Do you punish someone who has Malware?

Recently I was on a CIO Leaders Summit panel and there were three delegates, each reporting back from the breakouts - on Customer Experience, Digital and Cyber Security.

My group was Customer Experience; which I explained embraced all the elements of Digital, Cyber Security and Analytics. We had a great debate and banter until, one of my colleagues commented when a staff member gets malware he wants to “cut off their hand”.

The idea of punishing someone for getting Malware is abhorrent to myself. But if you are a CISO, then you have mobilise your team and address the issue. But what is the right answer here:

The case to punish

It is simple, the respective individual has been irresponsible and created a risk for the business by visiting a site or clicking a link. For that they should be punished and bring out the big stick.

The stick, will start to change the behavior of the staff that don’t care or are reckless. This makes the CISO and his team, potentially seen as the police who exist to catch the bad guys both internally and externally.

The case against punishing

Again, the principle is simple. If you want to punish staff for getting malware, then this will mean that this goes unreported or at least is delayed as the consequences are feared.

When it comes to malware, we just need to have the issue addressed as soon as possible and then this can be isolated. By making the CISO a more benevolent manager that does not punish a staff member and even avoids scolding that person.

Read more: The Failed Promise of New Cyber Security approaches.

Let’s remember that malware when it is phishing is targeting executives and board members. I don’t think punishing them or scolding is a good career move.

Read more: The IT-security divide is limiting full cyber attack chain analysis, expert warns

New thinking on this problem

Recently, I came across a new startup that is attempting to tackle this issue using employee-based intrusion prevention system with automated phishing-mitigation response. Ironscales out of Israel is a startup that trains staff for malware using gamification – employees are presented with simulations of real-world email phishing attacks.

I think you get the picture about being battle hardened and prepared for the enemy. In this case staff are the front line of the attack and when they are able to spot a malware attack, they become assets rather than the liability.

Should I Reward Behaviour?

Yes, I think that is the only way to combat this threat. By engaging your team with ‘carrot and stick’ then perhaps you stand a better chance. Put simply you can offer a ‘carrot’ to staff that report malware, or go further and look at options such as Ironscales.

Originally I thought that this might be taking it too far, to reward staff for reporting this the helpdesk, but that is better than just punishing them for telling you.

It is a dilemma, and if you get the tension right it will help you with this battle.


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