Human beings are complex creatures of habit. We do the things we do, by and large, because that’s the way that we’ve always done them. The same can be said of cultures in our society and even in the organizations for which we work. In terms of long-term business viability, culture is everything — especially as it relates to information security. Culture, good or bad, is the ultimate determinant of whether a business can build and sustain a resilient network environment and stay out of hot water in terms of information risk.

The Importance of Security Culture

A strong security culture is both a mindset and mode of operation. One that’s integrated into day-to-day thinking and decision-making can make for a near-impenetrable operation. Conversely, a security culture that’s absent will facilitate uncertainty and, ultimately, lead to security incidents that you likely can’t afford to take on.

This often happens because everyone is literally working in silos — you know, the very thing that those of us in the industry are quick to proclaim is bad for security. Rather than being helpful and doing what they can to truly improve security, these people are often doing what’s in their own best interests, sometimes even to sabotage each other or the overall business. I’ve seen it across many roles, from network admins to chief information officers (CIOs) and many others in between.

Recently, I was speaking with a colleague about a large organization that he was doing some work for. He noticed how everyone under the IT umbrella, including those responsible for security, were super upbeat and motivated when it came to security projects. Everyone was working toward the same goals, and it showed in where they stood technically and operationally. I’ve seen this as well, and it really stands out.

Regardless of the size or industry of the business, there are some organizations that just click, and everyone seems to be moving in the same direction in terms of information security and privacy. More often, however, I’ve seen just the opposite: Where there may be a champion for security, but his or her words are falling on deaf ears. Those situations don’t usually end well.

What Can Be Done?

Do what you must to minimize the disconnect, apathy, silos and self-interests related to information security. A big part of this involves creating a security training program that’s periodic and consistent. Another part that’s often missing is to encourage and support security training among IT and security staff members, as well as software developers and quality assurance professionals. A reward system that’s tied into compensation can serve as a great motivator. The key is that everyone must be on board.

It all starts at the top. Executive management that’s interested in fostering a positive security culture — and does so without fail — is mandatory if the risks of a breach are to be minimized. However, this layer is often absent or minimal at best. People are quick to blame executives for their lack of support. But in many cases, accountability and responsibility are just as much in the hands of IT and security staff members. People choosing to work in a vacuum rather than assimilate into something bigger that’s working toward the organization’s goals creates just as many security problems as disinterested executives.

Your employees — managers, peers and subordinates alike — are all watching to see what you do. Not unlike how children watch what their parents do and how they handle things in their daily lives, your employees are looking to see if your actions speak louder than your words. Do what’s right and get started now. This stuff takes time.

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