2 Cybersecurity Skills You Can Apply to Combat Racism

Can a few cybersecurity skills we likely already know be employed to fight racism and discrimination? I think so. Here’s why.

Many people are wondering how they can apply what they do on a daily basis to making a dent in our racism problem.

I know I am.

So I’ve been thinking a bunch about how the concepts and approaches I work with could be applied to combating systemic racism.*

I realized two of the best-known ideas used in security training and awareness translate pretty nicely to the issues in the news. Maybe more of us can take the skills we already practice around cybersecurity and apply them to our social lives?

#1 If You See Something, Say Something

My colleague Jeremy Schwartz recently reminded me that one of the most powerful sayings used in the cybersecurity awareness field—“If you see something, say something”—was just ridiculously well suited to this moment in America when we’re freshly conscious of racism.

First used as a prod to people to report suspected terrorist activity in the wake of 9/11 and officially licensed to the Department of Homeland Security, the term has been borrowed to support the reporting of cybersecurity and privacy incidents in the workplace. The saying is a pithy reminder that one of the most important ways to reduce risk is to call it out when you see it.

No Time for Silence

But this phrase, when applied to racism, is equally powerful. Too often people SEE the racism in our society, in our colleagues, and sometimes, uncomfortably, in ourselves. And too often we just let it pass. We don’t speak up, call it out, assert that it is wrong. And we need to change that.

We don’t need a hotline where we report signs of racism like we report terrorism or security incidents. Instead, we need a collective commitment that we’re no longer going to let racist behavior and language go unremarked and un-challenged.

When we see or hear racism, we need to say something.

We need to say something to the friend who makes a derogatory remark or tells a joke based on race.

We need to say something when we’re on a hiring committee and we see the chance to expand the field to include a more diverse range of candidates.

And we may even need to have a word with ourselves when we find ourselves acting on unfounded biases based on race.

Because ultimately, most of us have a pretty good sense of right and wrong. We know that racial bias is hurtful and destructive and wrong, and we don’t want to live in a world that includes racism.

#2 Think Before You Click

The single biggest thing an individual can do to improve cybersecurity practices is to avoid clicking on links in phishing email messages, thus the popular phrase: “Think Before You Click.”

When it comes to phishing and other forms of social engineering, this mental model is all about slowing down, looking at the contextual cues, and then making a rational decision about how to act. It’s about recognizing that cyber criminals are attempting to prey on your emotions and vulnerabilities, getting really good at recognizing social engineering, and being willing to just delete stuff that seems dubious.

Detecting Misinformation

I often joke that the world would be a better place if we were all better at detecting and suppressing the misinformation. And what better time to practice our skills in spotting bogus information than now, with the mass media coverage of the events in the wake of the George Floyd murder?

While the Fox News photoshopping of Seattle protests may be the best-known “fake news” moment to date, the amount of misinformation associated with the protests has mushroomed over the last several weeks. These provide us all with the chance to think before we click on and share news stories. Just as our inboxes would be better without phishing attempts, our media would be better without lies that inflame racial tensions and sidetrack rational debate.

But we can take “Think Before You Click” a step further and consider what it would mean to think before we ever act on or voice an opinion that derives from a racist stereotype.

We won’t truly achieve our shared dream of a more inclusive and just society until we stop judging people by the color of their skin and analyze what internal biases we have. These actions begin with the simple act of thinking before we stereotype.

So the next time you delete an email containing a phishing link or report a suspected privacy violation, remember that you can put these same skills to use in helping us live up to the loftiest values in our society.

In fact, I’d guess there are other mental models that we use in our professional lives that we can extend to this important issue. Can you think of any? Connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to have a conversation.

*I don’t intend to use this blog space to grandstand on how woke I am about race. I don’t pretend that I have any special insight on our racial issues. But I’m convinced that no matter who we are and what we do, we can consider how our thoughts and actions can make a difference in ending racism.


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