Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream’, not ‘I have a plan’
– Simon Sinek
Engaging end users using marketing, psychology and safety theory.
About Geordie Stewart
His award winning masters thesis at the Royal Holloway Information Security Group examined information security awareness from a fresh perspective as a marketing and communications challenge. In his regular speaking appearances at international information security conferences such as RSA, ISACA and ISSA he challenges conventional thinking on risk culture and communication.
In addition to senior security management roles in large UK organisations Geordie writes the security awareness column for the ISSA international journal.
I’ve studied it for years, I’ve delivered it and I’ve even sat through it but I’m still not really sure what “it” is.
We talk about raising “security awareness” but what does that actually mean? The dictionary definitions I’ve seen commonly refer to awareness as a state of knowledge about risk. Thousands of articles and books have been written on increasing security awareness but very little time has been spent trying to define it.
The ISF Standard of Good Practice defines security awareness as “the extent to which staff understand the importance of information security, the level of security required by the organisation and their individual security responsibilities.” This seems like a reasonable definition but note that there is no behavioural component. People can (and do!) continue with unsafe behaviour despite their knowledge of the risks. Empirical evidence from outside of information security tells us that just knowing about a risk isn’t enough. Consider smokers and people who drive without using a seat belt. They’re surely all “aware” of the risks but somehow their behaviour continues.Details
I’m back from the ISSA conference in Baltimore. Conferences are a great place to test out ideas to find out which ones stand up to scrutiny. I was giving my “Death by a Thousand Facts” presentation (otherwise known as the We’ve Got It All Wrong Roadshow) when Marcus Ranum pointed out a problem with my application of the term “learned helplessness”.
Learned Helplessness is a concept used to describe the effect when animals essentially “give up” and consign themselves to negative consequences. In a famous series of experiments, Martin Seligman put dogs in pens with a low wall and ran an electric current through the floor to produce an unpleasant sensation. The dogs which had not encountered the shocks before jumped over the wall to escape the sensation. Surprisingly, the dogs which had previously been exposed to shocks which they hadn’t been able to escape essentially “gave up” and lay down in the pen.Details
Many of you will be familiar with the footage of Ian Tomlinson apparently being struck by a Metropolitan Police Officer in London on the day of the G20 protests. After the footage was aired, senior members of the Met Police were quick to promote the narrative of a “bad apple”. They pointed out that the Met Police is an organisation which includes some 50,000 people.
You have to have some sympathy for the police. They do a difficult job. The problem with the bad apple narrative is the video footage of the incident. Although the attack on Ian Tonlinson took place immediately in front of at least three other members of the Met Police, none of them appear concerned enough to go to the aid of Tomlinson. Neither are they seen to remonstrate with their colleague.Details
Recently I co-authored a paper “Death by a Thousand Facts” with David Lacey for the HAISA conference where we explored the nature of how technical experts choose what content is included in risk communications. A copy of the proceedings is available here. Basically, mainstream information security awareness techniques are failing to evolve at the same…Details
Are humans rational? When we see computer users to silly things which place themselves or their information at risk its easy to take a view that people are illogical. The problem is that logic can’t be examined separately from perception.
There is significant debate within psychology literature as to the extent to which humans can be described as rational. Rationality is sometimes described as the ability for individuals to select the “best” option when confronted with a set of choices. The best option is also referred to as a “value maximising” option when the most benefit is obtained for the least expenditure of resources or exposure to risk.
The problem is that people routinely fail to select a “value maximising” option and exhibit apparently illogical behaviour. Commonly, an option mathematically modelled as the best choice by the technical experts isn’t the choice chosen by information system users when responding to risk.Details