved with not just security but IT and digital transformation, there’s probably more ways that you can measure the effectiveness of your security approach in terms of productivity, team collaboration, and how your IT support group is able to please your end-users.


Do you have specific ways of looking back and saying, “We made good choices, and we can prove it by blank?” How do you measure your success in digital transformation and security?


Holmes: As far as the users go with collaboration, the easiest way for us to tell is the number of help desk tickets we get. If the users aren’t calling us because they can’t work on their computer -- either because they’ve had an attack or because they just can’t use it because it’s still in lock down -- that’s a good measure.


And if we’re not seeing a proliferation of viruses and malware in our environment then those metrics are great for us, too. We’re constantly watching them, we’re updating them, and we’re reporting all those metrics to our senior leadership in the company. So, it’s been amazing.


Gardner: Let’s briefly look at costs. We’re also seeing many organizations that need to do more with less. Is there a way for you to balance the economic side of the equation with these metrics of success?


Holmes: With the metrics for success, if we purchase tools that help us get ahead of a problem and we don’t have any downtime or a loss of productivity, that is our number one way of evaluating that. So, know your risk, your way of knowledge, and the tools. Tools must do multiple things, be easy to use, and be cost effective.


That’s huge for us because I don’t have to hire extra people, which is cost. I don’t have to have extremely skilled people. I can weigh the cost and the amount that we’re spending in our security and IT budgets and say, “We are doing the right things for our people with the right level of protection and our downtime is in individual users -- not systems.”


That’s how we measure it. Productivity; not lost time. The ability to shift if there is a problem. And that gets back to the training. For example, we recently had a security incident. It turned out to be something from something very old, more than 10 years old, that was transferred to our environment, and we found it with our tools. We shut down a portion of the network and -- because of the training – we only lost about two hours while we investigated it.

A couple years ago, we would have had vice presidents down our throats saying, “Why can’t we do this?” But because we’ve trained our team so well, it was literally, “Okay, let us know when it’s available again. We want to support you. We’ll work on something else.” It was great.


So, it’s all about having the tools, the costs managed, and being able to measure all of our training and practices around the knowledge and people that are behind us. They want a secure environment, and they’re willing to pause if they need to for a little bit while we look at things.


Gardner: You had a speed bump, not a car crash. So that’s a really good indicator.


Holmes: Yes, it was great.


Gardner: Before we end, let’s look to the future. I’ve heard a few words from you, Heidi, like “automation,” “AI,” and “SOC as a service.” What new challenges do you foresee, and what are the best tools or approaches for you to meet them proactively?


Detection advances to patterns


Holmes: The problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know or what the next security problem will be. You need to be prepared for everything. You need to stay ahead as a leader in this field and just listen, watch the articles, and be prepared to pivot when things happen.


The AI and the new tools are great because they are looking for patterns. It’s not like the old days where I would just look for a signature. So, somebody would do something that applies a specific signature, and it could only catch that. It’s now looking for the pattern and then correlating the pattern. As a result, we’re getting many less false positives because it doesn’t look for just one minor anomaly. It looks for a pattern of anomalies, and then it might immediately block it.


There may still be some false positives because of the old applications out there.

We love the tools we use, such as the Bitdefender console. It delves into so many things. I personally look at the executive dashboard on a regular timeframe because out of all of our tools, it is one of the best and easiest to drill into. 

We love the tools that we use, such as the Bitdefender console. It delves into so many things. I personally look at the executive dashboard on a regular timeframe because out of all of our tools, it is one of the best and the easiest to drill into. I can say, “Wait, there’s a spike in viruses.” I click on it even though they’re blocked. It shows right there on the line if any of them got through. Then we can raise the flag, even though it’s already been blocked. But who is affected and where? I can click, and it shows me the actual machines, and it shows me what it was trying to do.


That’s the best way to stay ahead. That is part of the automation; it is automatically blocking. So, our firewalls automatically block, or quarantine, or do whatever needs to be done. We get automated alerts that ring our cellphones, that send us messages depending on what it is, and we have bridges. We also have automated [processes] where we can automate traditional patching or fight zero days [attacks] or anything that comes up. We have that all scheduled to go. So, that’s not a manual process anymore.


Gardner: Heidi, before we sign off, for those who are also going on a journey where they want to change the way they’ve done security, where it becomes simultaneous to and maybe even in advance of IT decision-making or IT architecting, what advice do you have for them now that you’ve gone through this? What words of advice do you have for people who can make security part-and-parcel with their digital transformation activities?


Start where you are, then dig deeper


Holmes: Get to know your business. Learn. Learn what your business is doing. Then, while you’re learning, start with the fundamentals. What are you doing well in your business right now or in your security?


Do you have good malware protection? Firewalls on your laptops? Things like that. Start with your servers, with your laptops, every device in your environment. That’s an easy place to start. Make sure your patching is up to date.


And then you can start looking a little bit deeper. Vendors -- understand what your vendors are doing. Just because it’s in the cloud doesn’t mean it’s secure. It is not the same thing. You need to understand where you’re putting your data, and what your people are doing. And that goes back to learning the business. 

Lastly, shadow IT. Because everything can go to the cloud, every business is going to try, and every department is going to try, to find their own tool in the cloud. But they won’t necessarily vet it the way your IT security organization will.


So, get to know the business, gain their trust, and help them by giving them speed bumps and not roadblocks. That’s my advice.


Gardner: Well, I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. You’ve been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect discussion on how the rapid shift to remote work accelerated a rethinking of security and IT processes at a New York-based publishing organization.


And we’ve learned how Hachette Book Group digitally transformed a traditional business structure successfully, reduced risk factors, and preserved a highly creative culture.


So, please join me now in thanking our guest, Heidi Holmes, Senior Director of Information Technology Services at Hachette Book Group. Thanks again. 

Holmes: Thank you. It’s been great talking with you.


Gardner: I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing series of BriefingsDirect discussions. A big thank you to our sponsor, Bitdefender, for supporting these presentations.


Also, a big thank you to our audience for joining us. Please pass this on to your IT and security communities, and do come back next time.


Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunesDownload the transcript. Sponsor: Bitdefender.


Transcript of a discussion on how the rapid shift to remote work accelerated the digital transformation of a New York-based publishing organization to reduce risk while preserving a highly creative and distributed culture. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2023. All rights reserved.


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