Can AI help improve security culture?

I’ve been exploring the current application of machine learning techniques to cybersecurity. Although, there are some strong use cases in the areas of log analysis and malware detection, I couldn’t find the same quantity of research on applying AI to the human side of cybersecurity.

Can AI be used to support the decision-making process when developing cyber threat prevention mechanisms in organisations and influence user behaviour towards safer choices? Can modelling adversarial scenarios help us better understand and protect against social engineering attacks?

To answer these questions, a multidisciplinary perspective should be adopted with technologists and psychologists working together with industry and government partners.

While designing such mechanisms, consideration should be given to the fact that many interventions can be perceived by users as negatively impacting their productivity, as they demand additional effort to be spent on security and privacy activities not necessarily related to their primary activities [1, 2].

A number of researchers use the principles from behavioural economics to identify cyber security “nudges” (e.g.  [3], [4]) or visualisations [5,6].  This approach helps them make better decisions and minimises perceived effort by moving them away from their default position. This method is being applied in the privacy area, for example for reduced Facebook sharing [7] and improved smartphone privacy settings [8]. Additionally there is greater use of these as interventions, particularly with installation of mobile applications [9].

The proposed socio-technical approach to the reduction of cyber threats aims to account for the development of responsible and trustworthy people-centred AI solutions that can use data whilst maintaining personal privacy.

A combination of supervised and unsupervised learning techniques is already being employed to predict new threats and malware based on existing patterns. Machine learning techniques can be used to monitor system and human activity to detect potential malicious deviations.

Building adversarial models, designing empirical studies and running experiments (e.g. using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk) can help better measure the effectiveness of attackers’ techniques and develop better defence mechanisms. I believe there is a need to explore opportunities to utilise machine learning to aid the human decision-making process whereby people are supported by, and work together with, AI to better defend against cyber attacks.

We should draw upon participatory co-design and follow a people-centred approach so that relevant stakeholders are engaged in the process. This can help develop personalised and contextualised solutions, crucial to addressing ethical, legal and social challenges that cannot be solved with AI automation alone.

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How to be a trusted advisor

Being a security leader is first and foremost acting as a trusted advisor to the business. This includes understanding its objectives and aligning your efforts to support and enable delivery on the wider strategy.

It is also about articulating cyber risks and opportunities and working with the executive team on managing them. This doesn’t mean, however, that your role is to highlight security weaknesses and leave it to the board to figure it all out. Instead, being someone they can turn to for advice is the best way to influence the direction and make the organisation more resilient in combating cyber threats.

For your advice to be effective, you first need to earn the right to offer it. One of the best books I’ve read on the subject is The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister. It’s not a new book and it’s written from the perspective of a professional services firm but that doesn’t mean the lessons from it can’t be applied in the security context. It covers the mindset, attributes and principles of a trusted advisor.

Unsurprisingly, the major focus of this work is on developing trust. The author summarises his views on this subject in the trust equation:

Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-Orientation

It’s a simple yet powerful representation of what contributes to and hinders the trust building process.

It’s hard to trust someone’s recommendations when they don’t put our interests first and instead are preoccupied with being right or jump to solutions without fully understanding the problem.

Equally, as important credibility is, the long list of your professional qualifications and previous experience on its own is not sufficient to be trustworthy. Having courage and integrity, following through on your promises and active listening, among other things are key. In the words of Maister, “it is not enough to be right, you must also be helpful”.

How to apply FBI’s behavioural change stairway to security

Unlike the FBI’s Hostage Negotiation Team, cyber security professionals are rarely involved in high-stakes negotiations involving human life. But that doesn’t mean they can’t use some of the techniques developed by them to apply it to improve security culture, overcome resistance and guide organisational change.

Behind the apparent simplicity, this model is a tried and tested way to influence human behaviour over time. The crux of it is that you can’t skip any steps as consecutive efforts build on the previous ones. The common mistake many cyber security professionals make is they jump straight to Influence or Behavioral change with phishing simulations or security awareness campaigns but this can be counterproductive. 

As explained in the original paper, it is recommended to invest time in active listening, empathy and establishing rapport first. In the security context, this might mean working with the business stakeholders to understand their objectives and concerns, rather than sowing fear of security breaches and regulatory fines.

All of this doesn’t mean you have to treat every interaction like a hostile negotiation or treat your business executives as violent felons. The aim is to build trust to be able to best support the business not manipulate your way into getting your increased budget signed off.I cover some techniques in The Psychology of Information Security – feel free to check it out if you would like to learn more.

Guest lecture at Hull University Business School

I had the pleasure to deliver a guest lecture to students of Hull University Business School. I spoke about current cybersecurity trends and what they meant to the businesses. I also used this opportunity to talk about various career paths one can explore while starting in or transitioning into security.

There is a misconception that you have to have a technical background to be successful in cybersecurity. In reality through, the field is so broad and roles can be so varied that the diversity of backgrounds, skills, experiences and perspectives is essential to help organisations across the world be more secure. Arguably, communication skills and understanding of the business can be more valuable in certain contexts than a proficiency in a narrow vendor-specific technology.

There are a lot of transferable skills one can bring to the profession regardless of their prior cybersecurity knowledge and I urge everyone who is considering a transition into this field to reflect on how they can contribute.

Business alignment framework for security

In my previous blogs on the role of the CISO, CISO’s first 100 days and developing security strategy and architecture, I described some of the points a security leader should consider initially while formulating an approach to supporting an organisation. I wanted to build on this and summarise some of the business parameters in a high-level framework that can be used as a guide to learn about the company in order to tailor a security strategy accordingly.

This framework can also be used as a due diligence cheat sheet while deciding on or prioritising potential opportunities – feel free to adapt it to your needs.

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I’ve been named a CSO30 Awards 2020 winner

I am excited to be recognised as one of the top security executives who have demonstrated outstanding thought leadership and business value.

The winners of the CSO30 Award “demonstrated risk and security excellence in helping guide their organisations through the challenges of COVID19, worked to secure digital transformation initiatives, strengthen security awareness and education efforts, utilize new security technologies, engage with the wider security community to share learnings, and much more.”

It’s a team effort and I’m proud to be working with great professionals helping businesses innovate while managing risks.

Cyber security in the Oil & Gas industry

Energy

Oil & Gas has always been an industry affected by a wide range of geopolitical, economical and technological factors. The energy transition is one of the more recent macro trends impacting every player in the sector.

Companies are adjusting their business models and reorganising their organisational structures to prepare for the shift to renewable energy. They are becoming more integrated, focusing on consumers’ broader energy needs all the while reducing carbon emissions and addressing sustainability concerns.

To enable this, the missing capabilities get acquired and unwanted assets get divested. Cyber security has a part to play during divestments. preventing business disruption and data leaks during handover. In acquisition scenarios, supporting due diligence and secure integration becomes a focus.

Digital transformation is also high on many boards’ agenda. While cyber security experts are still grappling with the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) domains, new solutions are being tried out: drones are monitoring for environmental issues, data is being collected from IoT sensors and crunched in the Cloud with help of machine learning.  These are deployed alongside existing legacy systems in the geographically distributed infrastructure, adding complexity and increasing attack surface.

It’s hard, it seems, to still get the basics right. Asset control, vulnerability and patch management, network segregation, supply chain risks and poor governance are the problems still waiting to be solved.

The price for neglecting security can be high: devastating ransomware crippling global operations, industrial espionage and even a potential loss of human life as demonstrated by recent cyberattacks.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There are many things to be hopeful for. Oil & Gas is an industry with a strong safety culture. The same processes are often applied in both an office and an oil rig. People will actually intervene and tell you off if you are not holding the handrail or carrying a cup of coffee without a lid.

To be effective, cyber security needs to build on and plug into these safety protocols. In traditional IT environments, confidentiality is often prioritised. Here, safety and availability are critical. Changing the mindset, and adopting safety-related principles (like ALARP: as low as resonantly practicable) and methods (like Bowtie to visualise cause and consequence relationships in incident scenarios) when managing risk is a step in the right direction.

Photo by Jonathan Cutrer.

One year in: a look back

In the past year I had the opportunity to help a tech startup shape its culture and make security a brand differentiator. As the Head of Information Security, I was responsible for driving the resilience, governance and compliance agenda, adjusting to the needs of a dynamic and growing business.

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AWS Security Hub: all your security alerts in one place

Security Hub

If you are following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been focusing on security-specific AWS services in my previous several posts. It’s time to bring them all together into one consolidated view. I’m talking, of course, about the AWS Security Hub.

Security Hub allows you to aggregate and centrally analyse security alerts and findings from Config, GuardDuty, IAM, Inspector, Firewall Manager and more.

Security Hub findings

You can group, filter and prioritise findings from these services in many different ways. And, of course, you can visualise and make dashboards out of them.

CIS exampleApart from consolidating findings from other services, it also assesses your overall AWS configuration against PCI DSS and/or the CIS Amazon Web Services Foundations Benchmark, which covers identity and access management, logging, monitoring and networking, giving you the overall score (example below) and actionable steps to improve your security posture.

CIS score

Similar to the many other AWS services, Security Hub is regional, so it will need to be configured in every active region your organisation operates. I also recommend setting up your security operations account as a Security Hub master account and then inviting all other accounts in your organisation as members for centralised management (as described in this guidance or using a script).

If you are not a big fan of the Security Hub’s interface or don’t want to constantly switch between regions, the service sends all findings to CloudWatch Events by default, so you  can forward them on to other AWS resources or external systems (e.g. chat or ticketing systems) for further analysis and remediation. Better still, you can configure automated response using Lambda, similar to what we did with Inspector findings discussed previously.