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Sep 8, 2018

NBlog Sept 8 - chew before swallowing

The Global State of Online Digital Trust is a typical vendor-sponsored piece, a white paper (= marketing promotion in the guise of a 'survey') prepared by Frost & Sullivan for CA Technologies.

I say 'typical' in that they have disclosed hardly any information about the survey method and sample. press release instructs us to see the report for "Full survey methodology details" but unless I'm blind, it looks to me as if someone either 'forgot' to write the materials-and-methods section or casually neglected to incorporate it in the published report.  Oh dear.

A CA marketing VP called it "a survey of 1,000 consumers, 350 cybersecurity professionals and 325 business executives from all over the world" whereas the press release referred to it as "The global online survey of 990 consumers, 336 security professionals and 324 business executives across 10 countries". 

We can only guess at how they might have assigned respondents between the three categories e.g. who would not qualify as a 'consumer'? Wouldn't a CISO fall into all three groups? In the report, numbers next to the graphs appear to indicate the sample sizes up to about 990

Last time I checked, there were rather more than 10 countries in the world aside from USA BRA UK FRA GER ITA AUS IND JPN and CHN as listed the report. If I'm interpreting those abbreviations correctly, that's well short of "all over the world".

If indeed the survey was online, that rather suggests the sample only consisted of people from the ten countries who were happy to answer an online survey - which itself implies a degree of trust in online security as well as a willingness to respond to a vendor-sponsored survey. 

It is unclear whether or how the report's conclusions relate to the survey findings ... and they are somewhat predictable given the report sponsor's commercial interests:
"CULTIVATE A CULTURE OF SECURITY Implement data protection policies that are in accordance with the world’s strictest data privacy regulations. Ensure company-wide familiarity with security policies, including among non-technical staff to reduce the risk of data breaches. 
START AT THE TOP Too many business executives see security initiatives as a negative return on investment. Alert the C-Suite to the tangible business impacts of a breach and a loss of consumer trust. 
COVER YOUR BASES Consumers consider both social and technical factors when determining whether to trust an organization; be sure that your organization has the technical foundation in place to mitigate attacks and have a response team ready to minimize damage to consumer trust in the event of a breach. 
KEEP IT SIMPLE Clear communication from organizations around policies and data handling practices is critical for building trust. Far too many organizations overestimate the degree to which consumers can easily manage their personal data online. Present your policies in simple language, and provide important details without overwhelming the consumer."
So they evidently equate "a culture of security" with data protection, data privacy and data breaches. Spot the common factor. A similar bias towards privacy law compliance and the protection of "customer data" is evident in all four paragraphs. That is an important issue, I agree, along with "cybersecurity" (an undefined term ... but I guess they mean IT security) but what about all the rest of information security: trade secrets, intellectual property, business continuity, physical and procedural security, information integrity, blah blah blah?

I freely admit to being heavily prejudiced in favour of both cultural development and management-level security awareness but their emphasis on breach impacts and consumer trust once again betrays a myopic focus on privacy breach incidents, while the conclusion about return on investment seems very suspect to me. I wonder if the survey question/s in that area were unambiguous enough to be interpreted in the same way by all the respondents? Or are the reported differences between the groups of respondents merely indicative of their distinct perspectives and assumptions? Did they even face the same questions? We can't tell since they choose not to disclose the survey questions.

The report introduces the term "Digital trust index". Sounds great, right? A metric concerning trust in, errr, digits? A percentage value relative to, um, what exactly? Oh let me guess, relative to the score conjured out of the air for this, the first report. And unfortunately for the sponsors, the term "Digital Trust Index" is already in use elsewhere.

Overall, a disappointing and essentially pointless read, like most other commercially-sponsored and heavily-promoted "survey" I have read in my career with few exceptions. 

Clearly, I'm a slow learner, stubborn as an old boot. Venting my spleen through this blog is immensely helpful though, along with the vain hope that you might perhaps be persuaded to take a more critical look at the next "survey" that plops onto your screen. Chew it over rather than swallowing whole.