Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Security Mentality: Scary Security Guy?

I act as a stand-in instructor for an undergraduate security class a couple of times a year. Typically, I teach an hour or so about physical security, and lecture in coordination with the campus data center manager about data center security and operational security at the university. I tell a number of stories, and offer examples of how security design is done on campuses, as well as in the students' every day lives.

Each time I lecture, I ask the instructor about the feedback from the class. Typically, there is positive feedback, and often there is something interesting that the students will pick up on. The most recent class, however, had something new to say:

"Your friend is scary".

I'm used to scaring our datacenter manager - the security analyst's approach to systems is something I've talked about before. He knows that I analyze based on risk, and that while I may enumerate a wide variety of risks, that I'll work with him on the most plausible, and dangerous risks. The students, however, aren't used to assessing risk in the same manner, and don't think like analysts would.

This points out a problem: people rarely react well to things that are scary, and we don't want to be seen as paranoids. How can we avoid being the scary security analyst?

In general, we need to do three things:

  1. Choose our battles wisely, and avoid being Chicken Little.
  2. Be helpful, even when describing risk: cast the risk as an opportunity, or offer useful assistance and guidance.
  3. Teach security mentality when possible.

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