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How to talk security so people will listen (and comply!)

From phishing your own employees to sharing your company's hack history, here are five techniques for getting users' attention about security.

By Stacy Collett, Computerworld
January 03, 2013 10:05 AM ET

Computerworld - The statistics are staggering: Last year, Symantec blocked a total of over 5.5 billion malware attacks, an 81% increase over 2010, and reported a 35% increase in Web-based attacks and a 41% increase in new variants of malware.

Worst security snafus of 2012

If those findings, documented in the company's latest annual Internet Security Threat Report, cause IT leaders to wonder if they've done everything possible to protect their companies, they might consider looking in the mirror.

That's because security folks, in struggling to establish policies and procedures that are both effective and easy to use, often forget a third and crucial step, experts say: Communicating their security goals in such a way that the broad corporate population not only understands but responds.

"Compliance is necessary, but it's not sufficient," says Malcolm Harkins, vice president and chief information security officer at Intel.

Harkins' goal is to get employees to go beyond compliance toward full commitment to protecting the company's information. "If they're committed to doing the right thing and protecting the company, and if they're provided with the right information, [then] they'll make reasonable risk decisions."

To be sure, employees are not involved in every type of corporate security breach (see Top 10 threat action types), but user behavior and non-compliance are implicated in many, including mobile malware, social network schemes and advanced target attacks. These are increasingly aimed not at CEOs and senior staffers, but at people in other job functions such as sales, HR, administration and media/public relations, as criminals try for "lower-hanging fruit," the Symantec report says.

Against such an onslaught, the stereotypical wall poster of security tips hanging in the breakroom is useless, says Julie Peeler, foundation director at the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium -- also known as (ISC) -- a global, non-profit organization that educates and certifies information security professionals. "Security training is not a one-time event. It has to be integrated throughout the entire organization, and it has to come from the top," she says.

When it comes to talking security in a way that users will listen, managers need to ensure that employees understand the security posture of the company from day one, Peeler says. They must be willing to sign confidentiality agreements, attend training and participate in ongoing awareness, all with the goal of remaining vigilant.

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Top 10 threat actions used against larger enterprises(by percent of breaches affected)

 
 

Analysis of 855 confirmed organizational data breaches investigated in 2011 by Verizon or one of its international forensic partners: the United States Secret Service (USSS), the Dutch National High Tech Crime Unit, the Australian Federal Police, the Irish Reporting & Information Security Service and the Police Central e-Crime Unit of the London Metropolitan Police. Totals exceed 100% as incidents often involve multiple threat events. Source: Verizon RISK Team: 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report

Companies that are most successful in their security message have moved beyond an IT-centric approach to a holistic model. Computerworld caught up with three organizations doing just that -- Intel, Royal Philips Electronics and Endurance Services -- to find out how they managed to make information security a corporatewide responsibility.

Read on for five best practices for getting the security message to sink in with employees.

 

Put threats into context

People don't internalize security best practices by simply being told what to do or scared into compliance, Peeler says, and Harkins agrees. "You don't want to spin information security compliance as fear," he says. "Fear is like junk food -- it can sustain you for a bit, but in the long run it's not healthy."

Instead, both experts say, employees are more likely to be motivated into compliance if security managers can put risk into a context that relates to them directly.

Most employees know that a security breach affects not just data, but the entire company's brand and reputation -- but some business units might not fully understand their potential role in a security breach, says Harkins.

A marketing team, for instance, might want to launch a new interactive website ahead if its competitors, he explains. The website's content seems harmless enough since it doesn't include intellectual property, only a few interactive screens and videos.

But what if vulnerabilities left by a third-party provider that helped develop the site allow a hacker to implant malware in one of the links found on the site? Explaining the risk ahead of time, and in a way that's specific to the department's line of business, helps ensure the group will do what's necessary to mitigate damage, Harkins says.

Fear is like junk food -- it can sustain you for a bit, but in the long run it's not healthy. Malcolm Harkins, Intel

Real-world examples can also drive the message home when put into context. When a data breach makes the news, use it as a teaching tool -- in training classes, via email or through video presentations.

Discuss the likelihood of a similar breach occurring in your organization. Ask: How would a breach like this have affected our company or a specific business unit? What people or business units should remain extra vigilant against a similar attack? What security measures do you already have in place to protect against such an attack?

 

Go phishing, internally

Another effective communication technique some companies have adopted is to launch their own simulated phishing scams, see how many employees take the bait, and then use the opportunity to offer advice on avoiding the scam the next time -- when it might be real.

Royal Philips Electronics recently launched a pilot program of controlled phishing attacks, says Nick Mankovich, chief information security officer.

Working with a professional phishing partner, whom Mankovich declined to name, Philips simulates an email scam that tries to get employees to click a link to a website and enter their password and user name. When the unsuspecting employee clicks on the link, a message pops up explaining their error and offers tips to avoid being scammed the next time.

Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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