How to train your users
Let’s face it: getting users to understand and practice good security is hard. Really hard. It would be difficult enough if the technology environment remained constant for a while, but we all know how often that happens. That’s why it’s especially important that we focus on raising user awareness of basic security concepts that are independent of specific technologies. One example is helping people understand what needs to be protected and why. I have encapsulated the basics of this in a mnemonic I call “The Four Cs.”
The Four Cs are computers, credentials, connections, and content. If you can get your users into a mindset of thinking about protection in these four areas, it will be one small but important step toward a secure chair-to-keyboard interface.
Let’s review each of the Cs in a bit more detail. I use the term “computers” here as a shorthand, but it also includes smartphones (C is also for “cell”) and tablets. Users have to understand that sensitive data is only as secure as the device used to access it. Ask them to imagine an attacker who can see everything they do on their home PCs — can the attacker see customer data or trade secrets? If so, what are the users doing to make sure this doesn’t happen?
Credentials include passwords, security tokens, and anything else users need to log in to company or work-related systems. Again, ask your users to imagine the worst. What are users trusted to do or see on behalf of the company? What might a motivated enemy do if she had the same access? What would happen to the user whose credentials were used to carry out a successful attack?
With all the publicity recently around the NSA leaks, it should be easy to get users interested in connection security. Encourage them to shift their thinking from government snoops to garden variety criminals and industrial saboteurs. Would your users (deliberately) leave customer data or proprietary information sitting unattended on a table in a hotel lobby? If not, they shouldn’t leave it floating around unencrypted on the hotel Wi-Fi, either.
Content protection is about which data goes where. Remind users how easy it is to forward an email or send a file to someone, sometimes even accidentally. Perhaps they shouldn’t make it that easy for a colleague or third party to do the same with patient records or customer credit card numbers. Content protection also ties into the previous three areas: should important information be stored someplace that requires only a single shared password to access it? Do users trust the security of their computers as much as the security of the company’s servers?
Too often, user education about security starts with the how, skipping right over the what and the why. The Four Cs don’t cover every important aspect of user behavior; resistance to social engineering, for example, is notably absent. They, do, however, offer a solid base of understanding for how users contribute to an organization’s collective security. Once this idea is in users’ heads, the questions about how to protect the computers, credentials, connections, and content will inevitably follow. And those are the questions that any security professional should be happy to hear.