Productive Security


Let’s see how some security controls might affect human behaviour in a company.

  • Restricting software installation on computers is in line with one of the main principles of information security – the principle of least privilege. That way a security manager can make sure that employees in his company don’t install unnecessary programs which may contain vulnerabilities. Such vulnerabilities can be exploited by a potential attacker. There are instances, however, when a user may require a piece of software to perform his productive tasks. Failure to install it quickly and easily may result in unnecessary delays.
  • Restricting access to file sharing websites helps to make sure that a company is not in violation of the data privacy regulation and users don’t store sensitive information in the insecure locations. However, it is important for a company to provide an easy-to-use, secure alternative to enable the business.
  • Restricting access to CD/DVD and USB flash drives. Personal USB flash drives can be a source of malware which users can introduce to the corporate network. Restricting access to CD/DVD and USB flash drives not only helps to prevent this threat, but also limits the possibility of sensitive data leaks. It is important to understand the core business processes in a company to make a decision on restricting the access. Sometimes drawbacks of such a policy may overshadow all possible benefits.
  • Regular full antivirus checks help to make sure that employees’ workstations are free from malware. However, the process of scanning a computer for viruses may take up a lot of resources and slow down the machine with the possible impact on productivity,
  • Awareness training can be a powerful measure to protect against a wide range of security threats, including social engineering (e.g. phishing). However, research shows that blanket awareness campaigns are ineffective and a better approach is needed to address this issue.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/

Password Policies: Security vs Productivity

A password policy can include a number of parameters. Let’s examine them from both security and productivity perspectives:

  • Minimum password length defines how many characters a password should consist of. The longer the password, the more resistant it is to a brute force attack given other password best practices are followed. Longer passwords, however, are usually harder to remember which may lead to instances of writing passwords down.
  • Password complexity. If a password includes a combination of upper- and lowercase characters combined with numbers and special characters, the harder it is to run a dictionary attack against such a password. Similarly to long passwords, complex passwords are usually harder to remember.
  • Password renewal policy ensures that users regularly change their passwords. This helps to minimise the potential security impact of compromised passwords. Although this policy is beneficial from the security perspective, users may struggle to come up with new passwords that satisfy security requirements.
  • The policy restricts users to set passwords they used before. This forces them to come up with new passwords to make sure that if the password was compromised it is not reused. Although this policy is beneficial from the security perspective, users may struggle to come up with new passwords that satisfy security requirements.
  • Locking out a user’s account after a number of wrong password attempts is a strong measure against a brute force attack. The attacker in this case is unable to try all possible combinations using specialized software. From the usability perspective, however, legitimate users might enter their passwords incorrectly as well and be unable to access the system. This may result in the increased number of calls to the company’s Help Desk or increased time for manual password reset.

Password complexity and usability explained in one comic.