Getting Security Incentives Right
One of the problems with motivating proper security behavior within an organization is that the incentives are all wrong. It doesn’t matter how much management tells employees that security is important, employees know when it really isn’t—when getting the job done cheaply and on schedule is much more important.
It seems to me that his co-workers understand the risks better than he does. They know what the real risks are at work, and that they all revolve around not getting the job done. Those risks are real and tangible, and employees feel them all the time. The risks of not following security procedures are much less real. Maybe the employee will get caught, but probably not. And even if he does get caught, the penalties aren’t serious.
Given this accurate risk analysis, any rational employee will regularly circumvent security to get his or her job done. That’s what the company rewards, and that’s what the company actually wants.
“Fire someone who breaks security procedure, quickly and publicly,” I suggested to the presenter. “That’ll increase security awareness faster than any of your posters or lectures or newsletters.” If the risks are real, people will get it.
Similarly, there’s a supposedly an old Chinese proverb that goes “hang one, warn a thousand.” Or to put it another way, we’re really good at risk management. And there’s John Byng, whose execution gave rise to the Voltaire quote (in French): “in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others.”
I thought of all this when I read about the new security procedures surrounding the upcoming papal election:
According to the order, which the Vatican made available in English on Monday afternoon, those few who are allowed into the secret vote to act as aides will be required to take an oath of secrecy.
“I will observe absolute and perpetual secrecy with all who are not part of the College of Cardinal electors concerning all matters directly or indirectly related to the ballots cast and their scrutiny for the election of the Supreme Pontiff,” the oath reads.
“I declare that I take this oath fully aware that an infraction thereof will make me subject to the penalty of excommunication ‘latae sententiae’, which is reserved to the Apostolic See,” it continues.
Excommunication is like being fired, only it lasts for eternity.
I’m not optimistic about the College of Cardinals being able to maintain absolute secrecy during the election, because electronic devices have become so small, and electronic communications so ubiquitous. Unless someone wins on one of the first ballots—a 2/3 majority is required to elect the next pope, so if the various factions entrench they could be at it for a while—there are going to be leaks. Perhaps accidental, perhaps strategic: these cardinals are fallible men, after all.
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