Confused angry businessman working with computer showing need for security not to hold back productivity

How to Reimagine Security and Stop Holding Back Employee Productivity

Every day, the gatekeepers of systems and data have the uncomfortable task of balancing productivity and ease-of-use with security requirements that work. The pandemic has accelerated the rate of workplace transformations, turning the shift in working life to a new reality. Prioritizing security, without burdening employees with endless processes, documents and passwords is more urgent than ever today.

Companies have been quick to realize this. A survey commissioned by Fujitsu Asia in August 2020 showed that business leaders in Singapore are grappling with security concerns, as they reshuffle their priorities ahead to include remote working and collaboration needs. Top security priorities are data (70%), network (48%) and cloud (44%).

While security is a top priority for businesses, a balance needs to be struck to engage employees when implementing security solutions, without it being seen as hampering their day-to-day work.  The survey revealed a worrying trend – that business leaders ranged the importance of fostering a data-driven and innovation culture low on their priorities as part of their transformation journey. If users find security measures restrict their productivity too much, they’re going to try to bypass or overcome them. Likewise, 53% of the survey respondents cited workflow and process complexity as the biggest challenge faced in building resilience into their businesses.

If the task of balancing these contradictory needs is delicate, it also has to be carried out in a moving landscape. Cyber threats are continually changing, and new threats are emerging. One striking example is the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employees had to leave the corporate network’s safe confines and use potentially less secure home devices and networks to access corporate systems and data. Attackers exploited this trend, focusing on themes that would look relevant under the new circumstances. There were vast quantities of phishing emails promising exclusive information about COVID-19; bogus web sites to trick users into typing in usernames, passwords and banking details for donations; and fake relief efforts or temporary government loans and grants. And not every organization was able to deploy the right infrastructure with the proper security measures from the start.

Making IT more secure comes at a price

But let’s not be too forgiving. We can probably agree that the way users experience security can be frustrating and cyber security specialists indeed have to shoulder some responsibility. Many things users want or need to do during the day make cybersecurity specialists feel insecure. Like using personal devices without updated anti-virus software, or unchecked USB sticks with the potential to infect entire corporate infrastructures.

That’s why organizations develop policies that ban these things. The intention is to make things difficult for cyber criminals – but with the side effect of sometimes hampering employee productivity. But people have to work and that almost inevitably leads to an ‘exceptions’ policy.

Besides putting users through laborious processes to use IT, cybersecurity can also be about preventing access to IT in the first place, for example, blocking the use of potentially valuable cloud resources. Alongside the agile upside of so-called ‘shadow IT’, there is an anti-resilient downside. Business departments have sourced cloud services without considering cyber security and IT infrastructure holistically. But when it comes to things like data protection and privacy and tasks like data replication and backup, not applying the corporate rules can lead to a host of complications – some of them very severe indeed.

What makes everything even worse is that users regularly get to experience more advanced or more convenient security measures in their personal lives. Facial and iris recognition methods have been implemented across all land, sea and air checkpoints in Singapore. We have sampled the simplicity of fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock a phone – and find this much more convenient than a corporate policy requiring a password change every 90 days.

A better way?

There has to be a better way. We need to create a consumer-grade experience with a corporate wrapper as secure as we can make it.

It is a challenge to create a better user experience while deploying security measures for organizations working across various countries and partner organizations. And simple economics dictates that any new system will be in place for quite some time – meaning that it is always likely to look dated against the latest consumer tech.

One thing we can agree: Where we are today is no longer fit for purpose. IT departments create long policy documents and force employees to review them annually, but the do’s and don’ts must translate into something more dynamic. It’s a massive change, but the necessary changes are starting to come through.

What this points to is that the people aspects of security are often more complicated than the technical. And ironically, new technologies could make things even more frustrating for users. What’s needed is a corresponding change in security culture that treats users more like consumers, so we get away from the once-a-year security training event to something more interesting, enticing and lasting.

Getting there will require business and security teams working together, understanding and agreeing what risks are unavoidable (and planning appropriate security measures) and those where the risk outweighs any likely potential reward. Security has to speak the language of business.

Understanding the security context

As a starting point, cyber security needs to have a better handle on users. Today, access rights are generated service by service or system by system. This approach is too crude and too complicated. There are fewer face-to-face meetings now, but the need for executives to access corporate systems remotely remains. Blanket bans are unworkable and unnecessary.

Security is now moving towards persona-based rules, mapping reasonable behavior for that person, and applying it dynamically. This is already in place in many organizations – at least in a rudimentary way. What’s likely to be missing is context-sensitive role profiles, dynamically created for different types of users accessing data outside core working hours.

New ‘digital experience’ roles assist the shift in enterprise IT, modeled on the consumer environment, where services and products have experience ‘champions’ to ensure what is delivered is actually what the user wants and needs. For the enterprise user, this isn’t just about making it look good: the task is to protect value streams delivered by how people work and to add value by mapping end-to-end workflows. The way forward is for cyber security and the enterprise experience owners to build in the right security as part of the design.

Towards a new security culture

The new way: emulate the launch of a consumer product. Look at the total experience for the ‘customer’ and design-in security as part of the overall value workflow. If we have the digital experience owner, we have a starting point to add value to and build trust with the people who generate value.

But users have a role too. Security teams can work as hard as possible to make everything ‘secure by design.’ Still, unless users take responsibility for doing their part, no amount of smart technology will keep an organization entirely safe. When reimagining how every employee can contribute to an organization’s security posture and building a culture that fully integrates intuitive security, everyone plays a crucial role.