General Douglas MacMarthur said “never give an order that can’t be obeyed”. This is sound advice, as doing so can diminish the commander’s authority. If people want to do what you are asking them to do, but can’t, they would doubt your judgement in the future.
Despite the fact that most of us operate in commercial organisations rather than the US Army, there are some lessons to be learned from this.
Security professionals don’t need to rally their troops and rarely operate in command-and-control environments. Their role has largely shifted to the one of an advisor to the business when it comes to managing cyber risk. Yet all too often advice they give is misguided. In an effort to protect the business they sometimes fail to grasp the wider context in which it operates. More importantly, they rarely consider their colleagues who will have to follow their guidance.
Angela Sasse gives a brilliant example of this when she talks about phishing. Security professionals expect people to be able to identify a phishing email in order to keep the company secure. Through numerous awareness sessions they tell them how dangerous it is to click on a link in a phishing email.
Although it makes sense to some extent, it’s not helpful to expect people to be able to recognise a phishing email 100% of the times. In fact, a lot of information security professionals might struggle to make that distinction themselves, especially when it comes to more sophisticated cases of spear phishing. So how can we expect people who are not information security specialists to measure up?
To make matters worse, most of modern enterprises depend on email with links to be productive. It is considered normal and part of business as usual to receive an email and click on the link in it. I heard of a scenario where a company hired an external agency and paid good money for surveying their employees. Despite advance warnings, the level of engagement with this survey was reduced as people were reporting these external emails as “phishing attempts”. The communications team was not pleased and that certainly didn’t help establish the productive relationship with the security team.
The bottom line is that if your defences depend on people not clicking on links, you can do better than that. The aim is not to punish people when they make a mistake, but to build trust. The security team should therefore be there to support people and recognise their challenges rather than police them.
After all, when someone does eventually click on a malicious link, it’s much better if they pick up the phone to the security team and admit their mistake rather than hope it doesn’t get noticed. Not only does this speed-up incident response, it fosters the role of the security professional as a business enabler, rather than a commander who keeps giving orders that can’t be obeyed.
It was another fantastic event by SANS. This time, apart from a regular line up of great speakers, there were some interactive workshops.
Javvad Malik facilitated one of them and challenged the participants to create their own awareness videos.
It felt like we covered the entire production cycle in under two hours: we talked about brainstorming, scripting, filming styles, editing and much more! But the most important part was about putting the ideas into practice and we actually got to create out own security awareness videos.
The audience was split into several groups, each tasked with producing an engaging clip with only one requirement: it shouldn’t be boring.
Javvad’s tips certainly helped and with a bit of humour, my team’s video won the first prize!
I’ve been invited to talk about human aspects of security at the CyberSecurity Talks & Networking event. The venue and the format allowed the audience to participate and ask questions and we had insightful discussions at the end of my talk. It’s always interesting to hear what challenges people face in various organisations and how a few simple improvements can change the security culture for the better.
It’s been a pleasure delivering a talk on the psychology of information security culture at the SANS European Security Awareness Summit 2016. It was the first time for me to attend and present at this event, I certainly hope it’s not going to be the last.
The summit has a great community feel to it and Lance Spitzner did a great job organising and bringing people together. It was an opportunity for me not only to share my knowledge, but also to learn from others during a number of interactive sessions and workshops. The participants were keen to share tips and tricks to improve security awareness in their companies, as well as sharing war stories of what worked and what didn’t.
It was humbling to find out that my book was quite popular in this community and I even managed to sign a couple of copies.
All speakers’ presentation slides (including from past and future events) can be accessed here.
I wrote about the games you can play to enhance your privacy and cyber security knowledge. We also talked about gamification in the security context. But how do we apply this knowledge to “gamify” security awareness efforts in you organisation?
A recent company I’ve been working with has been experimenting with their security awareness programme; in particular, they’ve designed posters to remind employees of potentially risky behaviours. They placed these posters in the areas where violations could occur: near the confidential bins or printers. They’ve invested in a memorable design and created funny-looking creatures people can relate to. For example, they’ve had something resembling an angry Twitter bird to emphasise the fact that employees should be mindful of what they share on social media. Other examples included monsters on the lookout for confidential data.
I liked the idea and I saw employees discussing the posters shortly after they were released. But what if we wanted to take this a step further? What if people could not only look at the posters but also engage with them?
The recently released and hugely popular Pokemon Go app gives us an example of how this could be done. In the game, players are encouraged to explore the real world around them and catch creatures that appear on the map. The game uses augmented reality to make the experience of catching Pokemon a lot more fun.
The app developers used classic game design elements in this game:
- There’s a ton of items to be collected, like stardust, pokeballs, various potions and eggs.
- You get frequent rewards and feedback on your progress.
- The game is very social in nature and players are encouraged to engage with each other.
- There are leadership boards and there is a chance to get your name displayed in a gym – a place where Pokemon battles take place.
How can some of the ideas from this game be applied to a security awareness programme?
What if we take the monsters from the company’s posters above and make them more engaging? It only takes a small financial investment to attach a QR code to a monster, so an employee could get immediate access to the relevant section in the security policy. Or how about giving employees a quick quiz and, if answered correctly, reward them with bonus points?
These points could be also collected for accomplishing other tasks. Your employee volunteered to participate in a security awareness presentation with her story? 100 points! Attended a lunch and learn session? How about 20 points? Reported a phishing email? Stopped a tailgater? There are many ways people can demonstrate their involvement in a security awareness programme.
As long as participation is voluntary, there are clear objectives and rules, feedback is readily available and rewards are desirable, we’ve got a chance to change security culture for the better!