Posts Tagged ‘Awareness’
QotW #7: How to write an email regarding IT Security that will be read, and not ignored by the end user?
A key aspect of IT and Information Security is the acceptance piece. People aren’t naturally good at this kind of security and generally see it as an annoyance and something they would rather not have to deal with.
Because of this, it is typical in organisations to send out regular security update emails – to help remind users of risks, threats, activities etc.
However it is often the case that these are deleted without even being read. This week’s question: How to write an email regarding IT Security that will be read, and not ignored by the end user? was asked by @makerofthings and generated quite a number of interesting responses, including:
- Provide a one line summary first, followed by a longer explanation for those who need it
- Provide a series of options to answer – those who fail to answer at all can be chased
- Tie in reading and responding to disciplinary procedures – a little bit confrontational here, but can work for items such as mandatory annual updates (I know various organisations do this for Money Laundering awareness etc)
- Using colours – either for the severity of the notice, or to indicate required action by the user
- Vary the communications method – email, corporate website, meeting invite etc
- Don’t send daily update messages – only send important, actionable notices
- Choose whose mailbox should send these messages – if it is critical everyone reads it, perhaps it should come from the FD or CEO, or the individual’s line manager
- Be personal, where relevant – users who receive a few hundred emails a day will happily filter or delete boring ones, or those too full of corporate-speak. Impress upon users how it is relevant to them
- Add “Action Required” in the subject
It is generally agreed that if it isn’t interesting it will be deleted. If there are too many ‘security’ emails, they’ll get deleted. In general, unless you can grab the audience’s attention, the message will fail.
Having said that, another take on it is – do you need to send all these security emails to your users? For example, should they be getting antivirus updates or patch downtime info in an email every week?
Can users do anything about antivirus, or should that be entirely the responsibility of IT or Ops? And wouldn’t a fixed patch downtime each week that is listed on the internal website make less of an impact on users?
Thinking around the common weak points in security – such as users – for most actions can make much more impact when you actually do need the users to carry out an action.
Associated questions and answers you should probably read:
Internet connectivity issues kept me from being timely in updating, and a need for sleep upon my return led me to soak up all of the rest of BSides and DEFCON. That means just a few talks are going to be brought up.
First, there’s Moxie Marlinspike‘s talk about SSL. In my last post, I had mentioned that I thought SSL has reached the point where it is due to be replaced. In the time between writing that and seeing his talk, I talked with a few other security folk. We all agreed that DNSSEC made for a better distribution model than the current SSL system, and wondered before seeing Moxie’s presentation why he would add so much more complexity beyond that. The guy next to me (I’ll skip name drops, but he’s got a security.stackexchange.com shirt now and was all over the news in the last year) and I talked before his presentation, and at the end agreed that Moxie’s point about trusting the DNS registry and operators to not change keys could be a mistake.
Thus, we’re still in the world of certificates and complicated x.509 parsing that has a lot of loopholes, and we’ve moved added something that the user needs to be aware of. However, we have one solid bonus: many independent and distributed sources must now collaborate to verify a secure connection. If one of them squawks, you at least have an opportunity to be aware. An equally large entry exists in the negative column: it is likely that many security professionals themselves won’t enjoy the added complexity. There’s still a lot of research work to be done, however the discussion is needed now.
PCI came up in discussion a little bit last year, and a lot more this year. In relation, the upcoming Penetration Testing Execution Standard was discussed. Charlie Vedaa gave a talk at BSides titled “Fuck the Penetration Testing Execution Standard”. It was a frank and open talk with a quick vote at the end: the room as a whole felt that despite the downsides we see structures like PCI and the PTES, we were better off with them than without.
The line for DEFCON badges took most people hours and the conference was out of the hard badges in the first day. Organizers say it wasn’t an issue of under-ordering, but rather that they had exhausted the entire commercial supply of “commercially pure” titanium to make the badges. Then the madness started…
AT&T’s network had its back broken under the strain of DEFCON resulting in tethering being useless and text messages showing up in batches sometimes more than 30 minutes late. The Rio lost its ability to check people into their hotel rooms or process credit cards. Some power issues affected the neighboring hotel at a minimum — Gold Coast had a respectable chunk of casino floor and restaurant space in the dark last evening. The audio system for the Rio’s conference area was apparently taken control of and the technicians locked out of their own system. Rumors of MITM cellular attacks at the conference, and now days later in the press abound. Given talks last year including a demonstration and talks this week at the Chaos Computer Camp, the rumors are credible. We’ll wait to see evidence, though.
DEFCON this year likely had more than 15,000 attendees, and they hit the hotel with an unexpected force. Restaurants were running out of food. Talks were sometimes packed beyond capacity. The Penn and Teller theater was completely filled for at least three talks I had interest in, locking me outside for one of them. The DEFCON WiFi network (the “most hostile in the world”) suffered some odd connectivity issues and a slow-or-dead DHCP server.
Besides a few articles in the press that have provided interesting public opinion, one enterprising person asked a few random non-attendees at the hotel what they thought of the event. The results are… enlightening.
Despite the security industry getting ever more professional, with well trained teams, security incidents seem to be increasing. Just look at the news recently:
- Sony – 23 incidents so far?
- UK NHS Laptop – over 8 million patient records
- Citibank – 200,000 customer records lost
- WordPress platform vulnerabilities (see Steve Lord’s presentations on this)
- Stuxnet – targeted at a specific use
From the 2011 Verizon DBIR
- 761 breaches of which 87% were in Hospitality, Retail and Financial Services
- 436 of these were in companies with 11-100 employees – so this is not just a problem for the big targets any more
- 92% of attacks (leading to 99% of records compromised) were external
Some new threat groups:
Anonymous and LulzSec – often punitive, sometimes for the Lulz
- ACS Law
- Spanish Police
- FBI, CIA
- Porn sites
- Took requests
So what do the security professionals do?
- After an audit fix vulnerabilities
- After an attack, fix the issues
- Use encryption and strong authentication
- Patch regularly
- Validate input, encode output
- Assess your 3rd parties
- Use a Secure Development Lifecycle
- Build security into everything you do
No problem, right? If only it were that easy…
Your CEO wants the business to make money, so wants to minimise bottom line spend but will spend appropriately on risks to the business.
So why doesn’t the CEO see these security issues as business risks?
- Maybe they aren’t significant when compared to other business risks
- Or perhaps the CEO just doesn’t understand the latest security threat
Both of these are your problems. The security community is often called the ‘echo chamber’ for a good reason – we say good things and have good ideas about how to fix security issues, but we pretty much only communicate with other enlightened security professionals. We need to tell others in a way they can understand – but in general we talk technical 1337 speak full of jargon and no one can make head or tail of it.
It is up to you, the security professional to learn how to talk the language of business risk
There are materials out there that will help you:
- IIA GAIT – Guide to the Assessment of IT Risk
- FAIR – Factor Analysis of Information Risk
- ISACA CobIT – Control Objectives in IT
- ISACA – CRISC and CGEIT certifications
- IISP – approved Information Risk Management courses
Begin to understand what is important to a business executive and how they talk about it, and you are already well on the way to being able to articulate security in the same way. If you are a manager of security professionals, make it easy for them to gain exposure to heads of business, C-suite, executive, directors etc. and it is likely to benefit you in the long run.
These are good questions to prepare you for conversations you may have along the way
- What metrics should a CIO rely on to gauge risk
- How would you work with the security paranoiac on your team
- Can you provide loss values on security breaches
- How do you compare risks from website, physical perimeter, staff, etc.
- What are good threats to kick off conversations with others about what worries them