What Security Awareness Has to Do with Democracy

Security training and awareness ultimately promotes the same skills necessary to make informed decisions as part of the democratic process.

This October, we in the security awareness profession will use Cybersecurity Awareness Month events to talk more broadly and to more people about cybersecurity best practices.

Many of us will focus on how we can apply these skills beyond the workplace and in every aspect of our lives.

Here in the U.S., October is smack in the middle of an election season like no other. No matter your political persuasion, it is impossible not to notice the amount of misinformation floating around the political campaigns and associated news cycles, much of it focused on the very integrity of our election system. (I won’t use this space to persuade you of this point, though I would refer you to solid work by Recode, the MIT Technology Review, and Wired, just to start.)

I’d like to suggest that we consider drawing more direct connections between our work in cybersecurity and our support for democracy.

Awareness As Advocacy

Those of us in the security training and awareness world share a common mission.

We advocate for the responsible handling of information and data, and we subscribe to the core information security triad of confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

We teach people to identify the signs of subterfuge and skullduggery in their email inboxes.

We argue for the merits of transparency in how we process data.

And we insist on the importance of rapidly reporting incidents that threaten data.

Much of our work in the month of October will focus on communicating to people how they can incorporate these shared values and practices into their daily lives, to their great benefit.

Cybersecurity Skills Are Central to Democracy

While we don’t often talk about these cybersecurity skills in a political and cultural context, I think these are the very skills the world needs so badly to solve the problem of misinformation that plagues us.

We need people to be aware that misinformation is everywhere in today’s digital world, and to teach them the skills to identify deception.

We need people to be skeptical of bogus claims that appear in the news and in social media.

We need people to ruthlessly delete the sources of deception from their lives. (As Tristan Harris put it in conversation with Sam Harris on the Making Sense podcast, we need to stop subscribing to all sources of outrage media.)

And we need people to help their friends, neighbors, children, and parents learn and practice these skills.

This won’t be easy. It will require that we recognize that some of the things we’re doing—like relying so heavily on social media for information—can be quite harmful, and that we need to develop the self-control to use them in ways that are not destructive to our souls or our democracy. As the filmmakers of the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma  point out, the very technology that brings a car or a meal to our doors in minutes also delivers distorting messages that prevent us from seeing the world accurately.

Your Broader Mission

I’m suggesting that as you broaden your message during the month of October, you also broaden your mission. Don’t stop your advocacy for smart handling of information at the border of the inbox. Your powers for good go beyond the walls of corporate data protection.

As you preach the skills of cybersecurity awareness this month, dare to talk boldly about the importance of forming and acting on opinions based on sound information. These skills lie at the very heart of a thriving democracy.

CONFESSIONS OF AN AWARENESS NERD

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