Sunday, December 4, 2016

Airports, Goats, Computers, and Users

Last week I had the joy traveling through airports right after the United States Thanksgiving holiday. Now I don't know how many of you have ever tried to travel the week after Thanksgiving but it's kind of crazy, there are a lot of people, way more than usual, and a significant number of them have probably never been on an airplane or if they travel by air they don't do it very often. The joke I like to tell people is that there are folks at the airport wondering why they can't bring their goat onto the airplane. I’m not going to use this post to discuss the merits of airport security (that’s a whole different conversation), it’s really about coexisting with existing security systems.

Now on this trip I didn't see any goats, I was hoping to see something I could classify as truly bizarre, so this was a disappointment to me. There were two dogs but they were surprisingly well behaved. However, all the madness I witnessed got me thinking about Security in an environment where a substantial number of the users are woefully unaware of the security all around them. The frequent travelers know how things work, they keep it moving smoothly, they’re aware of the security and make sure they stay out of trouble. It’s not about if something makes you more or less secure, it’s about the goal of getting from the door to the plane as quickly and painlessly as possible. Many of the infrequent travels aren’t worry about moving through the airport quickly, they’re worried about getting their stuff onto the plane. Some of this stuff shouldn’t be brought through an airport.

Now let’s think about how computer security works for most organizations. You’re not dealing with the frequent travels, you’re dealing with the holiday horde trying to smuggle a jug of motor oil through security. It’s not that these people are bad or stupid, it’s really just that they don’t worry about how things work, they’re not going to be back in the airport until next Thanksgiving. In a lot of organizations the users aren’t trying to be stupid, they just don’t understand security in a lot of instances. Browsing Facebook on the work computer isn’t seen as a bad idea, it’s their version of smuggling contraband through airport security. They don’t see what it hurts, they’re not worried about the general flow of things. If their computer gets ransomware it’s not really their problem. We’ve pushed security off to another group nobody really likes.

What does this all mean? I’m not looking to solve this problem, it’s well known that you can’t fix problems until you understand them. I just happened to notice this trend while making my way through the airport, looking for a goat. It’s not that users are stupid, they’re not as clueless as we think either, they’re just not invested in the process. It’s not something they want to care about, it’s something preventing them from doing what they want to. Can we get them invested in the airport process?

If I had to guess, we’re never going to fix users, we have to fix the tools and environment.