OPINION: Why Does It Suck To Think Like A Good Guy In Security

Day after day, on social media and elsewhere on the Internet, there are lots of folks who are seemingly shocked every time a bad guy shows up and acts like a bad guy. Seriously, how many times have you read or seen “I can’t believe Suspect A was able to murder all of those people” or “If only they (security) did XYZ like I thought of during a conversation with my veterinarian who may have been in the military, that bad thing wouldn’t have happened”? I see it quite a bit and frankly, I’ve decided it may be time to finally add my .02 about it.

Those of us in security who have spent some time studying “the threat” (insert whatever scary bad guy you’re dealing with) understand what few who haven’t studied it don’t. No matter how awesome your protective measures are, they do little to mitigate (and certainly not “prevent”) the attacker unless you start thinking a bit like they do. Herein lies the fatal flaw of most “white hats” and even some “grey hats”.

  1. You think of attacks in ways that you would conduct them. No offense but if you’re protecting yourself against robbers but know relatively little of them, you may be looking to deploy solutions which don’t work against that threat. One of the most painful things any security professional can hear when doing a site survey with a client from the client is “If I were the bad guy, this is how I would do it.” More often than not, it is not how the bad guys would attack. Think security cameras in homes. Most people will deploy a camera at home with the thought the camera provides an extra layer of protection when in fact it doesn’t. I have known several victims of home invasions who either had cameras installed or had an alarm sign out front. These are two commonly deployed deterrence tools that we know don’t work. Instead, focus on the problem as if the bad guy would ignore the deterrence measures (because he will because we have little proof he won’t) and proceed with the attack and use things like cameras as after-incident mitigation tools to catch the perpetrator later.
  2. You think of your threat as one-dimensional. Most good guys see their threat based on commonly accepted precepts of what the threat is and how he has attacked in the past. Just because the bad guy only hit you or the other guy using one vector doesn’t mean he won’t try something different later. A great example of this is 9/11. Prior to the second World Trade Center attack, there were common beliefs that terrorists were only capable of performing certain kinds of attacks. What no factored in was changing realistic threat capabilities. In other words, we assumed the threat wasn’t evolutionary in his tactics. Seriously, who could’ve imagine having to protect a building against two near-simultaneous aircraft crashes? Perhaps we could have had we accepted the idea that as we change so does the threat.
  3. You think the threat is omnipotent and omnipresent. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a threat. I do it sometimes. This is a natural defense mechanism after an attack has occurred. Why? No one likes to have their vulnerabilities exposed. After every mass shooting or act of violence that makes the news, we assume every venue that is like the one that was attacked is also vulnerable and being selected as the “next” target for another perpetrator.

    I remember fondly working on 9/11 on a small Air Force base on a perimeter patrol. What I recall the most are the initial attitudes people had of al Qaeda. We believed this one attack displayed a level of sophistication unseen by them before on US soil could be replicated on a massive scale. Every Muslim, ignorantly, was assumed to be a sleeper agent waiting for cues from “Muslim HQ” to attack us wherever and however they chose. The months and years ahead showed how far from the truth that was. Imagine how many countless resources were expended before we realized the fallacy behind this assumption.

  4. You think your attacker “chose” you for a variety of reasons he didn’t. People almost always assume an attacker chose to attack them or others for reasons they didn’t. Rape is commonly thought to be a crime of lust because good people believe sex is the only reason you rape because it’s the end-result. However, most criminologists and psychologists would agree rape is a crime of power. I would argue the majority of crime takes place for this very reason. Terrorism occurs because of this as does murder (what’s more powerful than ridding yourself of someone permanently), drug dealing, fraud, and a host of other crimes. You’re either fighting to obtain it (i.e. steal it from someone else) or committing crime to become more powerful. This confusion could possibly explain why most crime “prevention” measures based on policy fail at alarming rates – we’re clueless on what truly motivates people to attack us.
  5. You assume because you haven’t seen the threat, he must not exist. Whether we see the threat or not, we should never assume he does not exist. While the threat can’t be everywhere every time, the threat can still be very much. Never assume the absence of threat means he or she isn’t going to show. You still need to adequately protect your assets as if today is the day you’re going to be attacked. Remember, the attacker chooses the time of attack. You choose how well-prepared you’ll be when it happens.

I’m not proposing anyone go out and hire a red team. I firmly believe one of the reasons we, often, fail so miserably at security sometimes is due to our natural inclination to think the bad guy thinks like we do when they don’t. So how can we fix this?

  1. Study your adversary. Seriously, pour over any open source intelligence you can on your threat. Read the paper and look for crime stories. Pick up a police report or two on similar venues like yours. I’ll leave how you conduct your research to you. Just do it. Stop assuming blindly how the attack will go down or even who your adversary is.
  2. Consider hiring folks who can think like attackers. I’m not saying you hire criminals but red teams hire specialists who can mimic attackers. Choose folks from a variety of backgrounds to round out your security team. By the way, by “background”, I’m not talking education. I mean pick a team with a variety of specialists.
  3. Test your systems with exercises. The only way you’re going to learn is by testing how well your security program holds up against an actual attack. Consider doing this with little to no notice and have an after-action or “hot-wash” debriefing with your red team and affected staff right away. Finally, fix the vulnerabilities as soon as possible.
  4. Reward outside the box thinking. When I was a young boy, I recall my fondest memories were playing games like “hide-and-go-seek” with my friends. The guys who were the most creative were the best at this game. Why? Because they were unpredictable. I’ll leave how you choose to reward these folks on your own. Just do it.
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