Simply Security: Don’t Cut Users Out of the Security Team

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Simply Security is a regular column sponsored by SkOUT Secure Intelligence, Find Trouble Before Trouble Finds You

When creating and updating a security policy for your organization/company; it’s important to remember one group of people who absolutely must be part of that plan – your end users. Even the very best of desktop anti-malware, VPN technologies, and email filtering tools will miss some things, and that means the user has to be the one to shield themselves against those sneaky threats.

For many security professionals, the end-user is the one person who they want to be totally excluded from the security protocols and policies of the company, but that means a critical component of your security immune system starts off out of the loop. Excluding users causes confusion when policies are created and changed, as the users may be forced to adapt to new procedures that didn’t take into account how they actually perform their job responsibilities. Documentation may be confusing to end-users, leading to mistakes in using new software and tools; or worse, users actively trying to get around these policies and procedures.

I’ve always been fond of a saying that I can never remember the source of (and if anyone knows, I’d love to give proper attribution): “Users, when faced with inconvenience, become some of the most innovative and ingenious technology experts in order to get around it.” Basically, if the user is not on-board with new security tools; they most definitely will try to find ways around them in order to do what they need to.

Personally, I’ve seen a high-level executive disable a VPN client because he couldn’t reach a website that he needed to use for his work. In other words, the entire security protocol for that laptop was undermined because the security team did not take into account that users might need to visit business-related websites. If the security team had involved end-users, they would have known that sites such as that one were required, and could have made sure the VPN did not prohibit users from visiting them.

Spam and phishing is another area where leaving users out of the equation is a recipe for disaster. No filtering system is 100% effective, and many will mis-categorize emails – both false-positive and false-negative – under a wide variety of circumstances. New threats can be used to create email messages that don’t trigger filtering rules, and crafty phishers can alter their approach to overcome software review. If the users are part of the organization’s immune system, they can become an active part of finding fraudulent and malicious messages before they wreak havoc on the company itself.

As a perfect example, doing something as simple as flagging emails based on if they are internal or external, and if they appear to be malicious in some way even when they’re not positively one way or the other, can allow users to be on their guard. This – combined with basic Security Awareness Training – allows them to look at flagged and external emails with a critical eye to determine if they’re legitimate or not when the filter just cannot be certain. Maybe they will call Accounts Payable when a slightly suspicious wire transfer request is sent to them, instead of just heading to the bank website because the email looked like it came from a legitimate sender.

In the end, exclusion of the actual users of a system from the discussions about the security of that system and involvement in those policies and procedures is asking for a security incident. Users need training, but they can be an impactful and critical part of the companies immune system – protecting the organization from point exposures on the front lines as the security team works to limit exposures on a company-wide level.