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Avoiding Cybersecurity Placebos in Your Business

When it comes to your business, especially its technology, some of the buzzwords you hear floating around can be pretty convincing, almost intoxicating. Unfortunately, like most buzzwords, many of these are aggrandized beyond their worth to the average small-to-medium-sized business. Let’s take a look at how this can impact a business’ perception of its cybersecurity, as well as dig into the reality behind these terms.

To begin, let’s examine a phrase coined in the early 2000s by cybersecurity technologist Bruce Schneier: “security theater.”

What is “Security Theater?”

Security theater is a simple shorthand for any security efforts put in place that do little to better ensure one’s security, despite making one much more comfortable, generally for some considerable cost. The idea behind it is that security exists as both a reality based in math and science, and as a perception that is based in emotion.

In a 2007 blog article, Schneier cited a personal anecdote where a friend’s newborn was fitted with an RFID tag to help prevent infant abduction during their stay in the maternity ward. However, the rates of infant abduction were astoundingly low at that point. In his blog post, Schneier posits that these bracelets were a form of security theater, meant more to placate the parents when their bundle of joy was out of sight than it was to help prevent the rare case of infant abduction.

While security theater may have perceived benefits, Schneier says, the true concerns come with the costs that are associated with it.

Let’s return to his example of the tracking tags on newborns. With such a low rate of infant abduction, there was realistically little-to-no practical risk of someone’s child being abducted from the hospital. However, as the low-cost RFID bracelets allowed parents to breathe a little easier when their baby wasn’t in the room with them, hospitals found this investment to be worthwhile. Another example that Schneier gives is the introduction of tamper-resistant packaging on over-the-counter drugs in the 1980s. With poisonings getting some significant coverage by the press in this era, the idea that medications would be tampered with was relieved.

It didn’t matter that the statistical likelihood of a drug being altered was negligible, or even that the tamper-resistant packaging wasn’t all that effective anyways. The theater of the tamper-resistant packaging that companies would use helped align the perceived threat with the practical odds.

The Trade-Offs

However, there is a point at which security theater can become detrimental: when the investment (real or perceived) into your security is generating negative returns—or in other words, when your security measures are actually making you less secure. One glaring example from recent years is the 2013 hack into Target, where numerous security teams dropped the ball as numerous failsafe notifications and procedures were ignored. Let’s go into how you might be “overacting,” so to speak, when it comes to some of the security theater you have in your office.

Excessive Password Updates

Forcing your employees to update their passwords each month has long been established as a counterproductive security measure, as this will only encourage them to adopt other behaviors that will directly undermine your resiliency. Perhaps these passwords will become embarrassingly predictable, or your users will resort to writing them down somewhere to keep track of them all. Instead, use other methods of reinforcing your business security, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) or single sign-on solutions, paired with a more moderate password policy.

That said, we’re not advocating never changing passwords, but the bad habits it causes are much worse than what mandatory password changes do for the greater good.

Alert Overload

A never-ending barrage of security notifications can have a few negative repercussions on your users. Naturally, their workflows will suffer from consistent interruptions, but there is also the fact that these notifications will eventually be tuned out. As a result, if a real issue does eventually present itself, it is more likely to be ignored. An MSP’s services can help to separate the wheat from the chaff, preventing your users from encountering interruption in most cases.

Lacking User Awareness

Think back for a second: when you last had a cybersecurity training session for your users, what was the general format? Was it primarily a lecture, or were your employees involved and engaged in the process? When was your last training initiative? Many companies figure that these seminar-style sessions serve their purpose, but the more effective means of instilling good cybersecurity training is through shorter, more frequent, and (most importantly) more interactive efforts.

Macatawa Technologies has the tools and resources that can help you to better ensure your security efforts are contributing to your practical security. To find out more about the solutions that we can assist you with, reach out to our team by calling 616-394-4940 today.


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