But those ideas may finally be changing.
Keeping viruses at bay. Repelling hacker attacks. Ensuring that prying eyes aren't getting a look at private information. All of these functions are critical to keeping a business guarded and out of financial trouble.
Security is so critical that IT executives have wanted to keep it in-house where they can keep an eye on what's happening in that realm and make sure that their best people are accountable for it.
Security, however, is outgrowing many enterprise IT shops. There are too many firewalls to watch. Too many patches to download and install. Too many reports to read and analyze.
Administrators have needed more help, but their companies can't always afford to hire more technical people to fill the bill. That's when they begin to look outside the company. And as more companies turn to outsourcing, it inspires others to brave the world of third-party service providers and hand over their security needs to someone else.
''We know what we're good at and we know what we're not good at,'' says Chris Warner, founder and CEO of E2Citizenship.com, a 12-year-old organization that provides community-specific information through networks such as AMBER Alert 911, Earth 911 and Warning 911. ''We outsourced our security to Symantec because they are good at what they do and they are able to look for problems before they happen. We couldn't have done that.
''This is the best tool for us on a 24/7 basis to keep our system secure,'' adds Warner.
E2Citizenship.com, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., started out running networks like Earth 911 and Pets 911, online sites where people could get information on where to recycle, where to adopt pets and beach quality ratings. Now Warner and his colleagues are working to move the Amber Alert system, an emergency alert system for abducted children, from a network based on television alerts to an Internet-based system that connects law enforcement agencies and other organizations around the country.
Warner says the old system used to take an hour to an hour and a half to be activated, and now alerts can be shot out in a matter of minutes.
But this new high-tech network needs to be guarded -- tightly.
''With Pets 911 and Earth 911, security was somewhat important, but with Amber Alert, it's outrageously important,'' says Warner. ''This network activates hundreds of other networks and will potentially alert millions of people. There has to be no possibility of someone hacking into this. If someone could trigger a false Amber Alert, it would be devastating. You can't cry wolf and have this be effective.''
A lot of companies are turning to outsourcing to get the quality of security that they couldn't provide in-house, says Phebe Waterfield, a research analyst with the Yankee Group, a Boston-based industry analyst firm.
''People had been really concerned about outsourcing security, but it seems they are getting accustomed to the idea,'' says Waterfield, adding that outsourcing firewalls and scanning services has become quite common. With both of these services, there are clear guidelines on how they are to be managed. Clear policies make it easier to hand the work over to someone else.
With intrusion detections systems, though, it becomes a little murkier.
What issues do you respond to? How do you rate pings against the perimeter? They are dicey issues that make it more difficult to hand over that service to a third party and know that it's being handled exactly the way you'd want -- since you may not be clear on how you want it handled in the first place.
''We've found that for every intrusion detection system outsourced, there are seven firewalls being outsourced,'' says Waterfield. ''Consider if you're a large enterprise running 10, 15, or 20 firewalls, that's a lot of overhead. It can save you a lot of money by giving it to a vendor to do.''
Becoming comfortable with the idea of outsourcing your network security means realizing that in the best situation, you're really not giving up control -- just a lot of the hands-on work.
''We prefer to call it co-sourcing,'' says Grant Geyer, vice president of global management security services for Alexandria, Va.-based Symantec, a major player in the enterprise security market. ''A lot of times, especially in large enterprises, you need the expertise of security people who do this 24 hours a day. You need to feel that when you pick up the phone you're calling the guy down the hall. That requires a special relationship.''
Geyer says most companies turn to them for round-the-clock analysis of what's happening on their network, as well as what is happening around the Internet. Companies often retain their own security staff to develop policies and ensure effective implementation of those policies.
''They rely on a company like Symantec to do the heavy lifting that is very people intensive and can be expensive for a company to do themselves,'' says Geyer. ''A single firewall or a single intrusion detection system could send off millions of alerts a day, and all of them need to be analyzed to figure out if there's a hacker trying to break in or just benign traffic that might look bad.
Continue on to find out how the Screen Actors Guild protects critical information, and how offshoring fits into the outsourced security mix.