Security Decision-Making: When Decisions Are Based on Fear Rather Than Fact

On any given day, in enterprises large and small, many decisions are made about information security. The decision-making that goes into running a strong program is critical. Some security decisions are made consciously by well-informed individuals. Others are based on assumptions — often half-baked information about the current network security posture.

Fear Impacts Decision-Making

In many situations, security decisions are based on fear:

  • The fear of losing a job or otherwise negatively impacting a career;
  • The fear of losing the respect of management and peers;
  • The fear of getting into trouble with auditors or the law.

This fear is a normal part of how we work as humans. In every choice we make, there’s either a desire for gain or a fear of loss. The problem is, I’m seeing more and more critical security decisions being made from this negative angle rather than from a positive perspective based on facts and common sense. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Even so, too many decisions are based on misinformation at best or no information at worst. They’re often highly political and rarely in the best interest of the business. A lot of the time, money and effort are being wasted. Of all areas of business, information security is not the place to squander critical resources.

Every Decision Counts

Whether or not IT and security professionals will admit it, we humans are creatures of emotion. The common perception (especially in IT and security) is that people make decisions logically, but it’s actually just the opposite. People decide on things emotionally and justify them logically. Simply understanding how we operate can help tremendously when it comes to making your own choices and dealing with the decisions of others that impact your work.

Security improvements come from lots of small, seemingly meaningless decisions made with good intentions. Everything you do — or don’t do — in security counts. My favorite lyricist, Neil Peart of the band Rush, once wrote that if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. Some people bury their heads in the sand and don’t want to acknowledge their security problems, but that’s not for you.

Dig your well before you’re thirsty. Decide that you’re going to focus on making sound security decisions in the best interest of the business. Form a security committee. Work to get and keep others on your side. Lead by example. People all around you, from your executives to your users to your colleagues outside of the business, are continually framing their opinions of you based on your choices and how you deal with theirs. Fear is a natural part of how we all operate. Just don’t let it define you, your role or information security in your organization.

These issues are complex at the core, yet they’re simple to deal with. It’s up to you to make it happen.

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Kevin Beaver

Independent Information Security Consultant

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, writer and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC. With over 28 years of experience in IT and 22 years specializing in security, Kevin performs independent security assessments and helps businesses uncheck the boxes that keep creating a false sense of security. He has authored/co-authored 12 books on information security, including the best-selling "Hacking For Dummies" and "The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance." In addition, Kevin is the creator of the Security On Wheels information security audiobooks and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. You can learn more and link to Kevin's articles, blog posts, videos and more at his website, www.principlelogic.com.