Andrea Limbago on the effects of security’s branding problem

The O’Reilly Security Podcast: The multidiscliplinary nature of defense, making security accessible, and how the current perception of security professionals hinders innovation and hiring.

By Courtney Allen
October 12, 2017
Dome Dome (source: Pxhere public domain)

In this episode of the Security Podcast, I talk with Andrea Limbago, chief social scientist at Endgame. We discuss how the misperception of security as a computer science skillset ultimately restricts innovation, the need to make security easier and accessible for everyone, and how current branding of security can discourage newcomers.

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The multidisciplinary nature of defense

The general perception is that security is a skillset in the computer science domain. As I’ve been in the industry for several years, I’ve noticed more and more the need for different disciplines, outside of computer science, within security. For example, we need data scientists to help handle the vast amount of security data and guide the daily collection and analysis of data. Another example is the need to craft accessible user interfaces for security. So many of the existing security tools or best practices just aren’t user friendly. Of course, you also need that computer science expertise as well–from the more traditional hackers to defenders. All that insight can come together to help inform a more resilient defense. Beyond that, there’s the consideration of the impact of economics and psychology. This is especially relevant when you think about insider threat. It’s really something I wish more people would think about in a broader perspective, and I think that would actually help attract a lot more people into the industry as well, which we desperately need right now.

Making security accessible and easier for all

We need to do a better job of informing the general public about security. Those of us in the security field see information on how to secure our accounts and devices all the time, but I consistently come across people outside of our industry who still don’t understand things like two-factor authentication, or why that would be helpful for them. These are very smart people. Part of the challenge is we, as an industry, haven’t done a phenomenal job branching out and talking in more common language about the various aspects and steps people can take.

People know they need to be secure, but they really don’t know what the key steps are. This month for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, there are going to be hundreds of ‘Here are 10 things you need to do to be secure’-style articles, but these messages are not always making their way to the actual target audience. It needs to become more of a mainstream concern, and it needs to be made easier for people to secure their accounts and devices. We talk a lot about the convenience versus security trade-off, and for a lot of people, convenience is still what matters most. It’s really hard to switch the incentive structure for people to help them understand that taking all these steps toward better security truly is worth the investment of their time. For us, as an industry, if we make it as easy as possible, I think that will help.

Security has a branding problem

We need to do a better job of making security appealing to a broader audience. When I talk to students and ask them what they think about security and cyber security and hacking, they immediately think of a guy in a dark hoodie. And that alone is limiting people from getting excited about entering the workforce. Obviously, the discipline and the industry is much broader than that. We, as an industry, need to rework our marketing campaigns to show other kinds of stock photos. If we can do that, we can start getting more and more diverse people interested and coming into the industry. By attracting the interest of a broader range of students and having them bring their diverse skillsets in from other disciplines, we can strengthen our defenses and increase innovation. If we change the branding of security and the perception of what it means to be a security professional, we can help fill the pipeline, which is one of our most crucial missions as an industry at this time.

Post topics: O'Reilly Security Podcast