Posts

Security Awareness Programs Like Mushy Overnight Oats?

To diagnose your under-performing cyber security awareness programs, all you need to do is look at my breakfast today. My daughter introduced me to overnight oats. “It’s the perfect breakfast, Dad – full of energy, takes no time at all, packed with simple, healthy ingredients like oatmeal, almond milk and peanut butter”, she said. “That’s what I need!”, I said, “All of the power with none of the fuss”. So I took her recipe and promptly ignored it. I added cottage cheese, chia and some lemon – because if it was already good, I was going to  make it even better.

What I got was curdled mush that crawled out of the bowl like John Cusack’s dinner in Better off Dead. The theory of overnight oats was brilliant. It was my execution that made me gag.

Many security awareness programs choke on their own ingredients because, like my overnight oats, they don’t follow a recipe when they plan the program. The have no overarching security “end” in mind at the beginning, to paraphrase Stephen Covey. Empowering the human element of cyber security is the cultural ingredient that many organizations overlook. Think about tweaking your recipe a bit to make it more than palatable.

A Recipe for Effective Security Awareness Programs

One byproduct of serving as the opening keynote speaker for hundreds of security awareness programs around the world (in addition to the bottomless pit of mileage points I’ve earned), is that I have dined amidst training programs, OVER and OVER again, that leave me hungering for more substance and lots more flavor. Here is my simple recipe for a filling, enjoyable and effective Security Awareness Program:

Ingredients (For a Culture of Security that Cooks):

  • (1-3) C-Level Executive(s) who “Believe” (Ownership)
  • (1) Cross-Functional Business Case w/ Compelling ROI (Strategy)
  • High-Engagement Content Rooted in Personal Security (Methodology)
  • (6-12) Regular, Engaging Follow-on “Snacks” (Sustenance)
  • (1) Feedback Dashboard to Measure “Diner” Response (Metrics)

Ownership. Failing to have a highly-communicative Chief Executive leading your initiative is like expecting a 3-Star Michelin rating from a fast-food cook. You must have high-level “buy-in” for your program to work. I’m not talking about the CISO, CRO, CIO or CTO here – that would just be preaching to the choir. The missing cook in awareness programs tends to be a security “believer” from the executive team. Successful security awareness programs are clearly led, repeatedly broadcast and constantly emphasized from the top of the organization, all with an attitude of authenticity and immediacy. Whether served up by your CEO at an annual gathering or by your Board of Directors to kick off National Cyber Security Awareness Month, your security champion must become an evangelist for defending your data.

Strategy. Don’t expect to randomly add security ingredients to the bowl and blindly hope they mix well together. You’ll just end up with curdled oatmeal. Approach your program strategically, and devise a recipe to protect your intellectual property, critical data and return on information assets. You are competing for resources, so build a compelling business case that demonstrates the organization’s ROI in business terms, not buried in techno-babble. What did it cost your competitor when ransomware froze their operation for a week? How much would the training have cost to avoid the CEO whaling scheme that lost a similar-sized company $47 million? What do the owners of  compliance, HR and I.T. have to add to the meal? The most successful security awareness programs have a budget, a staff (however small) and cross-departmental support. Involve the business team and other stakeholders up front to leverage their expertise before rollout.

Methodology. Here is a litmus test for the potential effectiveness of your security awareness program: Does it begin by focusing on the critical information assets and devices inside of your organization? If so, it’s probably doomed. Why? Because your employees are human beings and they want to know how this affects them personally before they willingly invest time to protect the corporate coffers. Excellent security awareness kicks off by making data protection personal – by building ownership before education. From there, the training must be engaging (dare I say fun!?) and interactive (live social-engineering) so that your audience members pay attention and apply what they learn. Death-By-PowerPoint slides will permanently put behavioral change to sleep. Highly-effective programs build a foundational security reflex (proactive skepticism), and are interesting enough to compete against cute puppy videos, smartphone farm games and our undying desire for a conference-room cat nap.

Sustenance. Best practice security awareness training, like a five-course meal, doesn’t end with the appetizer. Yes, kickoff is best achieved with a high-energy, personally relevant, in-person presentation that communicates the emotional and financial consequences of data loss. But that is only the beginning of the meal. From there, your team needs consistent, entertaining follow-up education to keep the fire alive. For example, we have found short, funny, casual video tips on the latest cyber threats to be highly effective. And lunch workshops on protecting personal devices. And incentive programs for safe behavior. And so on. Culture matures by feeding it consistently.

Measurement.If you don’t measure your progress (and actually demonstrate some), no one will fund next year’s dining budget. What are your Security Awareness Training KPIs, your key metrics? How did successful phishing attacks decline as a byproduct of your program? Has user awareness of threats, policy and solutions increased? How many employees showed up for the Cyber Security Awareness Month keynote and fair? How department-specific are your training modules – or does one size fit all? When you can show quantitative progress, you will have the backing to continue building your qualitative culture of security.

And now, back to the meal. In spite of the lemon juice that further curdled the cottage cheese and ruined my oats, I was still hungry, so I ended up choking them down, vowing to listen to my daughter next time. And I hope you will listen to me this time: Approach your security awareness program like you are planning a feast for guests who matter a great deal to you. Because your uneducated employees, unprotected customer data, and invaluable intellectual capital are exactly what cybercriminals are eating for breakfast.

What are the greatest gaps you see in Security Awareness Programs? Please share your brilliance below.


John Sileo loves his role as a keynote “energizer” for Cyber Security Awareness Programs. He specializes in making security fun, so that it sticks. His clients include the Pentagon, Schwab and some organizations so small (and security conscious) that you won’t have even heard of them. John has been featured on 60 Minutes, recently cooked meatballs with Rachel Ray and got started in cyber security when he lost everything, including his $2 million software business, to cybercrime.

Equifax Data Breach Protection Tips

How to Protect Yourself from the Equifax Data Breach

Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies disclosed that hackers compromised Social Security and driver’s license numbers as well as names, birthdates, addresses and some credit cards on more than 143 million Americans. If you have a credit profile, you were probably affected.

Credit reporting companies collect and sell vast troves of consumer data from your buying habits to your credit worthiness, making this quite possibly the most destructive data security breach in history. By hacking Equifax, the criminals were able to get all of your personally identifying information in a one-stop shop. This is the third major cybersecurity breach at Equifax since 2015, demonstrating that they continue to place profits over consumer protection. Ultimately, their negligence will erode their margins, their credibility and their position as one of the big three.

But that isn’t your concern – your concern is protecting yourself and your family from the abuse of that stolen information that will happen over the next 3 years.

Minimize Your Risk from the Equifax Data Breach

  1. Assume that your identity has been compromised. Don’t take a chance that you are one of the very few adult American’s that aren’t affected. It’s not time to panic, it’s time to act.
  2. If you want to see the spin that Equifax is putting on the story, visit their website. Here’s how the story usually develops: 1. They announce the breach and say that fraud hasn’t been detected 2. A few days later when you aren’t paying attention, they retract that statement because fraud is happening, 3. Sometime after that they admit that more people, more identity and more fraud took place than originally thought. They encourage you to sign up for their free monitoring (which you should do), but it does nothing to actually prevent identity theft, it just might help you catch it when it happens.
  3. I recommend placing a verbal password on all of your bank accounts and credit cards so that criminals can’t use the information they have from the breach to socially engineer their way into your accounts. Call your banks and credit card companies and request a “call-in” password be placed on your account.
  4. Begin monitoring your bank, credit card and credit accounts on a regular basis. Consider watching this video and then setting up account alerts to make this process easier.
  5. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get your credit report from the three credit reporting bureaus to see if there are any newly established, fraudulent accounts set up. DON’T JUST CHECK EQUIFAX, AS THE CRIMINALS HAVE ENOUGH OF YOUR DATA TO ABUSE YOUR CREDIT THROUGH ALL THREE BUREAUS.
  6. MOST IMPORTANTLY, FREEZE YOUR CREDIT. The video above walks you through why this is such an important step. Some websites and cybersecurity experts will tell you to simply place a fraud alert on your three credit profiles. I am telling you that this isn’t strong enough to protect your credit. Freezing your credit puts a password on your credit profile, so that criminals can’t apply for credit in your name (unless they steal your password too). Here are the credit freeze websites and phone numbers for each bureau. Equifax is being overwhelmed by requests, so be patient and keep trying. Even if it doesn’t happen today, you need to Freeze Your Credit!

Equifax Credit Freeze
P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, Georgia 30348
Toll-Free: 1.800.685.1111

TransUnion Credit Freeze
Fraud Victim Assistance Department P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834
Toll-Free: 1.888.909.8872

Experian Credit Freeze
P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013
Toll-Free: 1.888.397.3742

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on cybersecurity. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Trump Russia Investigation Update: Did Campaign HELP Russians Plot Disinformation Strategy?

Honestly, we don’t know yet. There was a time when our voting preferences, our political leanings, our policy choices were our own business. Now they are someone else’s business, quite literally. There are so many stories coming out about Donald Trump’s connections to and collusion with the Russians that it is getting hard to keep these accusations straight. Here’s the latest:

Trump Russia Investigation Update

The key word is help. As in, actively provide information that the Russians may not have been able to discover on their own. “Help” is not a synonym for encourage, appreciate or enjoy.

Without getting too political (because after all, this is a cyber security blog), here are the basics of the Trump-Russia Investigation from a cyber security perspective:

  1. The Trump campaign had possession of a huge amount of information about American voters from Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm hired to help collect and use social media information to identify and persuade voters to vote (or not vote), through an activity known as political micro-targeting.
  2. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser in the White House, was head of digital strategy during the campaign, meaning he was overseeing this effort to micro-target voters.
  3. The Russians unleashed bots, or robotic commands, that swept across the Internet and picked up fake news stories or harshly critical news stories about Hillary Clinton and disseminated them across the United States. By Election Day, these bots had delivered critical and phony news about the Democratic presidential nominee to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of millions of voters.
  4. Some investigators suspect the Russians micro-targeted voters in swing states, even in key precincts where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton.

So the question is this: Did the Trump campaign, using what we assume to be lawfully-obtained micro-targeted voter intelligence, give access to the Russians so that they could point harmful disinformation campaigns at those vulnerable  jurisdictions?

Many top security analysts doubt Russian operatives could have independently “known where to specifically target … to which high-impact states and districts in those states.” As Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said recently, “I get the fact that the Russian intel services could figure out how to manipulate and use the bots. Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren’t even aware (of) really raises some questions … How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?”

And that is Senator Mark Warner’s mistake – that the micro-targeting had to be so specific that it only hit potential Trump voters in certain jurisdictions. It did not. The campaigns could have been aimed at every person in that state, let alone the jurisdiction, only touching the opinions of those who were ready to hear the message. A phishing campaign isn’t sent only to those people in an organization most vulnerable to that type of social engineering – it is sent to everyone, and the most vulnerable are the only ones that respond. Similarly, it was good enough for Russia to cast their anti-Hillary message in the general vicinity of the target; there was no need for a bullseye to render the disinformation campaign to be effective. Those who received the message but were slightly outside of the voter profile or geographical jurisdiction simply recognized it for what it was, false news. The rest were unethically influenced.

But we don’t know yet if there is a connection between the micro-targeting big data purchased by the campaign and the Russian botnet disinformation attack.  We do know, however, that Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the election – and that is what we as cyber security experts, must focus on. 

Either way – collusion or not – the implications against our privacy (let alone the political ramifications of foreign entities influencing our election process) are huge. Remember, the Trump campaign had obtained this huge volume of information on every voter, maybe as much as 500 points of data from what kind of food do they eat to what are their attitudes about health care reform or climate change. And yes, I’m sure the Democrats had much of the same information and probably didn’t “play fair” either. The point is that we have gotten so far beyond just accepting that our personal information is readily available and easily manipulated that no one is even bringing up that part of the story.

We, America, have been lulled into allowing everyone else – corporations, our government, even foreign nations – to have more access to our data footprint than even we do. 

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on cyber security. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Investigate Russian Hacking for Security, Not Politics (and get on with governing)

Our national security depends on cyber security, and Russian hacking threatens those defenses. Every day that I come to work, I see an erosion of traditional power structures at the hands of increasing cyber threats. The hacking of Yahoo by Russian operatives and the DNC are two such examples that have potentially shifted the balance of power from our marketplace and political sphere into the hands of Vladimir Putin, Russian cyber criminals and anyone piggybacking on their technology. Now that Roger Stone, an administration advisor, has admitted to contact with the DNC hacker (Guccifer 2.0), the ties are too direct to ignore. But we shouldn’t be doing this for purely political reasons, we should be doing it to clear our President and his administration of wrongdoing so that they can go on about governing the country and implementing their vision. 

If we don’t investigate the potential Russian hacking of the DNC with a thoroughness similar or better than the Yahoo hack, we are as much as admitting defeat in the cyber realm and simultaneously suggesting a coverup for political expediency. This isn’t about a single politician, this is about an entire political system. Cyber IS the new warfare, and we as a nation can acknowledge it now or after it is generally too late (which is what most corporations do). We don’t just need to get to the bottom of administration involvement, we need to get to the bottom of how Russian has inserted itself firmly in the midst of our democracy via hacking, trolling and kompromat (a Russian term for compromised materials, like hacked emails and tax records). 

Here are my recommendations for proceeding to have a neutral investigation of the charges so that we can clear our President and move on to discovering the source or our weakness: 

  1. Name a bipartisan select committee to investigate the alleged Russian hacking of our presidential election and President Trump’s ties to Russia. As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I’m certain that the administration has nothing to hide. But doing nothing sends exactly the opposite message – one of coverups and collusion for the sake of an election. 
  2. Since both Intelligence Committee Chairmen, Senator Burr and Representative Nunes, have close ties to President Trump, their involvement gives the appearance of bias. Taking a page from the book of Attorney General Sessions, both should recuse themselves from the investigation to eliminate all accusations of impropriety. 
  3. Appoint a well-respected Republican to chair the investigation so that it will be neutral, aggressive and fair. This is the only way to quiet the suspicion of corruption. Again, since the administration has nothing to fear, this is the only way to make the findings credible. To have colluded with Russia in any way would have been political suicide, so let’s prove this conversation false once and for all. 
  4. As part of it’s process, the committee would be wise to review Trump’s tax returns (in a confidential, non-public setting) to dispel any beliefs about his business or financial ties to Russia (of which he has assured us there are none) and extinguish two myths with a single stroke. 
  5. Commission an external, forensic cyber-penetration test to determine where the weaknesses lie within our cyber security so that loopholes can be closed before the next attack. This MUST be an external audit because there is too much at stake to leave this to governmental IT teams just trying to keep their jobs. Like students grading their own papers without oversight, unscrutinized self-assessments are necessarily faulty assessments. 

The end game of this investigation should be apolitical and focused on righting the cyber weaknesses inherent in our national cyber infrastructure.

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.