‘Wicked’ problems in information security

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Incorporating security activities into the natural workflow of productive tasks, makes it easier for people to adopt new technologies and ways of working, but it’s not necessarily enough to guarantee that you’ll be able to solve a particular security-usability issue. The reason for this is that such problems can be categorised as wicked.

Rittel and Webber in ‘Policy Sciences’ define a wicked problem in the context of social policy planning as a challenging – if not impossible – problem to solve because of missing, poorly defined or inconsistent requirements from stakeholders, which may morph over time and which can be demanding to find an optimal solution for.[1]

One cannot apply traditional methods to solving a wicked problem; a creative solution must be sought instead. One of these creative solutions could be to apply design thinking techniques.

Methods for design thinking include performing situational analysis, interviewing, creating user profiles, looking at other existing solutions, creating prototypes and mind mapping.

Plattner, Meinel and Leifer in ‘Design Thinking: Understand–Improve–Apply’ assert that there are four rules to design thinking, which can help security professionals better approach wicked problems:[2]

  1. The human rule: all design activity is ultimately social in nature.
  2. The ambiguity rule: design thinkers must preserve ambiguity.
  3. The redesign rule: all design is redesign
  4. The tangibility rule: making ideas tangible always facilitates communication.

Security professionals should adopt these rules in order to develop secure and usable controls, by engaging people, utilising existing solutions and creating prototypes that can help by allowing the collection of feedback.

Although this enables the design of better security controls, the design thinking rules rarely provide an insight into why the existing mechanism is failing.

When a problem occurs, we naturally tend to focus on the symptoms instead of identifying the root cause. In ‘Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production’, Taiichi Ohno developed the Five Whys technique, which was used in the Toyota production system as a systematic problem-solving tool to get to the heart of the problem.

In one of his books, Ohno provides the following example of applying this technique when a machine stopped functioning:[3]

  1. Why did the machine stop? There was an overload and the fuse blew.
  2. Why was there an overload? The bearing was not sufficiently lubricated.
  3. Why was it not lubricated sufficiently? The lubrication pump was not pumping sufficiently.
  4. Why was it not pumping sufficiently? The shaft of the pump was worn and rattling.
  5. Why was the shaft worn out? There was no strainer attached and metal scrap got in.

Instead of focusing on resolving the first reason for the malfunction – i.e. replacing the fuse or the pump shaft – repeating ‘why’ five times can help to uncover the underlying issue and prevent the problem from resurfacing again in the near future.

Eric Reis, who adapted this technique to starting up a business in his book The Lean Startup,[4] points out that at “the root of every seemingly technical problem is actually a human problem.”

As in Ohno’s example, the root cause turned out to be human error (an employee forgetting to attach a strainer), rather than a technical fault (a blown fuse), as was initially suspected. This is typical of most problems that security professionals face, no matter which industry they are in.

These techniques can help to address the core of the issue and build systems that are both usable and secure. This is not easy to achieve due to the nature of the problem. But, once implemented, such mechanisms can significantly improve the security culture in organisations.

References:

[1] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences, 4, 1973, 155–169.

[2] Hasso Plattner, Christoph Meinel and Larry J. Leifer, eds.,  Design Thinking: Understand–Improve–Apply, Springer Science & Business Media, 2010.

[3] Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, Productivity Press, 1988.

[4] Eric Reis, The Lean Startup, Crown Business, 2011.

Image by Paloma Baytelman https://www.flickr.com/photos/palomabaytelman/10299945186/in/photostream/

To find out more about the psychology behind information security, read Leron’s book, The Psychology of Information Security. Twitter: @le_rond

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Security and Usability

Many employees find information security secondary to their normal day-to-day work, often leaving their organisation vulnerable to cyber attacks, particularly if they are stressed or tired. Leron Zinatullin, the author of The Psychology of Information Security, looks at the opportunities available to prevent such cognitive depletion.

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When users perform tasks that comply with their own mental models (i.e. the way that they view the world and how they expect it to work), the activities present less of a cognitive challenge than those that work against these models.

If people can apply their previous knowledge and experience to a problem, less energy is required to solve it in a secure manner and they are less mentally depleted by the end of the day.

For example, a piece of research on disk sanitisation highlighted the importance of secure file removal from the hard disk.[1] It is not clear to users that emptying the ‘Recycle Bin’ is insufficient and that files can easily be recovered. However, there are software products available that exploit users’ mental models. They employ a ‘shredding’ analogy to indicate that files are being removed securely, which echoes an activity they would perform at work. Such an interface design might help lighten the burden on users.

Security professionals should pay attention to the usability of security mechanisms, aligning them with users’ existing mental models.

In The Laws of Simplicity,[2] John Maeda supports the importance of making design more user-friendly by relating it to an existing experience. He refers to an example of the desktop metaphor introduced by Xerox researchers in the 1980s. People were able to relate to the graphical computer interface as opposed to the command line. They could manipulate objects similarly to the way they did with a physical desk: storing and categorising files in folders, as well as moving or renaming them, or deleting them by placing them in the recycle bin.

Using mental models

Building on existing mental models makes it easier for people to adopt new technologies and ways of working. However, such mappings must take cultural background into consideration. The metaphor might not work if it is not part of the existing mental model. For instance, Apple Macintosh’s original trash icon was impossible to recognise in Japan, where users were not accustomed to metallic bins of this kind.

Good interface design not only lightens the burden on users but can also complement security. Traditionally, it has been assumed that security and usability always contradict each other – that security makes things more complicated, while usability aims to improve the user experience. In reality, they can support each other by defining constructive and destructive activities. Effective design should make constructive activities simple to perform while hindering destructive ones.

This can be achieved by incorporating security activities into the natural workflow of productive tasks, which requires the involvement of security professionals early in the design process. Security and usability shouldn’t be extra features introduced as an afterthought once the system has been developed, but an integral part of the design from the beginning.

Security professionals can provide input into the design process via several methods such as iterative or participatory design.[3] The iterative method consists of each development cycle being followed by testing and evaluation and the participatory method ensures that key stakeholders, including security professionals, have an opportunity to be involved.

References:

[1] S. L. Garfinkel and A. Shelat, “Remembrance of Data Passed: A Study of Disk Sanitization Practices”, IEEE Security & Privacy, 1, 2003, 17–27.

[2] John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity, MIT Press, 2006.

[3] For iterative design see J. Nielsen, “Iterative User Interface Design”, IEEE Computer, 26(11) (1993), 32–41; for participatory design see D. Schuler and A. Namioka, Participatory Design: Principles and Practices, CRC Press, 1993.

Image by Rosenfeld Media https://www.flickr.com/photos/rosenfeldmedia/2141071329/


To find out more about the psychology behind information security, read Leron’s book, The Psychology of Information Security. Twitter: @le_rond

How employees react to security policies

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Information security can often be a secondary consideration for many employees, which leaves their company vulnerable to cyber attacks. Leron Zinatullin, author of The Psychology of Information Security, discusses how organisations can address this.

First, security professionals should understand that people’s resources are limited. Moreover, people tend to struggle with making effective decisions when they are tired.

To test the validity of this argument, psychologists designed an experiment in which they divided participants into two groups: the first group was asked to memorise a two-digit number (e.g. 54) and the second was asked to remember a seven-digit number (e.g. 4509672).[1] They then asked the participants to go down the hall to another room to collect their reward for participating. This payment, however, could be only received if the number was recalled correctly.

While they were making their way down the corridor, the participants encountered another experimenter, who offered them either fruit or chocolate. They were told that they could collect their chosen snack after they finished the experiment, but they had to make a decision there and then.

The results demonstrated that people who were given the easier task of remembering a two-digit number mostly chose the healthy option, while people overburdened by the more challenging task of recalling a longer string of digits succumbed to the more gratifying chocolate.

The implications of these findings, however, are not limited to dieting. A study looked at the decision-making patterns that can be observed in the behaviour of judges when considering inmates for parole during different stages of the day.[2]

Despite the default position being to reject parole, judges had more cognitive capacity and energy to fully consider the details of the case and make an informed decision in the mornings and after lunch, resulting in more frequently granted paroles. In the evenings, judges tended to reject parole far more frequently, which is believed to be due to the mental strain they endure throughout the day. They simply ran out of energy and defaulted to the safest option.

How can this be applied to the information security context?

Security professionals should bear in mind that if people are stressed at work, making difficult decisions, performing productive tasks, they get tired. This might affect their ability or willingness to maintain compliance. In a corporate context, this cognitive depletion may result in staff defaulting to core business activities at the expense of secondary security tasks.

Security mechanisms must be aligned with individual primary tasks in order to ensure effective implementation, by factoring in an individual’s perspective, knowledge and awareness, and a modern, flexible and adaptable information security approach. The aim should therefore be to correct employee misunderstandings and misconceptions that result in non-compliant behaviour, because, in the end, people are a company’s best asset.

References:

[1] B. Shiv and A. Fedorikhin, “Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making”, Journal of Consumer Research,  1999, 278–292.

[2] Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav and Liora Avnaim-Pesso, “Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(17), 2011, 6889–6892.

Photo by CrossfitPaleoDietFitnessClasses https://www.flickr.com/photos/crossfitpaleodietfitnessclasses/8205162689

To find out more about the psychology behind information security, read Leron’s book, The Psychology of Information Security. Twitter: @le_rond

Productive Security

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The majority of employees within an organisation are hired to execute specific jobs, such as marketing, managing projects, manufacturing goods or overseeing financial investment. Their main – sometimes only – priority will be to efficiently complete their core business activity, so information security will usually only be a secondary consideration. Consequently, employees will be reluctant to invest more than a limited amount of effort and time on such a secondary task that they rarely understand, and from which they perceive no benefit.

Research[1] suggests that when security mechanisms cause additional work, employees will favour non-compliant behaviour in order to complete their primary tasks quickly.

There is a lack of awareness among security managers[2] about the burden that security mechanisms impose on employees, because it is assumed that the users can easily accommodate the effort that security compliance requires. In reality, employees tend to experience a negative impact on their performance because they feel that these cumbersome security mechanisms drain both their time and their effort. The risk mitigation achieved through compliance, from their perspective, is not worth the disruption to their productivity. In extreme cases, the more urgent the delivery of the primary task is, the more appealing and justifiable non-compliance becomes, regardless of employees’ awareness of the risks.

When security mechanisms hinder or significantly slow down employees’ performance, they will cut corners, and reorganise and adjust their primary tasks in order to avoid them. This seems to be particularly prevalent in file sharing, especially when users are restricted by permissions, by data storage or transfer allowance, and by time-consuming protocols. People will usually work around the security mechanisms and resort to the readily available commercial alternatives, which may be insecure. From the employee’s perspective, the consequences of not completing a primary task are severe, as opposed to the ‘potential’ consequences of the risk associated with breaching security policies.

If organisations continue to set equally high goals for both security and business productivity, they are essentially leaving it up to their employees to resolve potential conflicts between them. Employees will focus most of their time and effort on carrying out their primary tasks efficiently and in a timely manner, which means that their target will be to maximise their own benefit, as opposed to the company’s. It is therefore vital for organisations to find a balance between both security and productivity, because when they fail to do so, they lead – or even force – their employees to resort to non-compliant behaviour. When companies are unable to recognise and correct security mechanisms and policies that affect performance and when they exclusively reward their employees for productivity, not for security, they are effectively enabling and reinforcing non-compliant decision-making on behalf of the employees.

Employees will only comply with security policies if they are motivated to do so: they must have the perception that compliant behaviour results in personal gain. People must be given the tools and the means to understand the potential risks associated with their roles, as well as the benefits of compliant behaviour, both to themselves and to the organisation. Once they are equipped with this information and awareness, they must be trusted to make their own decisions that can serve to mitigate risks at the organisational level.

References:

[1] Iacovos Kirlappos, Adam Beautement and M. Angela Sasse, “‘Comply or Die’ Is Dead: Long Live Security-Aware Principal Agents”, in Financial Cryptography and Data Security, Springer, 2013, 70–82.

[2] Leron Zinatullin, “The Psychology of Information Security.”, IT Governance Publishing, 2016.

Photo by Nick Carter https://www.flickr.com/photos/8323834@N07/500995147/

The Psychology of Information Security – Resolving conflicts between security compliance and human behaviour

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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.

It’s now available for pre-order on the UK, EU or US websites.

Gamification for security

Oxford dictionary defines gamification as the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity to encourage engagement with a product or service:

Bringing an element of fun helps to achieve lasting change in human behaviour, as demonstrated by The Fun Theory project. Here are some videos to get an idea how gamification can drive behavioural change to address social and business challenges:

Gamification can also be a powerful learning tool when applied to information security.

For example, CyberCIEGE enhances information assurance and cyber security education and training through the use of computer gaming techniques such as those employed in SimCity™. In the CyberCIEGE virtual world, users spend virtual money to operate and defend their networks, and can watch the consequences of their choices, while under attack.

In its interactive environment, CyberCIEGE covers  significant aspects of computer and network security and defense. Players of this video game purchase and configure workstations, servers, operating systems, applications, and network devices. They make trade offs as they struggle to maintain a balance between budget, productivity, and security. In its longer scenarios, users advance through a series of stages and must protect increasingly valuable corporate assets against escalating attacks.

CyberCIEGE includes configurable firewalls, VPNs, link encryptors and access control mechanisms.  It includes identity management components such as biometric scanners and authentication servers.   Attack types include corrupt insiders, trap doors, Trojan horses, viruses, denial of service, and exploitation of weakly configured systems.   Attacker motives to compromise assets differ by asset and scenario, thereby supporting scenarios ranging from e-mail attachment awareness to cyber warfare.

More information along with introduction and demonstration movies are also available on the official website.

Cybersecure: Your Medical Practice is another example of using gamification to educate people but not in the context of the HIPAA regulation compliance.

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This web-based security training module uses a game format that requires users to respond to privacy and security challenges often faced in a typical small medical practice.  Users choosing the right response earn points and see their virtual medical practices flourish.  But users making the wrong security decisions can hurt their virtual practices.  In this version, the wrong decisions lead to floods, server outages, fire damage and other poor outcomes related to a lack of contingency planning.

Gamification can also be applied in user awareness training to change the behaviour of users in the organisation. One instance of this might be helping to recognize phishing links.

Anti-Phishing Phil is an interactive game that teaches users how to identify phishing URLs, where to look for cues in web browsers, and how to use search engines to find legitimate sites.

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User studies have found that user education can help prevent people from falling for phishing attacks. However, it is hard to get users to read security tutorials, and many of the available online training materials make users aware of the phishing threat but do not provide them with enough information to protect themselves. Studies demonstrate that Anti-Phishing Phil is an effective approach to user education.

Apozy and Wombat Security Technologies also focus on gamification in raising awareness about security risks.

There is a free online course on gamification available. This course will teach you the mechanisms of gamification, why it has such tremendous potential, and how to use it effectively.

Mo Amin: You can transform technology but how do you transform people?

Mo Amin – Information Security Professional

Mo

Can you please tell us a little bit about your background?

Long ago in a galaxy far far…oh ok…ok…Just like a lot of people in IT I got asked the same question “My PC has died, can you help me?” When you say yes to one person it’s a downward spiral…and before you know it you’re THE computer guy! Even now I (depending on my mood) will help out. So this was my first real experience in building rapport with clients, charging for my time and to a certain extent being held accountable for the service I provided.

I taught me a lot and was a catalyst in helping me to land my first role in desktop support. I was part of a small team which allowed me to get involved in some network and application support too. Whilst doing my day role I was involved in a couple of investigations, which got me interested in information security and through a few lucky breaks I slowly moved into the field. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in a number of areas ranging from operational security through to consultancy. However, I’ve always intrinsically enjoyed the awareness and education side of things.

What is it that you are working on at the moment?

I am working with Kai Roer of The Roer Group to help develop the Security Culture Framework. Essentially, the framework aims to help organisations to build a security culture within their business, as opposed to simply relying on topic based security awareness. Making sure that organisations begin to build a security culture into their business is something I believe in strongly. So when Kai asked if I’d like to help I was more than happy.

Let’s talk for a moment about information security in general. What do you think are the biggest challenges that companies are facing at the moment?

I think that one of the biggest challenges is educating staff on the risks that the business faces and getting people to understand and relate to why it is that we are asking them to adopt secure practices. The problem revolves around changing the attitude and overall culture of an organisation. In my humble opinion, this is the biggest challenge. The difficulty lies in changing behaviour because you can change technology but how do you positively change the behaviour of people?

What is your approach or proposed solution to this challenge? What should companies do?

I’ve always learned by seeing something in action or by actually doing it. Obviously, within the context of a busy organisation this isn’t easy to do.  However, as information security practitioners, professional or however we label ourselves we need to be more creative in our attempts to help those that we work with – we need to make awareness more engaging. I think it’s important to have workshops or sessions in breakout areas where staff can come along see how quickly weak passwords are cracked, what can happen if you click on that dodgy but enticing looking attachment. It’s about visualising and personalising threats for people, for example, if you plan your awareness programme carefully you could map your corporate security messages for the home environment and provide your staff with a “Top 10 of do’s and dont’s” Make it creative and engaging and the messages that you give for their home environment they will begin to bring them back to the office.

Lots companies offer security awareness training, which doesn’t seem to have much of an impact. What do you think about these trainings? Should they be changed in some way in terms of targeting, or accounting for individuals’ particular needs, or focusing on behaviour?

The problem is that most of this is simply topic based awareness, in that it’s not seeking to change behaviour. There seems be to be a lot of generic content that applies to everyone in an organisation. Sadly this is a tick-box exercise for the purposes of compliance. Awareness should be unique to your organisation where you cater for different personality types as best you can.  Some people actually like reading policies where as some prefer visual aids, so the ways that individuals learn needs to be better understood. The process of educating your staff should be a sustained and measured programme; it needs to be strategic in its outlook.

What about communication?

Better engagement with the business is what we need to be doing. Our relationships with the likes of legal, HR, finance, marketing, PR should be on an everyday basis not only when we actually need their expertise. These departments usually already have the respect from the business. Information security needs to be seen in the same light.

How do you identify the relevant stakeholders and establish communication with them, and further propagate the whole process of communication within the organisation?

Grab a copy of the organisation chart and start from there. Your job is to introduce yourself to everyone. In my experience doing this over a coffee really helps and preferably not in a meeting room, because it is better to create a new business relationship in a social context, wherein the other person gets to understand you, firstly as a human being and secondly as a work colleague. Most importantly, do this at the beginning and not two months down the line. Building relationships at the very beginning increases your chances of being in the position of asking for last minute favours and paves the path for easier collaboration, as opposed to having to ask for people’s help when they don’t even know you. Usually people are open and honest. They may have a negative image of information security, not because they don’t like you, but most likely because of the interaction they’ve had in the past.

So let’s say that you have joined a new organisation that has a very negative preconception of information security because of a bad previous experience. Once you have already identified all the key people you have to work with, how do you fight this negative perception?

You need to find out what was done previously and why the outcome was negative in the first place. Once you’ve established the actual problem, you have to diffuse the situation. You need to be positive, open and even simple things like walking around and talking to people – show your face. Visit different departments and admit any failings, you need to do a PR and marketing exercise. In a previous role I’ve actually said

“I know what went wrong the last time, I know we screwed up. I want to ask you what you want to see from the information security department from now on.”

People are ready to engage if you are, be personable and be professional. It’s surprising how much positive and usable feedback you actually get.

The majority of the time, people will tell you,

“I just want to be able to do my job without security getting in the way”.

Once you have these sorts of conversations going you begin to understand how the business actually functions on a day-to-day basis. It’s at this stage where you can be influential and change perception.

Modern security professionals while fighting cyber threats also have to take human behaviour into account

In today’s corporations, information security managers have a lot on their plate. While facing major and constantly evolving cyber threats, they must comply with numerous laws and regulations, protect the company’s assets, and mitigate risks as best as possible. To address this, they have to formulate policies to establish desired practices that avoid these dangers. They must then communicate this wanted behavior to the employees so that they adapt and everything can go according to plan. But is this always the case?

Security managers often find that what they put on paper is only half of the story. Getting the corporation to “cooperate” and follow the policy all the time can be far more challenging than it seems. So why do employees seem to be so reluctant?

Are we even asking the right question here?

The correct question is: do security managers know what imposing new rules means to the average employee within the company?

People’s behavior is goal-driven. If processes are imposed on them, people will usually follow them, as long as they still allow them to achieve their goals. If they come across situations where they are under pressure, or they encounter obstacles, people will cut corners, break rules and violate policies.

So why should the behavior of a corporation’s employees be an exception? They will usually follow the rules willingly while trying to comply with the security policy, but, at the end of the day, their objective is simply to get their work done.

Yes., there are cases of employees who have a malicious goal of intentionally violating security policies, but research shows that policy violations will most likely result from the controls implementation that prevented people from performing their tasks.

What happens to an organization when honest workers can’t achieve their goals because of poorly implemented security controls? What happens on the security manager’s end and on the employees’ end that leads to this scenario? A short survey I performed in 2013 shows that there is a huge gap between the employees’ and the security managers’ perceptions of security policies; and it’s this discrepancy that negatively impacts the organization as a whole. Security managers, on their side, assume that they have made all the relevant considerations pertaining the needs of the employees. However, the fact is that they rarely speak directly to the employees to familiarize themselves with their tasks, their needs, and their goals. It is therefore usual to hear employees complain about how security controls hinder or impede their performance.

Let’s consider the following scenario:

In an investment bank, a security manager comes up with a policy document, outlining a list of authorized software which can be installed on computers, according to the principle of least privilege: people can only have the access they require to perform their day-to-day activities and no more. All employees are denied access to install any new software without written permission from the security manager.

John is writing a report for the client. The deadline is fast approaching but he still has a lot of work ahead of him. The night before the deadline, John realizes that in order to finish his work, he requires a special data analysis software which was not included in the list of authorized programs. He is also unable to install it on his workstation, because he doesn’t have the required privileges. Getting the formal written approval from the security manager is not feasible, because it is going to take too long. John decides to copy the sensitive information required for the analysis on his personal computer, using a flash drive, to finish the work at home, where he can install any software he wants. He understands the risk but he also wants to get the job done in order to avoid missing the deadline and get good performance review. Unfortunately, he leaves his bag with the flash drive in the taxi on the way back home. He never tells anyone about this incident to avoid embarrassment or a reprimand.

The security manager in this scenario clearly failed to recognize the employee’s needs before implementing the controls.

A general rule of thumb to never forget is that employees will most likely work around the security controls to get their work done regardless of the risks this might pose, because they value their main business activities more than compliance with security policies.

To address this, security managers should consider analyzing security controls in a given context in order to identify clashes and resolve potential conflicts adjusting the policy. They should also communicate the value of security accordingly. Scaring people and imposing sanctions might not be the best approach. They should instead demonstrate to the employees that they 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 makes sure that the resources are available to complete their primary tasks.

Employees need to understand that security is something that important for achieving the company’s goals, not something that gets in the way. To achieve this, the culture of the organisation must change.

Javvad Malik: One of the biggest challenges that companies are facing is securing at the same rate of innovation

Interview with Javvad Malik – Senior Analyst at 451 Research and blogger at http://www.J4vv4D.com

Javvad

Could you start by telling us about yourself?

My first proper job was during my work placement year during my degree as an IT security administrator at NatWest Bank which, to be honest, I had no idea what this job was about. Actually, very few people knew what it was. But as a student doing a degree in Business Information Systems, I needed to specialise in something and so I went and took this job to see if I could make any sense of this field. I figured that this bank was a huge company and if things didn’t work out in IT Security, I could always explore opportunities in other departments.

Back in the day, there was around seven people in the security operations team for the whole bank, and only three for the monitoring team with whom we only had an intermittent communication. NatWest was then acquired by RBS and I remained in IT security for the next five years, during which I moved more to the project-side of security, as opposed to the operations-side. I had more interactions with the internal consultancy-team and their job appealed to me, because they didn’t seem to need to keep so up-to-date with all the latest technologies from a hands-on perspective and they made more money.. I was unable to make an internal move so I decided to get into contracting and stayed within financial services, where the majority of my roles involved arguing with auditors, resolving issues through internal consulting, being the middle-man between the business and pen-testers, project reviews, and the sort.

On the side, I got very interested in blogging. Blogs were the new fantastic boom readily accessible and cheap for everybody. Suddenly everybody with a blog felt like a professional writer, which I enjoyed, but found it a difficult area in which one could differentiate or bring a unique perspective to. I then tried video blogging, which I discovered was bloody hard, because it takes a lot of skills to help you look like a professional instead of like an idiot most of the time. But because I was among the first to get into this type of delivery mode, my profile was raised quite quickly within the security community, and perhaps to an even broader one. One of the advantages to video blogging that I uncovered was that people who watch you can somehow relate to you better than if they just read your work: they can see your body language, hear your voice, your tone, everything. The result is quite funny, because it often happens to me that when I go to a conference, somebody will greet me as if I’m their best friend. Because they see me so often on YouTube, they feel like they know me. It’s very nice when people acknowledge you like that, and it goes to show that the delivery channel really has that impact.

So because of this impact, one day, Wendy, the research director at 451 Research, asked me if I would be interested in becoming an analyst. In reality I had no idea what an analyst did. She said that I would have to speak to vendors and write about them, which sounded a lot like blogging to me. She immediately said, “yes, it is pretty much like blogging,” to which I then replied, “well, I have my demands. I do video blogging, I’d like to attend and speak at conferences and I don’t want any restrictions here, because I know that many companies impose restrictions around this kind of activity.”

Currently I’ve been an analyst for the past two years, which I have enjoyed very much and has allowed me to broaden my skillset; not to mention give me the opportunity to meet a ton of extremely talented people.

Where do you predict will the security field go?

When I was starting in the field, nobody really knew what security was. Then came the perception that it was all about hackers working from their mums’ basements. Then, they were assumed to be IT specialists, and then that they were specialists who didn’t necessarily know much about IT but who knew more about the risk and/or the government background and now everyone is just confused

Security itself is very broad. It is kind of like medicine: you have GPs who know a little bit about everything, which is the base level of knowledge. For complex cases they will refer you to other doctors who specialise in, say, blood, heart, eyes, ears, and other specific body parts. The same applies to security. You will have some broad generalists and others who are technical experts or those who are more into security development and can tell you how to use code more securely.  You then have non-technical security people, who know more about understanding the business, the risk, and how to implement security into it. You also get product or technology specific experts who are only there to maybe tune your SIEMs for you, forensics experts, incident-response specialists, and so on. You will find specialists with overlapping skills, just as you will find those who possess unique abilities as well. Security has exploded “sideways” like that. So you can call lots of people “security experts” but in reality they are very different from each other, which means that they are not necessarily interchangeable. You can’t, obviously, switch a non-technical person for a technical one. I believe that one of the signs of immaturity within the industry is that people still don’t recognize these differences, which often leads to lots of finger-pointing in situations like: “you don’t know how to code, how can you call yourself a security professional? You don’t understand what the business does. You’ll never be a security professional.” These kinds of things, I think, are the natural growing pains of this and any industry.

What will probably happen going forward is that as things become increasingly interconnected and peoples’ whole lives more and more online, you will have more and more of a visibility of security. Additionally, we will see the need to extend the capabilities outside of the enterprise into the consumer space. We are already seeing an overlap between personal and corporate devices. So I think that everything will kind of bleed into everything else: some areas will become operationalised, others will be commoditised, but I think that there will continuously be a need for security that will always have to be there. What that will look like will probably be different to what we see today.

What kind of challenges do you think will the companies face in the future in terms of security?

One of the biggest challenges that companies are facing is securing at the same rate of innovation. Every company wants to be the first one to develop a new way that they can hook in with their customers. Whether this is in the form of being the first in developing a new app that can enable consumers to do banking, or to do payments and inter-payments, and so on, which sometimes comes at the cost of security. Balancing this business case between the perceived benefits and the security risks of it can be very challenging. The speed at which businesses want to and need to innovate, because that’s what the market is forcing them to do, is making security cost-prohibitive.

The other challenge is that the business model for many companies lies almost exclusively in advertising revenue. Nearly every mobile app or social media site or other online service that is free is typically generating either their primary or supplementary revenue by selling user information. With so many companies trying to grab data and sell to the highest bidder – we have a big challenge in educating users in terms of what security risks lie as well as trying to enforce good security practises within the vendor space but without breaking business models.

How would you say companies should then approach this challenge in the first place?

The way that companies typically “solve” this challenge is by burying their head in the sand and outsourcing the problem. So they will go out to another company and ask them: “can you offer us a secure platform to do it?” To which they answer, “of course we can. Just give us your money.” The challenge is that companies and individuals don’t appreciate that poor security choices made today may have an impact that will not be immediately felt, but perhaps in a few months’ or years’ time. Sadly, by then, it’s usually too late. So this is what both companies and individuals need to be careful about.

Returning to the point about security professionals being very diverse, what’s the role of security professionals from the risk governance and compliance perspective? Can you elaborate more on the security culture within a company and how can it be developed?

Security culture is a very difficult thing: it is not impossible but it relies on understanding human behaviour more than technical aspects. Understanding human behaviour means understanding personality types and how they respond to different environments and stimuli, which can be more challenging that understanding technical aspects.

The general observation that I can make about human behaviour, regardless of the personality type, is that people don’t tend to be aware of what they are giving up. The best and most prevalent example would be how much in demand mobile apps are and how insecure they are, because people unknowingly give away lots of data in order to have access to them. Chris Eng from Veracode makes an excellent analogy by saying that “people usually don’t care what they are agreeing to as long as they can still fling birds against pigs.” This is the crux of it. People don’t think it makes much of a difference if they give their email address away, or if they let the app access their GPS data or their contacts, because they can’t perceive a direct impact.  The problem is that this impact might not be felt until ten years’ time. So if you are giving data to Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, for example, you can’t really predict what will happen later on. In the last year Facebook acquired both Instagram and Whatsapp. So now you have a single company that holds all of your photo data that you maybe didn’t want on Facebook, along with all the stats on your behaviour that you’ve been feeding to Facebook, along with the people you are chatting to, and so on. So now Facebook has an incredible amount of information about you and can target and market a lot better. Someone could also use all this data for any purpose. I’m not saying that Facebook or other companies gather users personal data for malicious purposes, but it reminds me of the saying, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”

How can you make people change their behaviour?

You have to make it real and personal for them. You have to make that personal connection. In security we tend to say: “we have 50,000 phishing emails that come through every day, and people click on them.” But to the individual user, that doesn’t really have that much of an impact. Are we making this information personal? The communication methods and the techniques that we need to change behaviour are there, we don’t need to reinvent it with security people who don’t understand how communication necessarily works or who are not the best communicators to begin with.

We can remember how 15-20 years ago, nobody cared about recycling, because nobody really cared about the environment. It was just a few people in Greenpeace with long hair and who smelled a bit funny who were trying to stop the oil companies from drilling into the sea, for example. Now, you go into any office and you find 10 bins for every different type of recycling material, which everybody now uses. It’s been a long-term campaign which finally created that social change, and which now makes it unacceptable for people to behave in another way. As you walk on the street, you will see that very few people, if any, throw wrappers on the floor. They usually hold onto them until they get to a bin and then they dispose of them. We need to adopt the same practices to change behaviour in security and in many cases that means actually letting people who know how to market and communicate do that for us instead of trying to do it all ourselves.

Daniel Schatz: It is generally appreciated if security professionals understand that they are supposed to support the strategy of an organisation

Interview with Daniel Schatz – Director for Threat & Vulnerability Management

Daniel

Let’s first discuss how you ended up doing threat and vulnerability management. What is your story?

I actually started off as a Banker at Deutsche Bank in Germany but was looking for a more technical role so I hired on with Thomson Reuters as Senior Support Engineer. I continued on to other roles in the enterprise support and architecture space with increasing focus on information security (as that was one of my strong interests) so it was just logical for me to move into that area. I particularly liked to spend my time understanding the developing threat landscape and existing vulnerabilities with the potential to impact the organisation which naturally led me to be a part of that team.

What are you working on at the moment and what challenges are you facing?

On a day to day basis I’m busy trying to optimise the way vulnerability management is done and provide advice on current and potential threats relevant to the organisation. I think one of the challenges in my space is to find a balance between getting the attention of the right people to be able to notify them of concerning developments/situations while doing so in a non-alarmist way. It is very easy to deplete the security goodwill of people especially if they have many other things to worry about (like budgets, project deadlines, customer expectations, etc.). On the other hand they may be worried about things that they picked up on the news which they shouldn’t waste time on; so providing guidance on what they can put aside for now is also important. Other than that there are the usual issues that any security professional will face – limited resources, competing priorities with other initiatives, etc.

Can you share your opinion on the current security trends?

I think it is less valuable to look at current security trends as they tend to be defined by media/press and reinforced by vendors to suit their own strategy. If you look at e.g. Nation state cyber activities; this has been ongoing for a decade at least yet we now perceive it as a trend because we see massive reporting on it. I believe it is more sensible to spend time anticipating where the relevant threat landscape will be in a few months or years’ time and plan against that instead of trying to catch up with today’s threats by buying the latest gadget. Initiatives like the ISF Threat Horizon are good ways to start with this; or follow a DIY approach like I describe in my article

What is the role of the users in security?

I think this is the wrong approach to ask this question to be honest. Culture and mind-set are two of the most important factors when looking at security so the question should emphasise the relationship of user and security in the right way. To borrow a phrase from JFK – Do not ask what users can do for security, ask what security can do for your users.

How does the good security culture look like?

One description of culture I like defines it as ‘an emotional environment shared by members of the organisation; It reflects how staff feels about themselves, about the people for whom and with whom they work and about their jobs.’ In this context it implies that security is part of the fabric of an organisation naturally weaved in every process and interaction without being perceived to be a burden. We see this at work within the Health & Safety area, but this didn’t happen overnight either.

How one can develop it in his/her company?

There is no cookie cutter approach but talking to the Health & Safety colleagues would not be the worst idea. I also think it is generally appreciated if security professionals understand that they are supposed to support the strategy of an organisation and recognise how their piece of the puzzle fits in. Pushing for security measures that would drive the firm out of the competitive market due to increased cost or lost flexibility is not a good way to go about it.

What are the main reasons of users’ non-secure behaviour?

Inconvenience is probably the main driver for certain behaviour. Everyone is unconsciously constantly doing a cost/benefit calculation; if an users expected utility of opening the ‘Cute bunnies’ attachment exceeds the inconvenience of ignoring all those warning messages a reasonable decision was made, albeit an insecure one.

What is the solution?

Either raise the cost or lower the benefit. While it will be difficult to teach your staff to dislike cute bunnies, raising the cost may work. To stick with the previous example, this could be done by imposing draconian punishment for opening malicious attachments or deploying technology solutions to aid the user in being compliant. There is an operational and economic perspective to this of course. If employees are scared to open attachments because of the potential for punishment it will likely have a depressing consequence for your business communications.

Some will probably look for ‘security awareness training’ as answer here; while I think there is a place for such training the direct impact is low in my view. If security awareness training aims to change an organisations culture you’re on the right track but trying to train users utility decisions away will fail.

Thank you Daniel!