In the past months, the press made public different security incidents involving companies being victims of ransomware (1)(2). Most of the time, a ransom had to be paid in Bitcoins. It’s logical as Bitcoins are much easier and cheaper to launder the money and hide the recipient than traditional money laundering circuits.
You may decide that dealing with cyber criminals is unacceptable (like for terrorists or kidnappers) but if you don’t have such policies and the amount of the ransom is lower than the overall cost of restoring your services by yourself (including manpower, business losses, public image), you may decide to pay the price. In such case, time is of the essence. In order to limit the impact and to comply with criminal’s conditions, you might have no more than 48 or even just 24 hours to pay your “lack-of-sufficient-security fine”.
But, how do you pay in Bitcoins and keep it under the radar in such a short amount of time. Imagining the time spent debating the question “do we pay or not”, the time left to actually pay will likely be very short. So, you better have your Bitcoin wallet ready and loaded or some agreement with a trusted Bitcoin exchange platform to guarantee the required discretion. Bottom line, nowadays, it might become wise to include a Bitcoin wallet in your Disaster Recovery Plan.
Whatever you’ll decide, decide now and be prepared.
Phishing and spear phishing campaigns become more and more elaborate, hence more difficult to identify and consequently more successful. Crelan’s 70 million € loss, early 2016 is a good example of the potential impact of such a successful social engineering attack.
As automated security systems are unlikely to detect and block the most elaborate and targeted attacks (as they need a significant number of similar emails to trigger their alerts), security officers are left with security awareness campaign focusing on developing skills to detect (spear) fishing attacks to try to mitigate this risk. It’s logical, it’s what security standards advise you to do but watch out you may be doing more harm than good!
One of the first mistakes in this approach is to consider awareness (or communication) as a goal. Any communication is aimed at instilling a change in its recipient(s). The aim of an awareness campaign is likely to change people’s behaviour and attitude so they pay more attention to the source of their emails, their contents and the rightfulness of what is asked to them. So basically, we should first have a measure of the current situation and aimed at a certain improvement in our “smart” metrics. The most obvious and significant one being: How many people will fall for a (spear) phishing email.
How do we usually do that? Often by a combination of training, online training, posters and “homemade” phishing campaigns to measure the exposure of the company and tickles our employees. In such case, we appeal on fear. Fear to contribute to a security incident, to a fraud, to a loss of money, fear to get fired.
Fear appeal is used to leverage behavioural changes as one believe the emotional reaction caused by fear will increase the likelihood of the occurrence of the appropriate, secure, behaviour. You better think twice as, like it is often the case, devil is in the details.
Fear appeal effectiveness is still a debatable question (that’s the principle of science) but mainly because it might works under some conditions. In their “Appealing to Fear: A Meta-Analysis of Fear Appeal Effectiveness and Theories” article, Tannenbaum et al. (2015) have analysed 217 articles on the subject and found few conditions making fear appeal ineffective while effects seem most apparent in women and for one-time behaviours.
However, in a review of 60 years of studies on fear appeal, Ruiter et al. (2014) “concluded that coping information aimed at increasing perceptions of response effectiveness and especially self-efficacy is more important in promoting protective action than presenting threatening health information aimed at increasing risk perceptions and fear arousal”. A 2014 study of Kessels et al. using event-related brain and reaction times found that health information arousing fear causes more avoidance responses among those for whom the health threat is relevant for them.
Still, it seems there is some consensus regarding some specific conditions to be met by such communication: the communication must provide, just after the fear arousal, a solution to allow the audience to reduce this fear with a sense of self-efficacy, or, to say it simply, we must provide a simple way for our audience to fix the issue, being an easy to follow behaviour (one that doesn’t require too much psychological and physical energy). If our solution is so complex that it will (or the thought of using it) generate more stress than the feared event, our brain will likely avoid this behaviour and deny the reality of the risk (and the fear).
Latest researches in neurosciences (and more specifically in the field of neuroergonomy) provide some guidance to shape our message and solution in order to allow our audience to easily grab our communication and adopt the desired behaviour.
Like for most communication, we must avoid to saturate the working memory. What does it means? If we receive too many information at once, our brain is not able to process it at once. It is like for a lift. If there is more people trying to enter than the lift capacity, the lift is not going to move and will be stuck. It is the same for our brain. If we saturate the place where the information is stored in order to be processed (what we call the working memory).
The average span of the human’s working memory is 5 objects or, if we use Husserl’s terminology, noema. For most people, this span is between 3 and 7 objects.
But, what is an object (or noema) in that context? If I give you a phone number digit per digit (let say: 1,5,5,5,1,2,3,4,4,6,9), it will be hard for you to memorize the 11 digits of this number, each digit being an object. But, if we combine some digits together in small numbers (1, 555, 123, 44, 69), it will be easier to remember. The reason behind it being that these small numbers are also objects (noema) for our working memory and in that case, we don’t saturate it as there is only 5 objects (so, within the average memory span).
Why are the small numbers an object and not the large one? Simply because we are used to them. If you are bone in 1980, this number can become an object (as you are quite well acquainted with it) while 1256 could require 2 noema (12 and 56).
The same is true with words. Well known words (and their associated concepts) are easier to process. It is why I put multiple time the word “noema” (likely to be a new name for most readers) with the word “object” (a quite common word and clear concept) so it can be used as an “handle” to better “grasp” the new concept of “noema”. Similarly, using the metaphor of the “handle” to “grasp” a concept ease the understanding (the grasp) of the concept.
To summarize, our solutions, our expected new behaviours, must be as close as possible to something we already know in order to make it easier to grasp.
As a concrete example, if you want your user to check the validity of an email sender’s domain name (just that concept is not that easy to understand for a lot of people, so what’s on the right of the @ in an email address), you should provide a tool available in the first level of the menu or a link in the favourites website. The best thing would be to have the information integrated in the email or at a click from it.
E-commerce websites have already well integrated such concepts. They understood long ago that if you want to have a client ordering something, he must find it and be able to order it with 3 clicks or less. You maybe know the saying: “the best place to hide a body is on the second page of a Google search”. Meaning? Most people don’t go to the second page, it is a click too far.
Using pictures, drawings (simple one, keep the 3 to 7 objects rules in mind), stories, jokes help memorizing. Anything that might be relevant to the concept or totally outstanding might help too. Emotions help to memorize. If you scare people first, making them laugh or smile with your “solution” might allow memorizing it. Go kittens! (see https://www.ezonomics.com/stories/how-pictures-of-kittens-can-help-you-manage-money/).
Also, do not forget a basic principle of behaviourism… the sooner the better. If you want to foster an action, the reward must come very soon, ideally immediately, after the action. So, if you have people clicking on a link in a “test” phishing email, you may scare them by pointing their mistake but you should also immediately provide a way to avoid this experience the next time by providing a few quick tips on what they did wrong and how they should do it the next time.
Here is a nice example of a video playing just a bit on the fear and providing advices in a non-threatening, aesthetic (it matters too) and very simple way (by http://www.nomagnolia.tv/).
For years now, Information security is a fast growing market. At least for a couple of years, the cyber security market is growing fast. Even in these times of budget cut in many sectors, quite often the cyber security department manages to negotiate an increase of its operational budget. That’s significant, isn’t it? Moreover, nowadays it becomes nearly impossible to ignore the wave of “cyber-“ words: cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cybersex or cyberbullying.
You could not have missed also the news about the CERT.be, the federal cyber emergency team (CERT used to be the Computer Emergency response team, likely less “sexy” than Cyber emergency Team) which is, according to its website, “a neutral specialist in Internet and network security” (So Cyber security is Internet and Network Security?). With the CERT.BE, you probably also read about the Belgian Center for Cyber-security (CCB). Neither could you haven’t noticed the buzz around the new Belgian Cyber Security Coallition or the 1.8 billion € allocated by the European Commission to a private-public partnership made to increase Cyber Security. In the latter, the private sector is being represented by the newly born European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO). That’s a lot of Cyber-related news, isn’t it? Does Azimov’s vision become a reality? It sure sounds like we are in one of his Robots series book.
But what does Cyber mean? How is Cyber Security different from Information security or IT security? Which one of both is it?
According to the NIST, Cybersecurity is “The process of protecting information by preventing, detecting, and responding to attacks”. So, is it Information Security? But according to the new worldwide reference, Wikipedia, Cyber is “part of the “Internet-related prefixes added to a wide range of existing words to describe new, Internet- or computer-related flavors of existing concepts, often electronic products and services that already have a non-electronic counterpart”. So, Cyber Security should be the Internet or Computer related flavor of information security that we used to call IT security. But is it?
Because lately I’ve heard the “cyber-buzzwords” used in so many different contexts by so many person (including some executive clearly not knowing what they were talking about), I have difficulties to understand what we are talking about exactly.
Understand me well, I like the fact that our country’s leaders finally decided to address the increase of the Internet related threats more seriously. As our risk surface is drastically expanding, it is more than time to address those risks at a more global level (but we are still far from a clearly necessary worldwide cybersecurity agency, for a lot of obvious political reasons). I also like the fact that my clients’ board of directors give more focus to “cybersecurity”, whatever they think it is. At last, it provides us a momentum to raise awareness and improve the governance maturity to the necessary level.
What I don’t like in the “Cyber” fashion, is having a so important subject becoming more and more vague and focused, again, on the technological aspects. With the new buzzword came a lot of new supposed-to-be-panacea products claiming they will solve all the problems overnight (or in a few months, but at our timescale, it is the same). I heard of CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) being rebranded CCSO (Chief Cyber Security Officer).
Is it really a progress? For years we fought to have the CISO positions created at a board level in order to get out of the IT ghetto. The aim was to be also present where information security belongs: in the organizations processes and workforce. In 2016, the latest IBM security survey still attributes 60% of attacks to inside jobs. 1 employee out of 5 is ready to sell his corporate’s network credentials. The biggest weaknesses are still in the business processes and in the human being behind them. Most ethical hackers and red team members know that they don’t need a zero-day exploit to get into a target’s systems, they just need a charming smile and a couple of beer to get what they need to get in. With all the good this new Cyber buzzword brings, there is an evil: we are going back to a computer and technologically focused perception of corporate security issues. Human, processes and facilities are relegated to the second position while they still represent more than 70% of the risks. Does it make sense? Is Cyber Security an evil buzzword after all?
Few will share this article as a lot of cyber security professionnal won’t dare to challenge the marketing machine that is actually feeding them. And as I wrote, there was some good coming out of this, but it is necessary to see all the side impacts and ensure marketing people are not the one deciding where you should put your focus.