Security Experts:

InfoSec Needs to Improve Organizational Communication [Black Hat]

Black Hat 2012BLACK HAT USA 2012 - Information security professionals can establish a better relationship with the users within the organization by improving lines of communication, a security analyst told Black Hat attendees.

Information security professionals are struggling to improve organizational acceptance of information security and to convince users to view security differently, James Philput, a senior information security analyst with Information Assurance Professionals, said during a presentation on the last day of the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas. One way to accomplish this goal was to change how IT interacted with users on a regular basis, Philput said.

Infosec doesn't have the best reputation among its users, pointed out Philput. People regularly accuse security of getting in the way of work. IT often takes the preventive approach of ignoring what users are saying and locking things down, Philput said. Instead, the security team should be listening to what the users need and what they are looking for, he said.

Business needs always trump security, Philput said, adding, “Geeks hate this.”

Black Hat 2012Changing perspectives within the organization may be “daunting, but doable,” Philput explained. Infosec needs to speak in terms the users understand, such as reminding executives that the costs of a data breach includes damage to the brand as well as to individual executive's reputations, Philput said. The goal is to make the users care about doing the right thing without resorting to heavy-handed tactics.

“Users accept limitations they understand,” Philput said.

As a case study, Philput described a situation in which a medical clinic was looking to deploy a less secure system for accessing patient records. By taking the time to speak with the clinicians, the security team could figure out why the users preferred the proposed system, and then identify issues the users recognized as problems, Philput suggested. Instead of focusing on costs or issues with policy, the team could highlight problems with HIPAA compliance, which the clinicians are more likely to be concerned about, Philput said.

“Don't forget to listen to the users,” Philput said, noting that by listening, the team can often come up with workarounds to solve the problem at hand.

Information security professionals were often the biggest obstacles in gaining user acceptanace because they create an antagonistic situation where it's “us versus them,” Philput said. “Not fully understanding IT is not a crime,” he added, noting that the users are experts in their respective fields, such as marketing.

Different groups of users want different types of information from information security. C-level executives are generally concerned about how much they have to spend to get a certain outcome, and what is the easiest task. In contrast, non-technical managers generally wants to know how something impacts the company and the individual users, and why it matters, Philput said. And finally, technical managers want to know what the problem is, how it will be solved, and the likelihood of any issues.

The bad guys are winning in the security war and for the good guys to have any shot at winning, infosec and users need to cooperate, Philput said. “Unless you have the backing of the users, it's never going to happen”.

A final simple piece of advice from Philput: "Write shorter emails."

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Fahmida Y. Rashid is a Senior Contributing Writer for SecurityWeek. She has experience writing and reviewing security, core Internet infrastructure, open source, networking, and storage. Before setting out her journalism shingle, she spent nine years as a help-desk technician, software and Web application developer, network administrator, and technology consultant.