The Psychology of Information Security – Resolving conflicts between security compliance and human behaviourPosted: November 26, 2015
In today’s corporations, information security professionals have a lot on their plate. In the face of constantly evolving cyber threats they must comply with numerous laws and regulations, protect their company’s assets and mitigate risks to the furthest extent possible.
Security professionals can often be ignorant of the impact that implementing security policies in a vacuum can have on the end users’ core business activities. These end users are, in turn, often unaware of the risk they are exposing the organisation to. They may even feel justified in finding workarounds because they believe that the organisation values productivity over security. The end result is a conflict between the security team and the rest of the business, and increased, rather than reduced, risk.
This can be addressed by factoring in an individual’s perspective, knowledge and awareness, and a modern, flexible and adaptable information security approach. The aim of the security practice should be to correct employee misconceptions by understanding their motivations and working with the users rather than against them – after all, people are a company’s best assets.
I just finished writing a book with IT Governance Publishing on this topic. This book draws on the experience of industry experts and related academic research to:
- Gain insight into information security issues related to human behaviour, from both end users’ and security professionals’ perspectives.
- Provide a set of recommendations to support the security professional’s decision-making process, and to improve the culture and find the balance between security and productivity.
- Give advice on aligning a security programme with wider organisational objectives.
- Manage and communicate these changes within an organisation.
Based on insights gained from academic research as well as interviews with UK-based security professionals from various sectors, The Psychology of Information Security – Resolving conflicts between security compliance and human behaviour explains the importance of careful risk management and how to align a security programme with wider business objectives, providing methods and techniques to engage stakeholders and encourage buy-in.
The Psychology of Information Security redresses the balance by considering information security from both viewpoints in order to gain insight into security issues relating to human behaviour , helping security professionals understand how a security culture that puts risk into context promotes compliance.
There is no doubt that security is necessary, but why is it so unpleasant to follow a security policy? Reminding yourself to stick to the rules feels like your partner telling you…. to eat your salad. You know they are right, but anticipating that bland taste and mindless chewing that awaits you simply puts you off. You decide to leave it for tomorrow, so much so that you never get to it.
Cakes, on the other hand, are yummy and require no effort whatsoever to indulge in our cravings for them. Nobody needs to force us to eat a piece.
In our day-to-day lives we prefer to do “cake” tasks without giving it a second’s thought. Things like storing confidential files on Dropbox or emailing them to our personal accounts…. you know, taking a little bite here and there. It’s “only for today”, “no biggie”… This one-time thing is so harmless, it’s like a comfort snack. We might later feel guilty that we bypassed a few “salad” controls. Maybe we used our personal USB drive instead of a company-issued encrypted one, but at the end of the day… who cares? Who will notice? As long as there is no dramatic impact on our health, a bite here or a bite there won’t cause any harm.
And one day we realise that it’s not all rosy. The result of our laziness or lack of willpower eventually rears its ugly head when the doctor makes us stand on the scales and has a look at our blood pressure. So to add to your partner’s words of wisdom, is the doctor’s warning of an unhealthy present and a bleak future; something that would sound very similar during the company’s security audit.
“You have got to eat more salad and lay off the cakes!”
To make matters worse, even with our best intentions to have the salad at the office cafeteria, we discover that the one available is practically inedible. Pretty much like finding that the company’s secure shared drive doesn’t have the necessary space to store our files or that the encrypted pen drive is not compatible with the client’s Mac.
So if there are chefs coming up with ways to make salads more appealing, what can security professionals do to help us, the employees, maintain our “security diet”?
They could aim at making security more like a cake – effortless, even attractive, but still keep it as healthy as a salad. Sound simple? Perhaps not so much, but they should invest in usability studies to make sure that the secure solution is the easiest to use. It might involve discovering an entirely new culinary art on how to make a cake-tasting salad altogether. But if they fail to realise just how unpalatable the salads are to begin with, we should let them know. Security professionals need employees’ support.
Organisations are like families: everyone has to stay healthy, otherwise when a single member gets sick, the whole family is at risk of getting sick as well, whether it be catching an infectious disease or adopting an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s like having the slimmest, fittest family member refrain from adding biscuits to the grocery list in order not to tempt the couch-potatoes. It’s a team effort. In order for a company to stay healthy, everyone has to keep a healthy lifestyle of eating salad regularly, even when it is not that pleasant.
The whole company needs to know that security is important for achieving its goals -not as something that gets in the way-, just as we should all know that having a healthy diet of greens will guarantee a sound body. Employees contribute to the efficient operation of the business when they comply with security policies. Not only does security ensure confidentiality and the integrity of information, but it also guarantees that the resources are available for employees to complete their primary tasks.
We need to realise that we contribute to security; and we can inflict serious damage on a company when we don’t comply with security policies, no matter how insignificant or harmless they may seem. As employees, we are individually responsible for the organisation’s exposure to security risks just as we are responsible for exposing ourselves to illness. Our behaviour and daily regime significantly shape our quality of life, and our practices shape the quality of our business.
The health of the company is everyone’s business. Let’s all eat our salad while helping the security specialists to come up with better tasting ones.
To expand on my research on the human aspect of security, I created a simplified model to highlight the relationship between productivity and security. The main hypothesis, is that there is a productivity cost associated with the security controls.
The interactive simulation was created to allow users to implement their own security policies and observe the relationship between risk reduction and impact on productivity cost. Easy to understand visual feedback is available immediately for the users. This helps to understand security managers’ perspective when implementing security controls in a company.
The creation of the model was inspired by research conducted by Angela Sasse and her colleagues at the University College London.
Please get in touch if you have any feedback or would like to discuss the underlying research findings.
I delivered a seminar on the human aspects of information security at the University of West London. We discussed conflicts between security and productivity in companies and possible solutions. Research students with different backgrounds helped to drive the debates around usability, awareness and policy design.
We also talked about the practical applications of behavioural theories, where I shared my views on user monitoring and trust in organisations within the context of security culture.
Daniel, one of the participants, summarised his experience in his blog.
Image courtesy of Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Interview with Jitender Arora – Information Security & Risk Executive (Financial Services)
Could you please start by telling us about your background?
I am a Computer Science and Engineering graduate, with Masters Degree in Consultancy Management. I had been a very technical, hands-on person from the very beginning of my career. I spent the first two years building firewalls, proxy servers and hardening UNIX servers. After few years, I was presented with an opportunity to move into information security and risk. At the time, I was working for Wipro Technologiesand they were building a Security Consultancy Practice, which would be front-ending with their customers, and working on the projects. The organisation was recruiting for this practice from other parts of the organisation so I decided to move into this new practice which proved to be a very exciting and challenging assignment. That’s where my journey in terms of “information security and risk”started from. Later, I had leadership roles in organisations like Adobe Systems and Agilent Technologies. I moved to the UK around 8 years ago, and that’s when my journey began working in the financial services sector.
What do you do now?
Around four years ago, I decided to quit my job and start my own small consulting firm with two friends I had met at RBS. We did a good job for two years, and build a good profitable business. Unfortunately, due to some unavoidable circumstance the partnership didn’t work out and we decided to amicably part ways. After that, I didn’t want to jump into the first thing that came along, and so I focused on my independent journey as Interim Executive in leading business transformation and change programs that address governance, risk and compliance problems faced by my client organisations. My engagements are outcome oriented to deliver the specific outcome for the client organisation. Over the last 3 or 4 years, I have built a strong reputation of being an outcome-oriented management consultant.
You are a very well known speaker within the industry. What made you decide to engage in this sort of activities as well?
It was not an intentional choice. I was once having a conversation with my best mate, Javvad Malik, around the need for new speakers at conferences who are able to present a different point of view. In a way, Javvad encouraged (or should I say pushed, Thank You Jav) me to go ahead and speak at conferences. At that point, I wasn’t too keen on it because I have always felt anxious about speaking in a public forum. Additionally, English is not my first language, which represented another barrier. But I decided to face my fear, and just go along with it. When I actually started speaking, I received an encouraging response from the audience and attendees liked my take on topics which they said provided a unique perspective. Being a very pragmatic consultant, I usually have a different point of view, as opposed to being a paranoid view. I approach security & risk problems and issues as a business person which provides a different perspective, so that’s where I think I got some good recognition from the market, especially in the speaking circuit. I believe speaking engagements not only present an opportunity for building your own personal brand but also helps sharpen your selling and marketing skills. The way you approach people, build their perception of you, sell yourself and your ideas, it’s a very good skill to have which is not generally taught in school or at university. Now, I encourage my colleagues and professionals to speak at events.
Returning to what you were saying about being an outcome oriented consultant, could you please elaborate on how changes can be implemented within organisations when these changes involve people and their behaviour? How do you address the people aspect of security?
As a security professional, when you implement a new security control, you are usually changing the way people are operating. A very simple example would be when implementing a control in terms of how people access production system. So if you go into an organisation in which their practices have been acceptable for the past 10 years, and you suddenly tell them that they can no longer follow same practice, you are, in a way, taking a privilege away from them and they will react accordingly. The analogy that I usually use for this is if I suddenly tell my son, who normally watches 1 hour of T.V. a day for the past several years, that he cannot watch it without taking permission every time and not more than 30mins from now on. He will not like it and will most likely rebel and show his displeasure.
As security professionals we try to change the process, and we want to introduce a certain level of governance on top of it. It’s very important to manage the people aspect of implementing such changes for security. You need to get people on your side before you actually implement these controls. It is a lot about socialising, and communicating, which brings me back to the point on selling and marketing. You have to package, sell and market these changes by conveying the message that “even though we are taking this privilege away from you by implementing these controls, we are going to give you something in return: We will guarantee that you run your business in a compliant manner and do not get audit findings or regulatory issues in which you will have to invest to address them”. So returning to the original example, it’s about establishing a secure way of accessing production systems which, although might be different from existing methods and might involve a little extra work, will ensure that everybody can continue to do their job while being compliant. We will create a robust production access environment: “So let’s be proactive and address this situation together before someone else comes and asks us to fix it.”
There are some of security professionals who scare the clients and users as a strategy for avoiding unwanted behaviour, by telling them, for example, that they might even risk getting fired. What is your opinion on this approach?
If you scare people too much, they will be scared as long as you are in front of them, but the behaviour won’t change. The objective should be to change the behaviour, and when we say “behaviour”, we are referring to the way people operate on a day-to-day basis. Make sure that they don’t see this as a temporary situation, but as a routine. A very simple example for this would be physical security guards. We have security guards in all the office buildings who are standing on the side, observing people, looking for individuals who may seem malicious or suspicious. But they don’t intimidate people around them. You might even be able to approach them for directions and they will kindly answer if they can help. But the moment they detect somebody suspicious, they will intervene. Now let’s imagine that instead of having these friendly security personnel, we had big bouncers who are aggressive. Would you feel okay approaching them? Sometimes security in our context operates like those big nightclub bouncers, because it is intimidating. So business people stop inviting you as a security professional to their business initiatives because they see security as the big intimidating bouncer: as a problem. For them, if you bring security in, you are bringing a problem in. That needs to change, and it largely depends on relationships and how you manage those relationships, how you come across in your meetings with them, and what they main message of your proposition is: “we are not taking anything away from you, we are going to help implementing new controls that will allow you to run your business in a secure and compliant manner meeting legal and regulatory obligations.”So it’s a trade-off and it’s a lot about perception, so the scaring tactic I don’t think works for too long.
You have come up with a way of selling all of your services to the executives and they understand the value of them. What about the actual people who use the service?
I think of executives as the same as the end-users, so the methods I use to sell security doesn’t change at for different levels. It’s the way you deliver message and what message you deliver has to be adapted for different levels. Business executives will normally focus on how you are going to solve the problems that will allow the business to address the compliance issues and meet regulatory requirements. They are the ones that get chased around by the auditors and the regulators. But for the end-users, compliance is not their problem. They never get to own or see these auditing issues. From their perspective, they have a business to do, a server to manage, an infrastructure to run, they want to operate the way they have done so far. So if bringing in new security controls doesn’t mean making life difficult, they are happy to participate. As a security professional, that’s the message that you can give: “we are not here to make your life difficult, but to make sure you have the right tools to do your job effectively in a secure and compliant manner.”
As a preliminary step to implementation, would you have to first understand what it is people normally do on a day-to-day basis?
Absolutely. The very first thing I like to do is to see these users or consumers of these controls as my key stakeholders. One thing I always do in any of these change programmes is approach stakeholders including user groups in their working environment, and make them feel comfortable. Ask them, listen to them and understand what their problems are. What is it that they like that they would like to keep, and what they don’t like that they would like to have changed, and what is it that they might have seen somewhere else and might be a good thing to include as part of this change. Key benefit from being in listening mode is that people become part of the journey because they have largely contributed to the creation and design of these new controls. The key to success is to approach any change from human psychological perspective and engaging them by asking, listening and taking their feedback on board. Another thing that I always make sure to do is to fix the things they don’t like in the existing environment. Listen to people; understand what they like, what they don’t like, make sure you can fix their problems, and if they want something else, try to help them get it: get them on your side. Make them feel like they are part of this journey and also give them credit for their contribution to the success.
Let’s imagine that a security manager decides to implement a security policy in any given company. Let’s say that they take a standard framework like, say, ISO 27001, they tweak it a bit and apply it into the company’s environment. Do you see any potential problems with this?
Frameworks are a good start. But what lots of organisations do is that they lift the framework as is and if you look at the policies in most of them, there is not much difference. But if you think of different types of organisations like the financial services, investment banking, or law firms, you have many different environments: you have different drivers and they come with a very different set of challenges. A lot of professionals, who write policies, do so in isolation. They don’t spend time understanding how a specific organisation carries out its business. An interesting question would be, once a policy is written, whom do you want to be the target audience? Is the policy being written by security people, to be interpreted by security people? Or is a policy being written by security people, to be understood by security people, when in reality it is supposed to be meant for business people? In one of my previous engagements, I had security experts writing the policy, and I then hired a technical writer to review, proof-read and rewrite the policy. The end products between the policy written by the security experts and by the technical writer were completely different: the latter was much more understandable by the business community. We don’t realise that, unless an external person comes along and starts asking questions –“oh, what do you mean by this?”- that the language is not easily understandable for everyone. So I believe that every organisation should hire competent technical writers to translate their security policy, standards and guidance from specialised security jargon into a language that is understandable for business people.
So once your policy is written in understandable terms for everyone, how do you make people read it and comply?
The first thing I do in any organisation is that I visit their homepage and type in “information security”. If the policy doesn’t come up as the first search result, something is wrong. If people can’t find the security policy, how can you expect them to read it? How can you expect them to comply?
Another thing that I have done in few organisations is to conduct a simple survey, by asking three simple questions to business community:
- Do you know that we have an information security department?
- Do you know services this department has to offer?
- Do you know how to contact them if you need it?
It’s very eye-opening and you get lots of strange responses from the business people. Many times they do not know how to contact the security department or what services they provide. If they don’t know you exist, how can they possibly approach you? We can have a fantastic policy embedded in some website, but nobody is looking at it nor reading it.
Another problem is that security policies are long documents: They are not exciting, they are not novels. So I wouldn’t expect business people to read each and every bit and understand it. The probability to succeed can increase if you can provide them a platform where they are able to search when they need to and know where to go and look for answers when they need it. And this touches the point of approachability and availability of the policy and guidance.
But lets focus on the policy itself. How many policies do we have in a typical regulated organisation that we expect employees to read and comply with? E.g. security, anti-money laundering, acceptable use, expenses, travel and anti-bribery policy etc: it’s a huge list. Think about how long it takes an individual to read those policies, understand, remember and follow them. We’re human, it’s not possible. What’s important is that on a day-to-day basis there are some aspects that you need to demonstrate and follow as a normal business user and whenever in doubt go and seek answers. I like to refer to this as “acceptable behaviour”, not only in terms of privacy and security but overall behaviour.
You can take key messages from all of your relevant policies, and communicate them in friendly, simplistic and interesting terms linking it back to acceptable behaviour. It’s not the computer-based training (CBT) that can change human behaviour, but human-to-human interaction. It’s about helping people understand how to do what they do on a day-to-day basis, how to make their daily life easier and making the information accessible if they need to know more.
To wrap it up, you have mentioned previously that it is important to build a good security culture within the organisation. How do you define a good security culture?
A good analogy for this would be our behaviour regarding airport security, what we know we can do and what not to do, as well as reporting anything that may look suspicious. We are generally aware of our surroundings, especially when we are in an unknown territory. This is very natural to us in the physical world where we can see, hear and touch things in our surroundings. The challenge now is that we are spending so much of our time in this virtual world, where our senses can’t be used in the same way. We have to ask ourselves what key risk indicators in this virtual world are. How should we conduct ourselves in this virtual world? This is the kind of awareness that needs to be built into people’s behaviour. I think this journey should start from earlier stages in life, when people are being schooled. When I was in school, when I was growing up, my parents used to tell me: don’t talk to strangers, don’t accept anything from strangers, don’t give away your personal information to people you don’t know well, and so on. It’s an advice on how to conduct yourself safely in the physical world. Now, those messages have to change. You need to build a culture into the newer generations who are now and will be spending so much of their time in the virtual world. The definition of stranger in the virtual world is different from that in the physical world. The definition of “acceptable behaviour”in this virtual world has to be different from physical world. The definition of those risk indicators haven’t changed. One cannot expect behaviour to change on the first day a person joins the workforce, because by that time, behaviours are already formed.
The moment people become security aware, they become security advocates who can help spread this awareness on behalf of the security department. The organisations have to start a chain-reaction by making a few people security-aware and sending the message across the organisation. Everybody becomes self-aware at some point and starts thinking on his/her own about what is right and wrong. But this doesn’t happen because of computer-based training or policies. It is the change in human behaviour that is required in the long-term.
Thank you Jitender
This article aims to review the literature on information security policy compliance issues and their relation to core business processes in the company and users’ behaviour. It also provides an insight into particular implementation examples of the ISO 27001 Standard, and methods of analysis of the effectiveness of such implementations.
Information security issues in organisations have been brought up long before the rapid development of technology. Companies have always been concerned with protecting their confidential information, including their intellectual property and trade secrets. There are many possible approaches to addressing information security. Wood  points out that security is a broad subject including financial controls, human resource policies, physical protection and safety measures. However, Ruighaver et al.  state that information security is usually viewed as a purely technical concern and is expected to have the same technical solution. On the other hand, Schneier , Lampson , and Sasse and Flechais  emphasise the people aspect of security, and people play crucial role as they use and implement security controls.
As stated by Anderson , it is essential to properly define information security in order to pay merit to all these aspects.
The Standard for Information Security Management ISO 27001  defines information security as “the protection of information from a wide range of threats in order to ensure business continuity, minimize business risk, and maximise return on investments and business opportunities.”
Dhillon  states security issues in organisations can arise due to absence of an information security policy. One of the ways to implement such a security policy is to take ISO 27001 standard as a framework.
ISO 27001 Standard
ISO 27001 Standard which is a member of the ISO 27000 standards family evolved from British national standard BS7799 . It aims to provide guidance on managing the risk associated with threats to confidentiality, integrity and availability of organisation’s assets. Such assets, as defined in ISO 27001  include people, software, hardware, services, etc.
Doherty and Fulford , Von Solms , and Canavan  all came to the conclusion that well-established standards such as ISO 27001 might be a stepping-stone to implementing good information security programs in organisations.
However, Anttila and Kajava in their study  identify the following issues with ISO 27001 Standard:
– The standard is high-level and basic concepts are not presented consistently in the standard.
– It is hard to measure business benefits from implementing this standard.
– Presented process management is not fully supporting current business practices.
– The standard struggles to recommend solutions to contemporary business environments.
Neubauer et al.  in their research states that the main problem with security standards, including ISO 27001 is their “abstract control deﬁnition, which leaves space for interpretation”. Furthermore, the authors suggest that companies focus on obtaining formal certification and often do not to assess and put in place the adequate security controls according their main business goals. Ittner et al.  support this point, adding that organisation also fail to estimate the effectiveness of the investments in such initiatives.
According to Sharma and Dash , ISO 27001 does not provide detailed guidance requires substantial level of expertise to implement. Moreover, the authors claim that “If risk assessment is flawed, don’t have sufficient security and risk assessment expertise, or do not have the management and organizational commitment to implement security then it is perfectly possible to be fully compliant with the standard, but be insecure.” Results of their study suggest that the organizations, which participated in the study implemented information security mainly to comply with legal and regulatory requirements. The consequence of that was low cost-effectiveness of such implementations. However, the researcher don’t analyse the level of users’ acceptance of implemented controls. The authors also fail to recommend an approach which would support security manager’s decision-making process in implementing ISO 27001 Standard controls.
Karabacak and Sogukpinar in in their paper  present a flexible and low-cost ISO 17799 compliance check tool. The authors use qualitative techniques to collect and analyse data and sate that “the success of our method depends on the answers of surveyors. Accurately answered questions lead to accurate compliance results.” However, the researchers stop short of analysing the impact of compliance with security policy on users’ behaviour. The authors do not consider the issue that a security manager’s decisions regarding a particular implementation of security policy affects that organisation as a whole and may introduce additional cognitive burdens to users. These issues in extreme cases (e.g. obstructing core business processes) may result in non-compliance as users prioritise their primary task.
Vuppala et al. their study  discuss their experience from implementing ISO27001 information security management systems. One of the most important lessons learnt was developing an understanding of the role of users’ behaviour in this process. The authors recommend to “not make drastic changes to the current processes; this will only infuriate the users. Remember, users are an important, if not the most important, part of the overall security system.”
Johnson and Goetz in  conducted a series of interviews with security managers to identify main challenges of influencing employees’ behaviour. The results of this study revealed that security managers rely extensively on information security policies, not only as a means of ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, but also to guide and direct users’ behaviour.
To explore the question of the impact on users’ behaviour while implementing security policies, the following theories were researched:
1. Theory of Rational Choice – a framework, which provides insight into social and economic behaviour. It implies that users tend to maximise their personal benefits . Beautement et al. in their paper  uses this theory to build a foundation explaining how people make decisions about whether to comply or not to comply with any particular information security policy.
Herley  suggests that it is rational for users not to comply with security policy, because of the perceived risk reduction is lower than the effort needed.
2. Protection Motivation Theory – a theory which describes four factors that individuals consider when trying to protect themselves :
– perceived severity
– probability of the adverse event
– efficiency of the preventive behaviour
Siponen builds on this theory to gain an understanding of the attitude of individuals towards compliance with security policies. Siponen refers to it in order to study the impact of the punishment on the actual compliance and on intention to comply , .
3. The Theory of General Deterrence – this suggests that users will not comply with the rules if they are not concerned with punishment .
4. Theory of Planned Behaviour – this suggests that subjective norms and perceived behavioural controls influence individuals’ behaviour . Siponen  and Pahnila  discovered that social norms play a significant role in users’ intention to comply.
These theories suggest that to effectively protect a company’s assets, the security manager should develop and implement security policies not only to ensure formal compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, but also to make sure that users are considered as a part of the system. Policies should be designed in a way that reduces the mental and physical workload of users , .
Business process visualisation and compliance
It is important to consider information security compliance and users’ behaviour in the context of a company. Users in organisations involved into activities, which could be presented as business processes.
Business process is defined as a set of logically related tasks (or activities) to achieve a defined business outcome .
The continuous monitoring of their business processes is essential for any organisation. This can be achieved by visualisation of business processes . However, they are usually complex, due to number of different users or user roles in large companies . Barrett  also argues that it is essential to create a “vision of the process” to successfully reengineer it.
Namiri and Stojanovic in their paper  present a scenario demonstrating a particular business process and implement controls necessary to achieve compliance with regulatory requirements. The authors separate business and control objectives, introducing two roles: a business process expert, who is motivated solely by business objectives, and a compliance expert, who is concerned with ensuring compliance of a given business process.
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 Wood, M.B. 1982. Introducing Computer Security. National Computing Centre.
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 ISO/IEC, ISO/IEC 27001 – Information technology – Security techniques – Information security management systems – Requirements, Geneva: ISO/IEC, 2005 and Draft for the new revision ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27 N10641, 2011.
The purpose of this post is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the data collected from the survey and semi-structured interviews to compare views on information security activities from security managers’ and users’ viewpoints.
A survey was developed to collect information from a broad sample on attitudes of the users’ towards information security policies in their organisations in general, and how compliance with information security policies affects their behaviour in particular. It was quantitatively analysed.
The main goal of the survey was to assess the attitude of the end-users towards information security policies in their companies and measure the level of dissatisfaction with security tasks. Prior to the questions, all participants were shown a page with the explanation of the purpose of the study, approximate time to complete the survey, the researcher’s contact information, and their rights to withdraw their answers at any time. After getting participants’ consent by clicking the “Next” button, they were asked to answer the eleven multiple-choice questions. The first four questions were designed to gather demographic information about the participants for future analysis: participants were asked to provide information on their gender, age, the number of years of work experience, and the industry sector. The subsequent seven questions were aimed at gathering insight on users’ attitude towards information security policies in their companies and the way they make their compliance decisions. Participants were asked to:
- Indicate their attitude towards security policy in their company.
- Assess the effectiveness of implementation of the security policy in their company.
- Estimate the approximate time they spend weekly on various security activities, such as password changes, antivirus checks, anti-phishing checks, awareness training, encryption, etc.
- Indicate their attitude towards the impact which security activities have on their overall performance: respondents were presented with a statement “I believe security activities negatively affect my overall performance” and were asked to choose one of the following four answers: “strongly agree”, “agree”, “disagree”, and “strongly disagree”.
- Assess the degree of concern of the security manager in their company with users’ main business goals and tasks.
- Assess the frequency of the prevention of security controls from accomplishing their main business tasks.
- Indicate their attitude towards the possibility of violation of the security policy if it prevented them from accomplishing their main business activities.
The survey was advertised on social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook) to recruit participants for the survey. A sample of specific interest was created to include people with relevant job experience.
This section presents detailed end-users’ survey findings. Results are described in the order of their appearance in the survey. 64 responses were collected.
End-users’ demographic characteristics
Results show that the majority of the sample (40 out of 64 participants) were male. They also illustrate that 32 out of 64 participants are in the 18 to 24 age group, and that 29 out of 64 are in the 25 to 34 age group. A relatively small number of participants (only 3 people) are older than 35 years. The members of the most populated group (22 out of 64 participants) are in the beginning of their careers and have less than one year worth of work experience. The following figure presents the distribution of respondents by industry sector.
Distribution of respondents by industry sector
Attitude towards security policy in the company
The results of the survey show that 51% of participants share a positive outlook towards information security in the company (6 have chosen “very positive” option and 27 “positive”). 29 respondents share a neutral attitude towards information security in the organisation. Only 2 participants indicated a negative attitude.
Attitude towards security policy
View on the implementation of the security policy in the organisation
50% of participants think that information security policy is effectively implemented in their compamy. However, 34% of the population struggled to provide an opinion on this matter.
Effectiveness of implementation of the security policy
Time spent by users on security activities
A large majority (80%) feel that they spend less than 30 minutes per week in total on security tasks. However, there are 4 respondents that share the perception that they have spent over an hour on security activities in the course of the past week.
Time spent by users on security activities
Impact on users’ overall performance
37 participants disagree with the statement that security negatively impacts their overall performance and 12 participants strongly disagree with it, although, there is 1 respondent who strongly agrees.
Impact on users’ overall performance
Assessing the degree of concern of the security manager in the company with users’ main business goals and tasks
Most of the participants (27 out of 64) believe that their security manager is rather neutral towards users’ business activities. 19 participants feel that their security manager is aware of their day-to-day tasks.
Degree of concern of the security manager in the company with users’ main business goals and tasks
Instances of obstructing core business processes
30 respondents cannot recall any instances in which security controls obstructed their business activities. On the other hand, the results of the survey show more than 50% experienced problems at least once a year, and in many cases more regularly because of the security policy.
Instances of obstructing core business processes
Information security policy violations
Results show an almost equal split between people when faced with the statement “I would violate security policy if it prevents me from accomplishing my main business tasks” who are willing to violate security policy in order to get their job done and those who make the decision to comply even in this case.
Information security policy violations
Individual response analysis shows that some people can’t recall situations whereby security policy prevented them from accomplishing their core business activities, however they still perceive security as something that hinders their performance. Other participants also didn’t indicate such instances more frequently than approximately once every three months
Frequency of collisions in relation to perception of negative impact on users’ performance
Individual response analysis also allowed revealing the fact that there is a person, who strongly agrees that security tasks affect his/her performance. This individual’s answer of the question on the perceived number of instances when security policy prevented him/her from accomplishing their main business task shows that he/she experiences difficulty performing business activities on a daily basis. The anonymous nature of the survey didn’t allow the researcher to conduct a follow up interview to gain an insight on this particular case. Moreover, high number of responses “I don’t know” to the question regardless the effectiveness of implementation of the security policy may indicate that the criteria for effectiveness were not clearly defined. Furthermore, using social networks as a sample to survey users negatively affected the researcher’s ability to generalise the results. The presented sample contains mostly young people with relatively small amount of work experience. This fact makes it difficult to drive conclusions, because perception of the employees towards security task may change with time in the job. Given the limitations, results show that more than 23% of participants believe that security tasks negatively affect their overall performance. This outlines the major concern for the organisations, because it directly affects company’s ability to generate revenue. According to the survey results, 20% of participants responded that they spend approximately one hour per week on various security tasks.
The second stage was conducted as an exploratory study with five information security experts. This section presents a descriptive analysis of the semi-structured interviews with information security experts.
The main goal of the semi-structured interviews was to gather an insight on information security manager’s awareness of the fact that his decisions on particular implementation of security controls affect organisation as a whole, and that his actions may negatively impact users’ performance in core business activities. The interview questions were designed to gather information on security manager’s ability to distinguish between instances of malicious non-compliance and instances when security controls obstruct users’ main business tasks was gathered. All information security experts selected to participate in the study have seven or more years of work experience in the field of information security and are currently holding managerial positions in their companies. Materials and feedback from the two pilot interviews, which were not included in the current project, were then used to refine the questions and procedures for the following interviews, so that they focus more on relevant topics and group them into categories. When patterns started to emerge, the data were then evaluated. The Grounded Theory analysis revealed that the most common codes: – Security manager’s decision-making process on particular implementation of security controls – Relation between business and security goals – Detection of instances of non-compliance – Reaction to instances of non-compliance – Security manager’s awareness of how security policy implementation affects users’ behavior – Difficulties in measuring impact of users’ behaviour. – Security manager’s awareness of users’ typical business activities – Effect of understanding of users’ business activities on security manager’s decision-making process
Results are grouped into codes, which were developed in line with the Grounded Theory: – Security manager’s decision-making process on particular implementation of security controls: Interview results suggest that 4 out of 5 interviewed security managers use their past experience when implementing security policy. One security manager suggested that security policy was already implemented in his organisation. – Relation between business and security goals: all security managers understand the role of information security as a supporting process. – Detection of instances of non-compliance: all interviewed experts rely on both formal and informal channels of detecting instances of non-compliance. – Reaction to instances of non-compliance Interview results suggest that 4 out of 5 interviewed security managers tend to try to understand the root cause of the problem first. One security manager indicated that he is not directly involved into investigation of such incidents. – Security manager’s awareness of how security policy implementation affects users’ behaviour: 4 out of 5 security managers believe that they aware of the impact of security controls on users’ behaviour. One security manager suggested that he doesn’t have resources for that. – Difficulties in measuring the impact of users’ behaviour: all experts experience some difficulties in assessing the impact on users’ behaviour. – Security manager’s awareness of users’ typical business activities: 4 out of 5 security managers indicated their awareness of users’ day-to-day tasks. One security manager mentioned that he doesn’t have enough time for this. – Effect of understanding of users’ business activities on security manager’s decision-making process: all of the interviewed experts agree that it is beneficial to understand users’ business tasks.
This section presents a discussion of interview findings.
Security manager’s decision-making process on particular implementation of security controls
Interview data reconfirms that security managers mostly use their own judgment and past experience when making a decision on particular implementation of information security controls. As explained in a quote: “When I’m making a decision to implement ISO 27001 standard in my organization, half of that decision is what the particular policies would actually look like. Because ISO 27001 is very high-level and it is by all means not a policy in itself, it just gives you one or two criteria or one or two suggestions how your security policies should look like. Because of this freedom of implementation, you actually have to write these policies yourself.”
Relation between business and security goals
Interviewed security experts also understand the role of involving the business management in the process of implementing security controls. For example, one security manager mentioned: “If there is no benefit to the business – you don’t do it.” Another expert reinforces his point by saying: “Get the people who these controls directly affect. You should start with the business. Get their buy-in; although they might view it as an additional workload, hence most people involved in this security initiative might produce sub-standard work.“ Interviewed security managers also think that business objectives should always be the priority. For example, one expert commented: “Many security managers think that security is the most important thing. I personally don’t think so. Paying shareholders is the most important. Inhibiting those activities or encouraging dangerous activities because of what you are doing you are making the situation worse.” The results illustrate that interviewed security managers understand that their decisions affect the whole organisation.
Detection of instances of non-compliance
Participants of the interview are aware of various methods to detecting non-compliance. For example, one expert mentioned: “I walk around this building on occasion and I wiggle doors and I check workstations for locked screens. The other way you find out is by rumours or chatting with people.” The results revealed that security experts rely on both formal (e.g. periodic security reviews) and informal (e.g. rumours, complains) channels of detecting non-compliance.
Reaction to instances of non-compliance
Most interviewed security managers agree that you should not punish users for non-compliance right away. You have to first understand the root cause of the problem. For instance, one expert suggested: “You don’t react on non-compliance with anger. You try to find out why it happened, rather than the fact that it has failed. Moreover, you can use it as a possibility for education and awareness and possibility for improvement.” Another expert reinforces this point saying: “At the end of the day it failed because with high probability you implemented it badly, because you forced some particular way of working or method which they can’t use, so they worked around it.” According to the results, understanding the reason behind the non-compliance is important for most of the interviewed experts.
Security manager’s awareness of how security policy implementation affects users’ behaviour
Most of the interviewed security experts believe that they are to a certain degree aware of the impact of the security policy on users’ behavior. One security manager said: “Yes, I think I’m aware of that, because when it affects it in a negative way – we hear about it. There are lots of complains.” Some participants backed-up their statements with examples. One security manager mentioned: “When users want to look at Excel spreadsheet or use an application using iPad but they can’t, because security controls don’t allow access to the business applications via an iPad. So they have to use a laptop rather than device of their own choice. So yes, we are aware of that tension, but we tend to enable people to do what they need to do.” Interview results suggest that such awareness is in the direct relation to the number of users’ complains. However, nobody mentioned proactive way of assessing this impact.
Difficulties in measuring impact of users’ behaviour.
Several security experts stated that it is difficult to assess the impact of security controls on users’ behaviour. For example, one mentioned: “We never measured it. We don’t have a way of measuring it. So we don’t know.” Another expert agrees with him: “One thing is putting controls in place and the other is measuring effectiveness. Around users it is very difficult. Because they are not like a server, where you can say here is CPU optimisation.” However, one security expert strongly disagrees with the fact that he should take behavioural impact into consideration. He said that: “Why should I care? Why this is relevant to my job – caring about users is not part of my job responsibilities. I have limited resources to ensure compliance – how am I going to stretch that to areas outside of my direct responsibility?”
Security manager’s awareness of users’ typical business activities
Some security experts, who participated in the interviews, mentioned that they are aware of the users’ business task to the degree which is required to successfully manage projects. Once a security manager stated that: “At a high level we are aware. At the detailed process level really only when we are doing a project in that department. When we need to understand the process within the project.” Another expert provides an example supporting the same argument: “When we do a particular project on a new system. Say, for instance, it’s a new credit card system being implemented we work through the user’s role, we work through the general data storage, so we become familiar with that particular department’s user activities.” The results show that some interviewed security managers believe that they are capable of understanding of users’ day-to-day business activities and that they make their decisions on the particular implementation of security controls according to this knowledge.
Effect of understanding of users’ business activities on security manager’s decision-making process
All of the interviewed experts agree that knowledge of what users in their company are doing can help them in better implementation of information security policy. One security manager shared an example of that: “For instance we worked with our studio manager and looked at the process of data transfer to the client. We have chosen one particular brand of encrypted USB keys, we believe that adoption would be very high, because they are great looking devices. It feels good for our creative workers to give it to the client with our logo on it, rather than sharing data using cheap plastic USB stick – there is no story, there is no sort of emotional attachment, which is so particularly important for creative workers. But in order for us to come with such a decision we actually spend some time observing and understanding our users.”
The results show that the majority of security managers, who participated in the survey, understand the importance of making the user part of the system and assessing possible impact on users’ behaviour when deciding on implementation of particular security controls. However, they agree on that their awareness of users’ business activities is reactive and based mainly on the users’ complains. Small number of interviewed security experts makes it problematic to generalise the results. Moreover, all of the interviewed security managers have substantial amount of work experience (they were chosen to have minimum seven, however some of them have more than twenty years of experience), which may affects the results. Those security experts tend to work in the companies with mature information security processes in place. Interviewing expects with less amount of experience may yield different results.
Results of this section provide an insight on how security managers and users view the importance of compliance behaviour in organisations. Analysis of the interview and survey results show that presented method is capable of identifying the existence of the problem: there is a huge gap between perception of security policy by users and security managers, which negatively impacts the organisation as a whole. Most of the interviewed security managers think that they consider users part of the system and aware of the impact of their action on users’ behaviour. However, survey results indicate that more that 23% users believe that security negatively affects their performance. Moreover, 20% of participants spend approximately one hour weekly on various security activities. Current interview and survey data suggests a difference in the perception of the users and security managers exists due to the differing opinions presented, but doesn’t prove this is the case and the information comes from different contexts. Running the study inside an organisation would overcome this limitation. The issue the difference in the perception of the users and security managers should be studied more thoroughly. The study should be conducted in one company to directly compare the view of managers and users from the same organisation, which is critical to showing if a difference in opinion really exists. Moreover, the research should be conducted with a broader and better-quality sample to ensure that the results could be generalised. More participants from various backgrounds should form the sample.