One of the few themes that comes up time and time again when we talk about security is how bad people tend to be at understanding what’s actually going on. This isn’t really anyone’s fault, we’re expecting people to go against what is essentially millions of years of evolution that created our behaviors. Most security problems revolve around the human being the weak link and doing something that is completely expected and completely wrong.
This brings us to a news story I ran across that reminded me of how bad humans can be at dealing with actual risk. It seems that peanut free schools don’t work. I think most people would expect a school that bans peanuts to have fewer peanut related incidents than a school that doesn’t. This seems like a no brainer, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from doing security work for as long as I have, the obvious answer is always wrong.
The report does have a nugget of info in it where they point out that having a peanut free table at lunch seems to work. I suspect this is different than a full on ban, in this case you have the kids who are sensitive to peanuts sit at a table where everyone knows peanuts are bad. There is of course a certain amount of social stigma that comes with having to sit at a special table, but I suspect anyone reading this often sat alone during schooltime lunch for a very different reason 😉
This is similar to Portugal making all drugs legal and having one of the lowest overdose rates in Europe. It seems logical that if you want fewer drugs you make them illegal. It doesn’t make sense to our brains that if you want fewer drugs and problems you make them legal. There are countless other examples of reality seeming to be totally backwards from what we think should be true.
So that brings us to security. There are lessons in stories like these. It’s not to do the opposite of what makes sense though. The lesson is to use real data to make decisions. If you think something is true and you can’t prove it either way, you could be making decisions that are actually hurting instead of helping. It’s a bit like the scientific method. You have a hypothesis, you test it, then you either update your hypothesis and try again or you end up with proof.
In the near future we’ll talk about measuring things; how to do it, what’s important, and why it will matter for solving your problems.