Skip to main content

Are You Going to the 'Security Theatre'?

'Security Theatre' was a term coined by Bruce Scheiner in his book Beyond Fear and basically describes a situation, where a security countermeasure offers little or no protection from a real threat, but is simply applied in order to increase the feeling of being secure.

The term has generally been applied to many of the counter-terrorism scenario's we now face during our daily lives.  An example could include the sight of armed guards at airports (when really they're carrying unloaded guns) or the stop and search mentally of police forces (when in fact very few people are charged from this).

However, this approach is often being used by organisations in an attempt to secure corporate information assets.  Let me take for example, the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002, which saw many financial services organisations hurriedly implement new teams to manage the access review and control processes for their SOX 'critical' application estate.  Budgets became skewed and if any project or programme had a SOX related requirement, it was certainly handled with a lot more haste and attention than one with out.  Whilst SOX is a US federal law, there is a stringent requirement to comply, otherwise face the consequences.

SOX ten years on, has generally been merged into the 'business as usual' approach to information security, with the requirements wrapped up in the operational and risk management catalogue.  Whilst finite budget is spent on one aspect of information security, it can't be spent twice and is therefore is unavailable for other emerging threats, legacy risks and other general BAU activities.

Whilst SOX was the 'buzz' of say 8-10 years ago, 2012 will probably be focused on BYOD, cyberthreat, APT and 'hacktivism'.  Whilst each in their own right are credible threats, affecting each organisation in a different way, an information security policy cannot secure against every potential new or emerging threat simultaneously.  The cost would be prohibitive.

This can often leave information security departments in a situation where they are propelled to develop a countermeasure of some level, in order to either satisfy internal board level pressure or simply look as if they're acting in a controlled and responsible manner.

The theatrical countermeasures could simply be procedural changes, but they are often highly visible in order to represent an increased 'feeling' of security.  For example - all intranet connections must use an HTTPS connection with perhaps a self-minted certificate.  It 'looks' secure.  End users who are unaware of the complexities of IT and information security, see the padlock within their browser and make a connection with the thought of security.  The process is in effect potentially fruitless, if for example, the web server is not hardened, or shared passwords are being used to access or maintain it.  But the required result, is the 'feeling' of being secure.

IT and information security departments are often seen as a cost centre to the organisation - they cost money but don't generate revenue.  Whilst this is a short term and inaccurate view, many smaller and medium sized organisations are often constrained by this approach.

Whilst 'security theatre' can at times have the desired affect, a true information security approach must be based on a continually changing risk framework for the organisation, to help identify where the true threats and vulnerabilities lie.  This can then help align counter measures, that are not only cost effective, but truly help improve information asset protection and not just act as the sometimes welcomed 'placebo effect'.

(Simon Moffatt)






Popular posts from this blog

Customer Data: Convenience versus Security

Organisations in both the public and private sector are initiating programmes of work to convert previously physical or offline services, into more digital, on line and automated offerings.  This could include things like automated car tax purchase, through to insurance policy management and electricity meter reading submission and reporting.

Digitization versus Security

This move towards a more on line user experience, brings together several differing forces.  Firstly the driver for end user convenience and service improvement, against the requirements of data security and privacy.  Which should win?  There clearly needs to be a balance of security against service improvement.  Excessive and prohibitive security controls would result in a complex and often poor user experience, ultimately resulting in fewer users.  On the other hand, poorly defined security architectures, lead to data loss, with the impact for personal exposure and brand damage.

Top 5 Security Predictions for 2016

It's that time of year again, when the retrospective and predictive blogs come out of the closet, just before the Christmas festivities begin.  This time last year, the 2015 predictions were an interesting selection of both consumer and enterprise challenges, with a focus on:


Customer Identity ManagementThe start of IoT security awarenessReduced Passwords on MobileConsumer PrivacyCloud Single Sign On
In retrospect, a pretty accurate and ongoing list.  Consumer related identity (cIAM) is hot on most organisation's lips, and whilst the password hasn't died (and probably never will) there are more people using things like swipe login and finger print authentication than ever before.

But what will 2016 bring?


Mobile Payments to be Default for Consumers

2015 has seen the rise in things like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay hitting the consumer high street with venom.  Many retail outlets now provide the ability to "tap and pay" using a mobile device, with many banks also offer…

Online-ification: The Role of Identity

The Wikipedia entry for Digital Transformation, "refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society".  That is a pretty broad statement.

An increased digital presence however, is being felt across all lines of both public and private sector initiatives, reaching everything from being able to pay your car tax on line, through to being able to order a taxi based on your current location.  This increased focus on the 'online-ification' of services and content, drives a need for a loosely coupled and strong view of an individual or thing based digital identity.