This week I’ve been thinking about how security people and non security people interact. Various conversations I have often end up with someone suggesting everyone needs some sort of security responsibility. My suspicion is this will never work.
First some background to think about. In any organization there are certain responsibilities everyone has. Without using security as our specific example just yet, let’s consider how a typical building functions. You have people who are tasked with keeping the electricity working, the plumbing, the heating and cooling. Some people keep the building clean, some take care of the elevators. Some work in the building to accomplish some other task. If the company that inhabits the building is a bank you can imagine the huge number of tasks that take place inside.
Now here’s where I want our analogy to start. If I work in a building and I see a leaking faucet. I probably would report it. If I didn’t, it’s likely someone else would see it. It’s quite possible if I’m one of the electricians and while accessing some hard to reach place I notice a leaking pipe. That’s not my job to fix it, I could tell the plumbers but they’re not very nice to me, so who cares. The last time I told them about a leaking pipe they blamed me for breaking it, so I don’t really have an incentive here. If I do nothing, it really won’t affect me. If I tell someone, at best it doesn’t affect me, but in reality I probably will get some level of blame or scrutiny.
This almost certainly makes sense to most of us. I wonder if there are organizations where reporting things like this comes with an incentive. A leaking water pipe could end up causing millions in damage before it’s found. Nowhere I’ve ever worked ever really had an incentive to report things like this. If it’s not your job, you don’t really have to care, so nobody ever really cared.
Now let’s think about phishing in a modern enterprise. You see everything from blaming the user who clicked the link, to laughing at them for being stupid, to even maybe firing someone for losing the company a ton of money. If a user clicks a phishing link, and suspects a problem, they have very little incentive to be proactive. It’s not their job. I bet the number of clicked phish links we find out about is much much lower than the total number clicked.
I also hear security folks talking about educating the users on how all this works. Users should know how to spot phishing links! While this won’t work for a variety of reasons, at the end of the day, it’s not their job so why do we think they should know how to do this? Even more important, why do we think they should care?
The think I keep wondering is should this be the job of everyone or just the job of the security people? I think the quick reaction is “everyone” but my suspicion is it’s not. Electricity is a great example. How many stories have you heard of office workers being electrocuted in the office? The number is really low because we’ve made electricity extremely safe. If we put this in the context of modern security we have a system where the office is covered in bare wires. Imagine wires hanging from the ceiling, some draped on the floor. The bathroom has sparking wires next to the sink. We lost three interns last week, those stupid interns! They should have known which wires weren’t safe to accidentally touch. It’s up to everyone in the office to know which wires are safe and which are dangerous!
This is of course madness, but it’s modern day security. Instead of fixing the wires, we just imagine we can train everyone up on how to spot the dangerous ones.