We need a new language to talk about data security

Human error can only be overcome when the human understands what it is doing wrong

How do you get people to support or reject a concept they don't understand?

This is one of the biggest challenges facing those working in cyber security and online privacy. As with many specialist subjects, those involved in the area know what 2FA is, what encryption is, what metadata is, and why these things are important. So it can be hard to explain what we mean to people who aren't involved in this technology and even harder to make them care despite the importance of these concepts in our everyday lives.

When we think about the weakest link in the cyber security chain the squishy, fleshy bit behind the keyboard maybe we need a fresh approach to encouraging best practice.

This was a point made very eloquently yesterday at a the launch of the Digital Bill of Rights campaign by Icelandic MP Birgitta Jnsdttir.

"The task," she said, "is to get [people to care about] all these abstracts like metadata nobody's really going to feel emotional about that nobody's going to feel 'oh yes, I have to fight for my metadata!'. Even the word net neutrality, what the hell does that mean?

"We have not done good enough work in order to take all these abstracts and make them metaphors to stuff that people will really feel very passionate about protecting. Like when you say 'book burning' - you will fight to stop the book burning, but there are book burnings happening every day in every library in the world when stuff is taken offline or when Wikipedia is changed for political means."

The interaction between language, understanding and perceived reality, has been the subject of endless discussion in the field of linguistics for centuries, but it's not something that I've thought much about since leaving university especially not in my work life. But perhaps I should have been.

When we think about the weakest link in the cyber security chain the squishy, fleshy bit behind the keyboard maybe we need a fresh approach to encouraging best practice. Maybe we need Birgitta's better metaphors not just to help people better understand their digital rights in the face of legislation such as the Investigatory Powers Bill, but also to help them better understand what security really is and why it's important. To answer the question 'what the hell does 'strong password' even mean?' in a way that people can actually understand and that will make them care.

This isn't about infantalising workers it isn't even, necessarily, about providing more training. It's about raising their awareness of the issues and, perhaps more importantly, increasing the value they place on security and privacy personally. Of course, this won't stop all breaches, but it may at least help recruit everyday workers into the ranks of security, decreasing basic errors like weak or reused passwords, and also help reduce push-back against the IT department and security policies through something more meaningful than "because it's good for you".

Featured Resources

How to be an MSP: Seven steps to success

Building your business from the ground up

Download now

The smart buyer’s guide to flash

Find out whether flash storage is right for your business

Download now

How MSPs build outperforming sales teams

The definitive guide to sales

Download now

The business guide to ransomware

Everything you need to know to keep your company afloat

Download now

Recommended

Cyber attacks on manufacturing up 300% in a year
Security

Cyber attacks on manufacturing up 300% in a year

11 May 2021
US fuel pipeline hackers reveal their motive
ransomware

US fuel pipeline hackers reveal their motive

11 May 2021
Trend Micro and Snyk team up to combat open source flaws
vulnerability

Trend Micro and Snyk team up to combat open source flaws

10 May 2021
Virtual desktops and apps for dummies
Whitepaper

Virtual desktops and apps for dummies

10 May 2021

Most Popular

KPMG offers staff 'four-day fortnight' in hybrid work plans
flexible working

KPMG offers staff 'four-day fortnight' in hybrid work plans

6 May 2021
16 ways to speed up your laptop
Laptops

16 ways to speed up your laptop

29 Apr 2021
How to move Windows 10 from your old hard drive to SSD
operating systems

How to move Windows 10 from your old hard drive to SSD

30 Apr 2021