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Do you create stupid users?

Ira Winkler | Dec. 2, 2014
A week doesn't go by where we read about some attack that is precipitated by bad user actions.

Assuming you take care of the environmental issues, the remaining injuries seem to result from either people failing to follow policies and procedures or carelessness/inattentiveness. As you can assume, those are generally the same reason for many information related security awareness failings.

For security awareness practitioners, addressing policy violations and carelessness/inattentiveness is the subject of other articles. For now though, it must be said that awareness practitioners should consider addressing environmental concerns as well.

Admittedly, environmental concerns are traditionally the responsibility of security practitioners who implement technology. That being said, a good awareness practitioner should work with the more technical peers to recommend and prioritize the countermeasures that will have the greatest impact on preventing users from taking actions that put the organization at risk.

For example, as it is common for a user to misplace a laptop computer, laptops should have labels that specify how to return the laptops. The hard drives should be encrypted. Software that allows for remote location of the laptop should be preinstalled. Clearly there should be basic policies that limit the removal of the laptop device from facilities.

Likewise, concerning password security, token authentication would significantly reduce the possibility of password compromise through social engineering, passwords that are easily guessed, or written down, etc. Likewise the system should prevent easily guessable passwords from existing on the system. Similarly, there should be processes in place that ensure that managers, guards, and other people verify that passwords are written down and available for compromise.

There is a saying from the great American philosopher Peggy Bundy from the TV show Married With Children, "If you give a monkey a gun, and the monkey shoots someone, do you blame the monkey or the person who gave the monkey the gun?" While it is not my intent to equate users to monkeys, when a security professional sees a user make a mistake, before they label the person, "a stupid user," they should first look to see if they proverbially gave the user the gun.

So as you go to create or improve your security awareness program, you need to consider how to first remove the opportunities that allow for a user to have an awareness-related failing. While it might not seem like it is your job, it will make your job 90% easier.


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