“When you get it wrong, you measure it in the number of people that die”. That’s the view of risk that Andrew Macleod, Organizational Leader and Former Managing Director of Good Super, brings. As a former soldier, he has negotiated with the Taliban and worked in some of the most volatile places in the world.
During his closing keynote address at this year’s Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit, Macleod related his experiences working in Pakistan and other parts of the world.
“Good leaders always want to be told when they’re wrong, before the screw up”, he says. And while this might not seem relevant for information security professionals, it a point Macleod says is critical. He says the culture fostered in organisations, by leaders and exemplified through their actions and ethics, can create an environment where security risks can be reduced.
“Spear-phishing works best in companies where people are afraid to question authority. When those emails come, spear-phishing, people will act on those emails if they’re too scared to tell their boss when they’re wrong”.
When it comes to communicating the risks around cyber threats, Macleod says the way we communicate is critical. He noted an old axiom that states you never win a logical argument with emotion or an emotional argument with logic. Also, communication is about what people hear and not what people say. His third point was you never win an argument about fear with hope – you win with a bigger fear.
These are important points when communicating the risks around infosec threats.
Don’t make yourself a target
While most of the information security industry focuses on mitigating the risks of a cyber-attack through defensive measures, Macleod spent a large part of his talk pointing out that the best way to mitigate risks was to simply not make yourself a target. And a big part of this comes from how your company behaves.
He pointed out the massive loss of value, that will never be recouped, by Volkswagen. In deliberately falsifying the way emissions test results were reported, that company has been irrevocably damaged.
And while the exact chain of command that allowed the cheating to occur is still being argued, it’s clear that the company’s culture somehow created an environment where it was deemed acceptable to try to deceive the emissions testing protocols.
Macleod says you need to reduce the number of people who want to attack you. Companies need to take responsibility for their actions. Provide positive value for communities, not just make yourself look good but to actually do good.
Part of this is by creating shared value in the community. For example, BHP looked at the spread of Malaria around Mozambique, where they operated a gold mine. With in excess of 90% of the adult population infected, there were massive social issues associated with this illness. And the company was affected as its workforce had high rates of illness-related absenteeism.
By investing in the local community to reduce the impact of malaria from almost every adult to around 5%, BHP shared the value of their local health initiatives. The community benefited and the company saw a productivity boost.
In addition, the theft of gold from the mine, was greatly reduced.
By sharing value with the community, corporate risk was also reduced.
Macleod says the first line of security is acceptance and that risk management is about staff, asset and value protection. Increasingly, access to funds for companies will not only be determined by the value of their assets but by demonstrating a robust risk management strategy.
This includes not only addressing direct threats but by creating a culture in the organisation that supports positive behaviours that are reflected in the community in order to mitigate the incentives for malicious actors who want to attack.