Behavioural science in cyber security

Why your staff ignore security policies and what to do about it.               

Dale Carnegie’s 1936 bestselling self-help book How To Win Friends And Influence People is one of those titles that sits unloved and unread on most people’s bookshelves. But dust off its cover and crack open its spine, and you’ll find lessons and anecdotes that are relevant to the challenges associated with shaping people’s behaviour when it comes to cyber security.

In one chapter, Carnegie tells the story of George B. Johnson, from Oklahoma, who worked for a local engineering company. Johnson’s role required him to ensure that other employees abide by the organisation’s health and safety policies. Among other things, he was responsible for making sure other employees wore their hard hats when working on the factory floor.

His strategy was as follows: if he spotted someone not following the company’s policy, he would approach them, admonish them, quote the regulation at them, and insist on compliance. And it worked — albeit briefly. The employee would put on their hard hat, and as soon as Johnson left the room, they would just as quickly remove it.  So he tried something different: empathy. Rather than addressing them from a position of authority, Johnson spoke to his colleagues almost as though he was their friend, and expressed a genuine interest in their comfort. He wanted to know if the hats were uncomfortable to wear, and that’s why they didn’t wear them when on the job.

Instead of simply reciting the rules as chapter-and-verse, he merely mentioned it was in the best interest of the employee to wear their helmets, because they were designed to prevent workplace injuries.

This shift in approach bore fruit, and workers felt more inclined to comply with the rules. Moreover, Johnson observed that employees were less resentful of management.

The parallels between cyber security and George B. Johnson’s battle to ensure health-and-safety compliance are immediately obvious. Our jobs require us to adequately address the security risks that threaten the organisations we work for. To be successful at this, it’s important to ensure that everyone appreciates the value of security — not just engineers, developers, security specialists, and other related roles.

This isn’t easy. On one hand, failing to implement security controls can result in an organisation facing significant losses. However, badly-implemented security mechanisms can be worse: either by obstructing employee productivity or by fostering a culture where security is resented.

To ensure widespread adoption of secure behaviour, security policy and control implementations not only have to accommodate the needs of those that use them, but they also must be economically attractive to the organisation. To realise this, there are three factors we need to consider: motivation, design, and culture.

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NIS Directive: are you ready?

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Governments across Europe recognised that with increased interconnectiveness a cyber incident can affect multiple entities spanning across a number of countries. Moreover, impact and frequency of cyber attacks is at all-time high with recent examples including:

  • 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack
  • 2016 attacks on US water utilities
  • 2015 attack on Ukraine’s electricity network

In order to manage cyber risk, the European Union introduced the Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive which requires all Member States to protect their critical national infrastructure by implementing cyber security legislation.

Each Member State is required to set their own rules on financial penalties and must take the necessary measures to ensure that they are implemented. For example, in the UK fines, can be up to £17 million.

And yes, in case you are wondering, the UK government has confirmed that the Directive will apply irrespective of Brexit (the NIS Regulations come into effect before the UK leaves the EU).

Who does the NIS Directive apply to?

The law applies to:

  • Operators of Essential Services that are established in the EU
  • Digital Service Providers that offer services to persons within the EU

The sectors affected by the NIS Directive are:

  • Water
  • Health (hospitals, private clinics)
  • Energy (gas, oil, electricity)
  • Transport (rail, road, maritime, air)
  • Digital infrastructure and service providers (e.g. DNS service providers)
  • Financial Services (only in certain Member States e.g. Germany)

NIS Directive objectives

In the UK the NIS Regulations will be implemented in the form of outcome-focused principles rather than prescriptive rules.

National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is the UK single point of contact for the legislation. They published top level objectives with underlying security principles.

Objective A – Managing security risk

  • A1. Governance
  • A2. Risk management
  • A3. Asset management
  • A4. Supply chain

Objective B – Protecting against cyber attack

  • B1. Service protection policies and processes
  • B2. Identity and access control
  • B3. Data security
  • B4. System security
  • B5. Resilient networks and systems
  • B6. Staff awareness

Objective C – Detecting cyber security events

  • C1. Security monitoring
  • C2. Proactive security event discovery

Objective D – Minimising the impact of cyber security incidents

  • D1. Response and recovery planning
  • D2. Lessons learned

Table view of principles and related guidance is also available on the NCSC website.

Cyber Assessment Framework

The implementation of the NIS Directive can only be successful if Competent Authorities  can adequately assess the cyber security of organisations is scope. To assist with this, NCSC developed the Cyber Assessment Framework (CAF).

The Framework is based on the 14 outcomes-based principles of the NIS Regulations outlined above. Adherence to each principle is determined based on how well associated outcomes are met. See below for an example:

NIS

Each outcome is assessed based upon Indicators of Good Practice (IGPs), which are statements that can either be true or false for a particular organisation.

Whats’s next?

If your organisation is in the scope of the NIS Directive, it is useful to conduct an initial self-assessment using the CAF described above as an starting point of reference. Remember, formal self-assessment will be required by your Competent Authority, so it is better not to delay this crucial step.

Establishing an early dialogue with the Competent Authority is essential as this will not only help you establish the scope of the assessment (critical assets), but also allow you to receive additional guidance from them.

Initial self-assessment will most probably highlight some gaps. It is important to outline a plan to address these gaps and share it with your Competent Authority. Make sure you keep incident response in mind at all times. The process has to be well-defined to allow you report NIS-specific incidents to your Competent Authority within 72 hours.

Remediate the findings in the agreed time frames and monitor on-going compliance and potential changes in requirements, maintaining the dialogue with the Competent Authority.


Augusta University’s Cyber Institute adopts my book

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Just received some great news from my publisher.  My book has been accepted for use on a course at Augusta University. Here’s some feedback from the course director:

Augusta University’s Cyber Institute adopted the book “The Psychology of Information Security” as part of our Masters in Information Security Management program because we feel that the human factor plays an important role in securing and defending an organisation. Understanding behavioural aspects of the human element is important for many information security managerial functions, such as developing security policies and awareness training. Therefore, we want our students to not only understand technical and managerial aspects of security, but psychological aspects as well.


Cybersecurity Canon: The Psychology of Information Security

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My book has been nominated for the Cybersecurity Cannon, a list of must-read books for all cybersecurity practitioners.

Review by Guest Contributor Nicola Burr, Cybersecurity Consultant

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Delivering a guest lecture at California State University, Long Beach

CSU Long Beach

I’ve been invited to talk to Masters students at the California State University, Long Beach about starting a career in cyber security.  My guest lecture at the Fundamentals of Security class was well received. Here’s the feedback I received from the Professor:

Leron, thank you so much for talking to my students. We had a great session and everybody was feeling very energised afterwards. It always helps students to interact with industry practitioners and you did a fantastic job inspiring the class. I will be teaching this class next semester, too. Let’s keep in touch and see if you will be available to do a similar session with the next cohort. Again, thank you very much for your time – I wish we could have more time available to talk!


The Psychology of Information Security Culture

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In order to reduce security risks within an enterprise, security professionals have traditionally attempted to guide employees towards compliance through security training. However, recurring problems and employee behaviour in this arena indicate that these measures are insufficient and rather ineffective.

Security training tends to focus on specific working practices and defined threat scenarios, leaving the understanding of security culture and its specific principles of behaviour untouched. A security culture should be regarded as a fundamental matter to address. If neglected, employees will not develop habitually secure behaviour or take the initiative to make better decisions when problems arise.

In my talk I will focus on how you can improve security culture in your organisation. I’ll discuss how you can:

  • Understand the root causes of a poor security culture within the workplace
  • Aligning a security programme with wider organisational objectives
  • Manage and communicate these changes within an organisation

The goal is not to teach tricks, but to create a new culture which is accepted and understood by everyone. Come join us at the Security Awareness Summit on 11 Nov for an amazing opportunity to learn from and share with each other. Activities include show-n-tell, 306 Lightening Talks, video wars, group case studies and numerous networking activities. Learn more and register now for the Summit.

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How to conduct a cyber security assessment

NIST SCF

I remember conducting a detailed security assessment using the CSET (Cybersecurity Evaluation Tool) developed by the US Department of Homeland Security for UK and US gas and electricity generation and distribution networks. The question set contained around 1200 weighted and prioritised questions and resulted in a very detailed report.

Was it useful?

The main learning was that tracking every grain of sand is no longer effective after a certain threshold.

The value add, however, came from going deeper into specific controls and almost treating it as an audit where a certain category is graded lower if none or insufficient evidence was provided.  Sometimes this is the only way to provide an insight into how security is being managed across the estate.

Why?

What’s apparent in some companies – especially in financial services – is that they conduct experiments often using impressive technology. But have they made it into a standard and consistently rolled it out across the organisation? The answer is often ‘no’. Especially if the company is geographically distributed.

I’ve done a lot of assessments and benchmarking exercises against NIST CSF, ISO 27001, ISF IRAM2 and other standards since that CSET engagement and developed a set of questions that cover the areas of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

I felt the need to streamline the process and developed a tool to represent the scores nicely and help benchmark against the industry. I usually propose a tailor-made questionnaire that would include 50-100 suitable questions from the bank. From my experience in these assessments, the answers are not binary. Yes, a capability might be present but the real questions are:

  • How is it implemented?
  • How consistently it is being rolled out?
  • Can you actually show me the evidence?

So it’s very much about seeking the facts.

As I’ve mentioned, the process might not be the most pleasant for the parties involved but it is the one that delivers the most value for the leadership.

What about maturity?

I usually map the scores to the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) levels of:

  • Initial
  • Managed
  • Defined
  • Quantitatively managed and
  • Optimised

But I also consider NIST Cybersecurity framework implementation tiers that are not strictly considered as maturity levels, rather the higher tiers point to a more complete implementation of CSF standards. They go through Tiers 1-4 from Partial through to Risk Informed, Repeatable and finally Adaptive.

The key here is not just the ultimate score but the relation of the score to the coverage across the estate.