By Patrick Marshall

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Confidence: The secret sauce for security

Confidence: The secret sauce for security

Talk about security these days often focuses on technology -- the tools agencies can deploy to keep intruders out of their networks and systems or, if they do get in, to mitigate the damage from those intrusions. Very little discussion is spent on users and how important they are to that security.

Officials, of course, point to the vigilance required of government employees who are assailed by phishing scams to get them to cough up their personal access details. Although agencies do try to educate their workers about these dangers, it’s questionable just how effective all of that is. There’s a reason social engineering attacks such as phishing are still so popular with the black hats -- they work.

Anecdotally, many federal employees are less than inspired by their agencies’ attempts to educate them about cybersecurity. Security training, when it’s given, seems to be more about meeting policy or compliance requirements. It’s often limited to just a few hours each year, and there’s rarely any follow up to drive the lessons home.

That’s unfortunate, because user confidence can be a big ally in agency efforts to make networks more secure. When employees have confidence in their agency’s overall security, they tend to pay more attention to what they can do to help improve it.

Perhaps, therefore, warning bells should be ringing over a recent survey that shows government employee confidence in agency cybersecurity is basically shot.

Over two years, a “confident or very confident” survey response about whether agencies can protect their information systems from intrusion has gone from 65 percent to just 35 percent. Confidence about whether agencies can protect the employees’ own personal information dropped even further, from 58 percent to 28 percent.

This is after an “annus horribilis” for government security in 2015, which saw major breaches at the Office of Personnel Management, the IRS and other agencies. Millions of government employee records were compromised as a result.

Then again, confidence goes both ways when it comes to security. Another survey of organizations  around the world showed they lacked confidence in their employees’ cybersecurity skills, because employees frequently used  a single password for different applications and shared their passwords with coworkers. Around one-fifth those workers said they would sell their passwords to an outsider.

And then there’s the confidence -- or lack thereof -- that organizations have in the security of their trading partners and suppliers. The stolen network credentials of an HVAC vendor were behind the infamous breach of retailer Target’s systems in 2013, which ended up compromising some 40 million customer debit and credit card accounts, and the company still hasn’t fully recovered.

A recent study showed that just over half of the respondents had a high confidence in their partners’ ability to protect data and access details. Think of the government’s increasing reliance on contractors and subcontractors and what any gap in security at those organizations could mean for agencies.

Good security, we are told over and over, is built on trust. Usually that refers to the trust between immediate partners in a secure data exchange, but it must also take into account the broader environment of providers and users. When that trust, as reflected in confidence, erodes as dramatically as some of these surveys seem to suggest, then it will take more than security tools to fix it.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Apr 22, 2016 at 6:03 AM


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