The Psychology of Information Security book reviews

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I wrote about my book  in the previous post. Here I would like to share what others have to say about it.

So often information security is viewed as a technical discipline – a world of firewalls, anti-virus software, access controls and encryption. An opaque and enigmatic discipline which defies understanding, with a priesthood who often protect their profession with complex concepts, language and most of all secrecy.

Leron takes a practical, pragmatic and no-holds barred approach to demystifying the topic. He reminds us that ultimately security depends on people – and that we all act in what we see as our rational self-interest – sometimes ill-informed, ill-judged, even downright perverse.

No approach to security can ever succeed without considering people – and as a profession we need to look beyond our computers to understand the business, the culture of the organisation – and most of all, how we can create a security environment which helps people feel free to actually do their job.
David Ferbrache OBE, FBCS
Technical Director, Cyber Security
KPMG UK

This is an easy-to-read, accessible and simple introduction to information security.  The style is straightforward, and calls on a range of anecdotes to help the reader through what is often a complicated and hard to penetrate subject.  Leron approaches the subject from a psychological angle and will be appealing to both those of a non-technical and a technical background.
Dr David King
Visiting Fellow of Kellogg College
University of Oxford

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Presenting at the IT & Security Forum

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I was invited to speak at the IT & Security Forum in Kazan, Russia. The conference spanned over three days and combined technical and non-technical talks, round table discussions and vendor presentations.

I spoke about the friction between security and productivity in the Oil & Gas sector. The participants shared their issues, after which we discussed potential solutions.

It was great to see that security managers in the audience recognised the potential negative impact to the business of poorly implemented security policies and controls and that they are willing to tackle such challenges.


Talking to PhD students about cyber security

presentI recently had the pleasure to help organise and host PhD students from Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), who spent a day at my company interacting with the team in order to gain industry insights.

This day-long event included presentations by the students, their lecturers, our partners and consultants.

During one of these presentations, I shared some of my own experiences as an information security consultant, in which I talked about my role and area of expertise. I also discussed current security challenges and provided some career advice.

Several round table discussions provided everybody with much needed food for thought. We covered topics like security monitoring, threat intelligence, information protection in digital health and the role of the C-suite.

We received positive responses from the professors – the students enjoyed the presentations and learned a lot from the interactions during the day.


Security in an Agile World – NextSec event

Santander have kindly agreed to host our next workshop event in their London offices on the 14th October. View the event flyer here.

Hear from leaders in Digital Innovation and Information Security on:
– The balance of Security and Innovation: The Cyber Threat and Opportunity
– Phishing and Social Media
– The Importance of Communication in Security

Speakers
– Edward Metzger, Head of Innovation, Santander
– Matt Bottomley, Senior Manager, Cyber Risk, Lloyds Banking Group
– Christine Maxwell, Head of Digital Security, Governance and Operational Excellence, BP

Networking and Careers Session
– Opportunity to network with junior professionals, students in Information Security and Technology
– Post event drinks and canapés reception
– Information Security careers stands from Santander, EY and KPMG will be at the event

Date: Wednesday 14th October 2015

Register now


Secure by design

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Have you seen security controls being implemented just to comply with legal and regulatory requirements? Just like this fence. I’m sure it will pass all the audits: it is functioning as designed, it blocks the path (at least on paper) and it has a bright yellow colour just as specified in the documentation. But is it fit for purpose?

It turns out that many security problems arise from this eager drive to comply: if the regulator needs a fence – it will be added!

Sometimes controls are introduced later, when the project is well passed the design stage. It might be the case that they just don’t align with the real world anymore.

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Safety measures, unfortunately, are no exception. The solution may be poorly designed, but more often, safety requirements are included later on with the implementation not fit for purpose.

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Same holds for privacy as well. Privacy professionals encourage to adopt the Privacy by Design principle. Is it considered on the image below?

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Information Security E-Learning Part 2

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In my previous post I discussed free online courses in information security. Here  I would like to share a few more resources.

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Cake and Security

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.

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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.

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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.


Poker and Security

Good poker players are known to perform well under pressure. They play their cards based on rigorous probability analysis and impact assessment. Sounds very much like the sort of skills a security professional might benefit from when managing information security risks.

What can security professionals learn from a game of cards? It turns out, quite a bit. Skilled poker players are very good at making educated guesses about opponents’ cards and predicting their next moves. Security professionals are also required to be on the forefront of emerging threats and discovered vulnerabilities to see what the attackers’ next move might be.

At the beginning of a traditional Texas hold’em poker match, players are only dealt two cards (a hand). Based on this limited information, they have to try to evaluate the odds of winning and act accordingly. Players can either decide to stay in the game – in this case they have to pay a fee which contributes to the overall pot – or give up (fold). Security professionals also usually make decisions under a high degree of uncertainty. There are many ways they can treat risk: they can mitigate it by implementing necessary controls, avoid, transfer or accept it. Costs of such decisions vary as well.

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Not all cards, however, are worth playing. Similarly, not all security countermeasures should be implemented. Sometimes it is more effective to fold your cards and accept the risk rather than pay for an expensive control. When the odds are right a security professional can start a project to implement a security change to increase the security posture of a company.

When the game progresses and the first round of betting is over, the players are presented with a new piece of information. The poker term flop is used for the three additional cards that the dealer places on the table. These cards can be used to create a winning combination with each player’s hand. When the cards are revealed, the player has the opportunity to re-assess the situation and make a decision. This is exactly the way in which the changing market conditions or business requirements provide an instant to re-evaluate the business case for implementing a security countermeasure.

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There is nothing wrong with terminating a security project. If a poker player had a strong hand in the beginning, but the flop shows that there is no point in continuing, it means that conditions have changed. Maybe engaging key stakeholders revealed that a certain risk is not that critical and the implementation costs might be too high. Feel free to pass. It is much better to cancel a security project rather than end up with a solution that is ineffective and costly.

However, if poker players are sure that they are right, they have to be ready to defend their hand. In terms of security, it might mean convincing the board of the importance of the countermeasure based on the rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Security professionals can still lose the game and the company might get breached, but at least they did everything in their power to proactively mitigate that.

It doesn’t matter if poker players win or lose a particular hand as long as they make sound decisions that bring desired long-term results. Even the best poker player can’t win every hand. Similarly, security professionals can’t mitigate every security risk and implement all the possible countermeasures. To stay in the game, it is important to develop and follow a security strategy that will help to protect against ever-evolving threats in a cost-effective way.

Images courtesy of Mister GC / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


The Analogies Project

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I’m passionate about helping people understand security better. In my experience, using analogies has proved to be one of the best tools to help them learn. People have a far better and long-lasting understanding when they can relate to an experience that illustrates the concept they are to comprehend. Describing situations and possible outcomes can be just as easily done by telling stories: They are not only pleasant to read, hear or imagine, but they also transfer knowledge in the most effective way.

That’s why I decided to contribute to The Analogies Project.

Here’s what their website say about about the project:

Mission
The aim of the Analogies Project is to help spread the message of information security, and its importance in the modern world.
By drawing parallels between what people already know, or find interesting (such as politics, art, history, theatre, sport, science, music and every day life experiences) and how these relates to information security, we can increase understanding and support across the whole of society.

Why use analogies?
Many aspects of information security are highly technical and require a deep specialist knowledge. However, we know that all security depends ultimately on the awareness and preparedness of non-specialists.
Information security professionals cannot rely solely on technology to protect their organisations. They must engage with senior management and users in a way that their message is understood, fully appreciated and implemented. In this way they can drive changes in attitude and behaviour that will make the organisation more secure.
To do that, they must find a new language to get their points across to the non-specialist. And this is where the Analogies Project comes in….
Our past is littered with examples of how the prosperity or decline of individuals, enterprises, governments and nation states has depended to a greater or lesser extent, on the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information. By using storytelling, analogies and metaphor we can transform these real life events into powerful tools for engagement.

Please feel free to check out my profile and read my analogies.


Back to School

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This week I was really happy to be back at the University College London where I got a degree in Information Security from. I was invited to the Technology & Entrepreneurial Start Ups Insight session organised by the Management Science & Innovation Department. I met many bright students interested in technology, including current MSc Information Security students. It was very interesting to find out how the curriculum changed to address modern industry trends and needs.

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The day after I was proud to represent KPMG at the UCL IT and Technology Careers Fair. It comes as no surprise that there were many students interested in starting a career in the information security field. I was happy to help out with some suggestions, especially remembering that I attended the very same event some years ago.