Six tips for developing a security culture

Technology won't save you from nation-state cyber-espionage, your corporate culture will.

"Every employee needs to be thinking about security the same way they think about brushing their teeth each morning," Jason Brown, national security manager for defence contractor Thales, told last week's Security 2012 conference in Sydney.

"I think security is one of the living organisms of a body. If security isn't treated as a living organism, you won't keep it in the minds and hearts of people. And the environment is constantly changing," he said.

Brown was one of several presenters who stressed the importance of security being understood at an organisation's highest level: the board and CEO. While Thales' security requirements are more critical than most organisations', it's still a matter of leading from the top.

But while the technology and compliance issues have to be covered, Brown says they're not enough by themselves.

"The [ISO] standard for IT, this 27000 series, will not protect you from the type of cybercrime that we're talking about when we talk about state-based espionage or high-level criminal attack. It's actually the culture of the organisation, the capacity for [staff] to say 'There's something wrong with this message' or 'I've got a problem with my system' and do it really quickly," he said.

A security culture has to be consciously developed.

"Sometimes security is seen as the negative connotation within corporations and really one of the big challenges is how you turn that around," said Nicholas Martin, director of risk management consultancy Occams Razor. "How do you make yourself feel relevant to the organisation?"

Martin offered six tips for developing a security culture, based on his experience in security roles including head of corporate security for Macquarie Group, general manager of security strategy for Telstra, and ten years in the Royal Australian Navy as a mine warfare and clearance diving officer.

  1. Developing a security culture needs real support at senior levels so it gets the focus and attention it needs. You need a specific "champion" for security in the organisation.

  2. You need to understand the organisation. All security programs are much the same, but corporate cultures differ widely. You must meld the security program to fit with the organisation's existing culture.

  3. You must articulate the plan clearly, in language everyone can understand. "A lot of security programs can't articulate what they're doing. They'll have a security policy which is full of a lot of terms and phrases that might be specific to the security program, but the broader organisation doesn't really understand what they mean," Martin said.

  4. Don't focus too much on risks and threats. Words like "threat", "risk", "mitigate" and so on aren't understood, and the threats change over time anyway.

  5. Play to your strengths, both corporate and individual. For example, in a physical distribution company, the existing understanding of the physical risks of theft can be used as a basis for understanding other risks.

  6. You need diversity on your security team. Don't stack it with ex-police and military people. They might work well together, but they'll become an enclave separate from the rest of the organisation.

Contact Stilgherrian at or follow him on Twitter at @stilgherrian

Follow @CSO_Australia and sign up to the CSO Australia newsletter.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about ISORoyal Australian NavyTechnologyTelstra CorporationThales Australia

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Stilgherrian

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place