Conclusion: Security Champions

In the previous article we talked about Metrics, and in this article, I will conclude this series on Building Security Champions.

A few more tips:

  • Start by defining the focus of your program and what is expected from champions. Be realistic; you can only expect 1-4 hours maximum effort from them per week.
  • If someone is taking a security course, but they are not on the security team, they may make a good champion. Reach out and introduce yourself.
  • If the mantra of the security team is “it’s my job to help you do your job, securely”, “you’re my customer” or “I’m here to serve you”, that is very attractive. If your team is known as ‘the ministry of NO!’, you will have difficulty attracting volunteers until you turn over a new leaf.
  • Record every group session and save them. Create an on-boarding set of champion videos from these recordings, so you can auto-onboard new champions. Some of the videos can also be used to on-board new software developers or other IT staff.
  • Save all the videos so anyone who missed them can see them later. Offer up the list of videos to everyone at your organization, if appropriate.
  • Include a TTT (train the trainer) package so that your security champions can train their own teams as needed. For instance, if you want your champions to give training or talks to their own teams, have them follow your package. The package should contain 1) your slides, 2) demo information and instructions to set it up, 3) a video of you giving the talk/training, and, 4) a video of you explaining what you are trying to get across for each slide and the entire demo, spoken as though you are teaching someone to give the talk on your behalf. For an example of this, see mine!
  • PS… Feel free to give these talks yourself, at your own workplace.

Lastly, don’t stop. Don’t give up. Perseverance is the thing that will make this program work. As your program continues it will grow and the value you that you receive from it will also grow, scaling upwards over time. You and your organization can do this, all it takes is dedication and time.

Please feel free to email me with questions, or even better, tell me about your success with your own security champions program!

Security Champions: Metrics & Data

The previous article in this series is Recognizing and Rewarding Your Security Champions.

If you’ve followed my conference talks, you likely saw my Security Metrics That Matter presentation, and understand that I absolutely love data. Here’s a general list of security metrics that matter, if you don’t want to read the whole article or watch the entire talk.

You may wonder, why are metrics important? The answer is twofold.

  1.  We can use data and metrics to report up to our bosses and show them we are succeeding. It’s evidence that what we are doing is working, and how well it is working. You can then use that data again to ask for more resources (staff, tools, budget), a raise, or other changes.
  2. The second reason is so that we, ourselves, can improve. We want to improve our program, ourselves, and our results. When we measure our activities and their impacts, we can see which activities or methods produce better results. We can then use that information to change our approach, for the better.

It is important, however, that we do not become fooled by vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are numbers that make us look good, but don’t necessarily mean anything. My talk on this subject has several stories, but for now let’s just tell one.

I used to work somewhere, and we all wrote blog posts. We were measured on how many “clicks” we got. A colleague of mine got 10X the number of clicks that I did, and I asked him how he did it. He explained he got the most clicks on Reddit. I was unfamiliar with the platform but thought I would give it a try. First though, I asked for extra data: I wanted to know how long people were staying on our articles. It turned out that people were staying on my articles approximately 1.5 minutes (which means they were reading the whole thing), and on his they were staying an average of 1.5 seconds (which means almost no one was reading the article, they were just clicking the link. This is commonly known as a “bounce”.) The purpose of our jobs was to write articles to help customers know how to use our products, and this means a bounce wasn’t valuable. Armed with this new information, we started comparing different platforms, and it turned out almost all traffic from Reddit were ‘bounces’. I also noticed that my Twitter followers were significantly more likely to read the article when compared to LinkedIn, and LinkedIn got better results than Reddit. My colleague started focussing on sharing links on Twitter (he had more followers than I did), and I started trying to get more followers on the same platform. It turns out that measuring clicks was a vanity metric. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now for your security champion program metrics! Measure the following things so you can see what’s working and what is not. Don’t forget to report upwards about the ROI (return on investment) your champions program has produced!

  • How many new security champions you have attracted
  • Measuring program engagement: how many people attended an event, how many people reported issues to you, how many people asked questions,
  • Use the bug tracker for metrics on how many security bugs are being reported and fixed, especially if you have targeted a specific bug class. Also, count how many new instances of that type of bug appear, hopefully this number will be very low.
  • Instances where champions have told you about a security issue you would not have known about otherwise
  • If the champions report better work satisfaction and/or fewer missed days of work
  • Gather stories of your champs saving the day, providing help to their teammates, or anything else that makes for a good story-telling session for upper management.

Up next, I will share a few more tips that don’t fit into any of the previous categories and conclude this series. Please feel free to email me with any questions!

(Over)Communication With Your Security Champions

As mentioned in the previous article (Recognizing & Rewarding Your Security Champions), the most common reason for failure of a security champions program is the security team losing steam, and/or the champions losing interest. In this article, we will discuss a few ways to avoid this. The best way? Communication.

https://youtu.be/nm1MpTuSNyI

To start off with, pace yourself. Often when I speak to security teams who have a failed program, they tell me how they started off very strong. “We gave them 2 different trainings, 2 workshops, and 3 lunch and learns, all in the first three months. Then we were exhausted. We haven’t done anything with them in over a year.” This scenario is far too common.

To pace yourself, I suggest meeting with each champion once a month, for 30 minutes. Then hold one lunch & learn and send one email to the champions. This might not sound like much, but you must remember, they are already doing a full-time job for your organization.

In my 1:1 meetings I like to ask the following questions (adopted from Ray Leblanc’s Security Champions article on Hella Secure blog):

  • What are you working on?
  • What are you going to work on next?
  • Do you need any help?

Each of these questions is open-ended, with the hope that it will prompt a meaningful conversation. I usually take notes during the meeting, and then send them after to both of us, with any action items for either of us highlighted in bold. (Note: I’ve used this technique to get many of my previous bosses to do things for me. Set a reminder for a week from then, and then reply-all to that email chain and ask: “Any updates on these action items?” It works like a charm!)

In your lunch and learn (which does not need to be at lunch time, or involve food), teach them something you want them to know. Do not teach them things they do not need to know, unless they asked for that topic specifically. During this session you or a teammate can teach, or you can show them a training video you like, or even a recording of a conference talk that really hit home for you. If you show them something pre-recorded, ensure you watched it first, you don’t want to waste anyone’s time with death-by-powerpoint. The more fun you can make these sessions, the better. If you’re up for it, invite all of the developers and let everyone learn something new!

Woman running
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Ideas for lunch and learn topics:

  • The specifics on how to apply policies, standards and guidelines. This could be a secure coding workshop, or a threat modelling session.
  • Talks about the top vulnerabilities that you are seeing in your own products, including the risks they pose to your specific business model.
  • Workshops on how to use the tools that your team wants them to be responsible for. Especially how to configure them, how to validate results, and where to find information on how to fix what they find.
  • If they are responsible for design or architecture, give them secure design training.
  • Tell them about a security incident your team had, and how it could have been prevented (assuming you are allowed to share this information).
  • Hold a consultation on the new policy, standard, or guideline your team is considering publishing. Ask for their feedback, then adjust your documents accordingly.
  • Remember to take attendance (for metrics) and take notes of any questions for you to follow up.

 

The monthly email:

Sometimes you just don’t have time to do a lunch and learn event or hold 1:1s, but you still need to send a monthly email. The monthly email lets the security champions know what’s going on, and that they still matter to you. The program is still running, because you sent an email. If you don’t send this email, and you haven’t touched base in any other way, this leaves a space where your program may start to disappear.

The monthly email does not need to be fancy and doesn’t need to say a lot. Generally, the monthly email says:

  • What events are happening this month at your org (lunch and learn, all staff, any other meeting they should know about)
  • Any updates your team has (new policy, new tool, project updates, etc)
  • Anything interesting from the news that they may find valuable
  • Any local security events they may be interested in
  • Any podcasts, videos, blog posts or any other media that is relevant and you feel relates to them, about security (of course)

I live in Canada, and in Canada we are a country of immigrants. This means we have many, many different religions represented in most workplaces. In December, there’s Hannukah, Ramadan, Christmas, and more, and often people take time off for these special holidays. This means having a large meeting in December is darn-near impossible. This is the type of situation where you just send the monthly email! It could say something like the following:

Hello Security Champions!

As it is December and many of you will be off celebrating various holidays, we are not going to have any events this month. We also want to wish you happy holidays, and we hope you enjoy all the snow we got this past weekend!

In January we are going to boot the Champions program back up with a lunch and learn on XSS. As some of you are aware, we’ve found it in about 1/3 of our custom apps, and we want to stomp​ it out in the new year (with your help of course!) An invitation will arrive later this week.

In the meantime, please check out this XSS Deep Dive by Tanya Janca. We’re going to cover this topic a bit differently than she does, but it gives you a good idea of what we are up against.

Have a great December folks!

Sincerely,

The Security Team

My hope from this blog post is that you remember to continue to communicate with your champions. Don’t let your program slip, it will disappear faster than you think. When in doubt, send them an email and check in. Up next, we will discuss Metrics.

Recognizing & Rewarding Security Champions

If you’ve ever read the book The 5 Love Languages, or articles summarizing the 5 love languages, then you are aware that there are predictable patterns of how people respond to various acts of kindness. Someone’s “love language” is the specific type of kindness that they are most affected by. For example, someone for whom their love language is “words of affirmation” would respond very well to receiving a glowing performance review, a compliment on a new article of clothing, or accolades from their colleagues about a project they worked on.

The previous article in this series is Teaching Security Champions.

You may be wondering at this point if you accidentally clicked on an article from a women’s fashion magazine, not a technical article from We Hack Purple. But please have a bit more faith, and read on.

The 5 love languages are:

  1. Gifts
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Physical Affection
  4. Spending Quality Time
  5. Acts of Service
Two people sitting using laptops
Security Champions at work!

When we are creating a security champions program, it’s very important that we ensure they feel appreciated. We don’t want them to feel squished into doing two jobs, for only one paycheck. One of the biggest challenges that security team’s face when creating a champions program is having it fall apart after the first few months, either due to the security team losing steam, or champions losing interest. We need them to feel very aware of our gratitude, and interested in the program itself, for them to continue to want to serve the security team’s agenda.

As you likely already figured out, not all the love languages listed above are work appropriate. We can’t run around giving hugs or holding hands with other employees. That said, we can adopt most of them for work situations, so that we can show the champions they matter to us, in appropriate ways, that support our security program.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of several ideas to make your champions feel as valuable as you know they are for your program.

  1. (Security Related) Gifts
  • Physical or digital security-related gifts – books, videos, training, CTFs, perhaps a copy of Alice and Bob Learn AppSec?
  • Create a Certificate to put on their wall.
  • Stickers, posters or any other decoration that is security focused.
  • Tickets to a conference or training.

 

  1. Words of Affirmation
  • Make sure to put a note in their performance review about them being a champion.
  • Tell their boss every time they do something that makes a big difference.
  • Send them an email and tell them when they did something big, let them know that YOU saw.
  • Recognize them in front of their peers (special virtual background, star on their name is slack, etc.)
  • Digital badges for signature blocks.

 

  1. Physical Affection
  • High Fives are the only recommended form of physical affection that you should show another employee. High fives signal success, and your approval of whatever they just did.
    • *** And only do this if you are confident that the employee is comfortable. Please be mindful that some religions and cultures do not allow those of the opposite sex to touch each other and be respectful if this applies. Never push physical touching at work.

 

  1. Spending Quality Time
  • Giving them your time is a reward. When you do, give them your undivided attention (put your phone away), and turn your body towards them.
  • Let them see a new tool first, give them a “sneak preview” ahead of everyone else.
  • Let them help you make decisions. Ask for advice from them and feedback, then take it seriously.
  • Invite them to attend security events with you.
  • Whenever you meet with them, this is quality time. Ask them: What are you working on? What are you going to work on next? Do you need any help?

 

  1. Acts of Service
  • Help them with more than just security. Are you good at design? Help them with it! Are you great at presentations? Offer to let them practice in front of you. You don’t need to do this very often, just once can make a huge impression.
  • Make introductions, where appropriate. “Oh yeah, Chris from QA uses that tool, I’ll introduce you so you can learn.”
  • Find answers they need to security questions and problems. Never leave them hanging.

 

When people feel appreciated and valued at work, they work harder (many studies show this to be true). Your champions already have full time jobs on other teams, they are going above and beyond for you. Let them know that you are very aware of them, by always making them aware of it with your actions, not just your words.

 

In the next article we will discuss communication with your champions!