Friday, August 7, 2009

Risk intuition and security awareness

Schneier has posted a very good post on "Risk intuition" and risk perception in general. This part was particularly interesting:

"[...] I listened to yet another conference presenter complaining about security awareness training. He was talking about the difficulty of getting employees at his company to actually follow his security policies: encrypting data on memory sticks, not sharing passwords, not logging in from untrusted wireless networks. "We have to make people understand the risks," he said.


"Fire someone who breaks security procedure, quickly and publicly," I suggested to the presenter. "That'll increase security awareness faster than any of your posters or lectures or newsletters." If the risks are real, people will get it."

He is totally right about it. Employees perceive very fast the organization posture on its own rules. Everyday decisions are usually based on personal risks, and not on organization related risks. The employee is thinking mostly about the risk to his performance and to his job, not to the company itself. If people starts to be punished for security policy violations, this "personal risk" starts to be considered on decisions like forwarding internal mail to external accounts and sharing passwords.

I had the opportunity to witness the change in people's behaviour because of changes in management posture before. In one of these cases a group of developers used to share passwords among their group to "keep things running while they are away" and were encouraged by their manager to do so. They immediately changed this behaviour as soon as that manager was publicly reprimanded by his director due to promoting bad security practices and warned that it would be formally punished if identified again.

The other case, at the same organization, was related to prohibited content being accessed on the Internet. We didn't have content filtering at that time, but by using some simple Perl scripts and Proxy logs I was able to trigger the process of warning managers of abuse from the biggest offenders. The actions taken by those managers (strongly encouraged by higher management) over those warnings triggered a huge change in behaviour from all users, that could be clearly noted in the next month's logs. People just realized that there was a real risk related to that behaviour, so they changed it. An interest fact about this case was that some users went the other way and started using stuff like proxy websites to avoid the controls. The same mechanism (report of users doing that) that triggered this behaviour was also used to reduce it. Users doing that were punished, and the message that Internet access was being monitored and that attempts to abuse it would be punished was clearly received. 

So, if you want to know what's the best investment on security awareness: real punishment of violations. Change the employee personal risk/reward equation.


No comments:

Post a Comment