Parting thoughts 2: the need for education in security

Posted by   Martijn Grooten on   Dec 18, 2019

At the end of this month, I will step down as Editor of Virus Bulletin. Before I do so, I will share some 'parting thoughts' in five blog posts, based on my experience working in the IT security industry.

Education has long been an important part of security: from security evangelists giving security advice in the media to companies holding phishing training for their staff. Whole companies have been founded with the sole purpose of delivering security education either in general or focused on a specific aspect of security.

Indeed, as IT, and thus IT security, has become ever more integrated into our lives, a basic understanding of security is important for everyone. It is certainly important for anyone working in IT to be regularly educated on the latest threats and techniques to mitigate them.

But the ubiquity of IT in today's society also means that security has long ceased to be an add-on – a product you run, like an anti-virus product or a firewall, that keeps you safe but doesn't interfere much with other processes and systems.

And this is why education matters. A different kind of education though: not one where security experts tell non-experts the best way to make their systems secure, but one in which the former listen to the latter and understand their specific problems and constraints.

And though, in my time at Virus Bulletin, I have been on the other side too and have decided not to apply patches to servers or to remove network segmentation, I often find myself falling into the trap of providing blanket advice that ignores the context in which this advice is to be applied.

This became all the more apparent when, earlier this year, I started doing some work on stalkerware: mobile malware used in many domestic abuse situations. I realised how little I knew about domestic abuse, yet how vital this knowledge was for giving any kind of meaningful advice on stalkerware.

Whether it is about stalkerware, about the complexities of running IT in a large enterprise, or about the constraints of doing so in small company, security experts too often give advice without understanding the subtleties of the context in which it is to be applied.

So in 2020 and beyond, let us focus on being more educated: talk to users. Talk to system administrators and developers. Go to their conferences and learn how they do their things. And adapt our message accordingly.




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