Most of the time security professionals worry about zeros and ones – to simplify our entire industry somewhat. In essence, we’re trying to keeping our own assets protected and keeping outsiders, well, on the outside – and technology solutions, people and processes are obviously core to that.

However, there’s always one big grey area when it comes to putting effective cyber security protections into practice – our own people.

The reality is, if companies didn’t have people in them, they’d be a lot easier to secure. Unrealistic I know but it’s a fact. (And yes, in a previous blog I did also point out that not having the internet connected would also be quite good too).

No matter how secure your infrastructure, applications and devices, if a suitably-enabled staff member or contractor really wants to walk out the front door with private and confidential information, there’s little you can do to stop it from happening.

In addition, privileged users such as system and network administrators, database administrators, data owners, finance and HR staff can cause significant damage at an industrial scale if they maliciously attack systems or delete, change or leak sensitive information.

You’d hope it was detected very quickly, and perhaps DLP software will set off bells and sirens, and maybe even physical security will mitigate a malicious, physical attempt to steal information. But mostly – that information will just walk out the door.

So this is the interesting bit. In essence, after you have set access levels and rights correctly, you then have to trust that the people you also trust to serve customers and to behave within the cultural norms of common business practice have no intention of deliberately causing mayhem in your IT systems.

Of course with privacy and data protections laws and regulations tightening around the globe, that doesn’t seem like much of a security strategy. Naturally, every technology that should be deployed will be deployed to protect an organisation, relative to its business type and risk profile.

But what do you do about people!

It actually doesn’t come up as much as you’d think when you consider the discussions, news and general information coming across your desktop on a daily basis in relation to IT security. We see lots about devices and software that protects organisations or we hear a lot about the results of a breach from some malicious actors.

But the reality is that educating, supporting and communicating with staff about IT security (and all that entails) absolutely builds a more resilient and protected organisation.
There are a few things worth considering. These include:

  • How do we onboard new staff and contractors?
  • How do we reinforce various policies?
  • How do we oversee or educate employees that have been with the business for a longer period of time about issues like phishing attacks, shadow IT, securing sensitive information in emails, not plugging USB keys into devices on the network without security scanning (if it’s not already automatic) etc?
  • How do we ensure the business can still do business (and people don’t throw up their hands in frustration and look for a new job) but we still stay in business?
  • Implementing the relevant controls and tools that will help us verify the trust we have bestowed to some of our staff that have admin or access to privileged information.

Every company has their own approach, often built around international IT security standards.

However, dig below the surface and you can guarantee in all but perhaps military-grade sites, there can be big gaps between what should be happening and what is happening.
If it wasn’t true there wouldn’t be an entire dark web sector raking in millions of dollars per year from various nefarious activities.

So what’s the answer?

To some extent, (technology tools not withstanding), trust remains the watchword.

So trust comes from the overarching culture leaders create within a business.

Engaged, positive and tribe-oriented people value and protect their own. People who are aligned to their organisation’s success and take pride in their work, are less likely to deliberately steal or damage IT infrastructure and assets.

In most cases, accidents are captured by logging tools and security software and the like – and many people will put their hand up to admit they did something they shouldn’t have if it was an honest mistake. And of course, trust can also be verified to a reasonable extent with best-in-class logging tools.

What this means of course, is that for any CISO worried about security on a daily basis (and I’m pretty sure that’s at the top of the job description), they need to have one eye observing how their organisation looks after and treats people.

It may be that there’s not much we can do to influence a truly abysmal, pan-continental culture in a business, but we sure can be aware of what that means when it comes to setting a security posture and conducting internal audits. For example, it would also be prudent to review logs more assertively to verify staff activities and validate the trust levels that have been set.
It’s the difference between expecting and anticipating trouble.