Cyberpsychology: turning your weakest link into a strength
When talking to many people about cyber security you will encounter a common expectation; that the technology alone will solve their security issues. It’s not always overt in the conversation but it’s always lurking in the expectations to a greater or lesser degree.
Cyber security is, however, the same as any process within an organisation today, it’s a combination of technology and people. We regularly hear about the insider threat (which also forms a part of a lot of the external threat vectors) and what a significant risk this is. There are technology-based solutions and process best practices that can be implemented to limit this risk but these do not address a key part of the concern, the people.
Our people are part of the problem but they are also part of the solution and we should never lose sight of that. Anyone who’s ever made an impulse purchase in the supermarket knows that, as human beings, we are vulnerable to manipulation and despite our best efforts we may sometimes fall foul of these. So, our people are our weakest link but do they have to continue to be so? No, and as you may guess the answer is a mixture of technology and people. Technology is easy, to start with there are 4 layers to consider:
Privileged Account Management
Starting from the bottom, good system configurations will build a solid foundation on which you can layer tooling and processes. If you aren’t using known good, secure base builds for your workstations and servers then you are doing yourself a disservice. Stop and go work on that now.
Once we have a secure foundation we need to make sure that we know of any weaknesses that have been identified in the materials, effective vulnerability management is essential there. Knowing what needs fixing first and how to fix it should be your primary concerns here. By reducing the vulnerabilities, we reduce the opportunity for the hacker to exploit the user when they open that email attachment.
Next is Privileged Account Management, getting control over who is accessing systems using privileged accounts, when and how helps reduce the risk introduced by the people using them. Preventing users from storing passwords on their system, on their desk, etc. or having the same password across many accounts helps limit the opportunity for exploits. Changing the passwords on privileged accounts every time they are used and having different passwords for every account on every machine reduces the people-risk dramatically.
Implementing Least Privilege is the icing on the cake. Eliminating any direct access to privilege for day-to-day activity means the opportunity for the insider threat is minimised. Your people are restricted to the privileges they need at a very granular level. It’s possible to have everyone on your network operating with a single, standard user account but still able to do what they need to be productive… even the admins.
That’s a lot of technology but with each of those technologies comes change and that’s our first people issue. People don’t like change and they will rail against it. We need to help them understand the need for the change and how it will help them in the long run. A more constrained environment makes it easier to manage and know where remaining risks are but also it reduces the burden of responsibility on the people using them. If you are logged into a system as the administrator then you have a huge responsibility, not only to not open email attachments from people you don’t know (and those that you do) but also not to make mistakes. That level of access often comes with additional administrative overheads, training courses, certifications, re-certifications, etc. If that’s removed then the people have less of that to distract them from their actual work, a safer workplace is a more productive one.
When engaging our people to join us as part of the cyber security solution for our organisation, we need to ensure we are applying the right Cyberpsychology and putting concerns in the appropriate language and at an appropriate level of concern. We shouldn’t look to terrify our people, that will lead to greater risk not less. People under stress are more likely to make mistakes and that’s the last thing we want. We also don’t want complacency, we want that difficult middle ground and the only way to get that is to get the people involved (or at least key representatives from our people).
Our people are key stakeholders in the on-going success of the organisation, particularly in cyber security or, to put it another way, Business Continuity. So get them involved early, change is easier if you are part of the decision making process. Keep your people informed throughout the process of change, regularly, inclusively and listen to their input. Where their input can’t be adopted or isn’t appropriate then take the time to explain, in person and work through the reasons. A simple ‘no’ isn’t going to engender the kind of engagement you need to make the process a success.
Just as cyber security isn’t a point-in-time activity neither is the engagement of your people, keep them involved, keep them informed and your biggest weakness will become your biggest strength.