NSA Security Awareness Posters

From a FOIA request, over a hundred old NSA security awareness posters. Here are the BBC’s favorites. Here are Motherboard’s favorites.

I have a related personal story. Back in 1993, during the first Crypto Wars, I and a handful of other academic cryptographers visited the NSA for some meeting or another. These sorts of security awareness posters were everywhere, but there was one I especially liked—and I asked for a copy. I have no idea who, but someone at the NSA mailed it to me. It’s currently framed and on my wall.

I’ll bet that the NSA didn’t get permission from Jay Ward Productions.

Tell me your favorite in the comments.

Posted on January 31, 2020 at 1:36 PM34 Comments


Tatütata January 31, 2020 2:00 PM

Security… The companion of liberty.
Be sure to vote [ballot security]
Men must be governed by god or they will be ruled by tyrants
Security for the seventies

Meine Güte!

The telephone handset hanging from a rope on page 92/139 (Doc ID 6614876) is a direct illustration of the motivation posters in Brazil (1985), inter alia at the beginning when the Tuttle/Buttle printer SNAFU happens: Loose talk is noose talk!

Terry Gilliam wasn’t that off the mark

unfixpoint January 31, 2020 2:03 PM

“there are 52 security weeks in a year”

Soo, this year we get 2 days to be careless? Btw. can you please use https-links when linking to other websites? Guess you’re down to 1 now.

yet another Bruce January 31, 2020 2:45 PM

Interesting how much of the ink has bleached out, especially blue. I think several posters have lost much of their text.

Also interesting how much Christian imagery was used and how explicitly the USSR was identified as the adversary. It seems a bit unprofessional from the perspective of US corporate culture in 2020.

Fifty years is a long time and not just for dyes.

TSR January 31, 2020 3:25 PM

Hmmm, looks like I already had access to that trove via non-FOIA channels…

Anyway, my fave is the page 39, “security is everyone’s responsibility” with all the heads. I had already printed one and displayed it in my workplace. p72 is a close second. Remember, keep a clothes-pin on it!

Gerard van Vooren January 31, 2020 3:50 PM

The question about whether we would be better off without an NSA, and all it’s influence, the answer is of course no. I like your picture though. It’s a nice piece of art. But the influence of the NSA is immense. It should be stopped off course. You know, I once shake a hand with William Binney in The Netherlands. He was together with late Arjen Kamphuys, who I also shake his hands. Yes, he is an impressive guy, but still, the NSA with all it’s powers, with all it’s quite powers, I think we should be a lot better without it’s existence. Without all the spying that goes with it, without all it’s tracking. Yes, as a Dutch guy I am saying that the NSA would be a lot better off if it didn’t exited.

SpaceLifeForm January 31, 2020 3:50 PM

Allow me to Share a Point.


Maybe NSA stared at the posters too much.

Maybe they wanted to see the bogeyman.

Maybe they were not paying attention.


Over 6 years ago, ES pulled docs.

Yet, NSA, you are still using SharePoint.

And, NSA, you stupidly trusted Microsoft when they said that earlier versions were not affected.

NSA, you better be forcing MicroSoft to back-patch this. The exploit works on old versions contrary to what Microsoft said.

NSA, do not be so stupid to not realize that the problem is inside. Do not be stupid!

And, UN, looking at you also.


Clive Robinson January 31, 2020 3:50 PM

To me most of them lack sufficient imagination to be memorable.

However the one with the skull does remind me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The pair are sent to spy on Prince Hamlet by Hamlet’s uncle Claudius who killed Hamlet’s father to seize the crown and marry Hamlet’s mother Gertrude.

However Prince Hamlet quickly spots what the pair are there for and gives them the “What a piece of work is a man” speech,


However the interchangeable pair are eventually tasked by their master King Claudius to acompany Hamlet to England along with a sealed letter for the English king instructing the king to execute Prince Hamlet. Hamlet discovers the letter and changes it such that it now reads that the pair are to be executed. Prince Hamlet escapes back to Denmark after negotiating with pirates and after more intrigue and a fatal sword fight and poisonings all but Horatio –who is free of sin– lie dead. It is at this moment that the Ambassador from England enters and anounces that “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead”[1].

Thus the pair’s sins of treachery and treason along with their master have been justly rewarded by death. But in achieving this Prince Hamlet loses his love Ophellia, her brother, her father Polonius, his mother Gertrude and his own life to avenge his father and release his ghost from purgatory… Proving if it were ever needed that treachery, treason, vanity and revenge are sins and that “The wages of sin are death”.

[1] This is used as a title for an absurdist tragic comedy play written by Ton Stoppard.

Wiley January 31, 2020 3:50 PM

My favorite is still the ‘Bo has no need to know’ poster. I was visiting a three-letter agency back in the 90s when the ‘Bo knows’ ad campaign was airing and saw the poster. I told a contact there how much I liked it, and a copy mysteriously arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later. And it’s still in my home office!

Alex January 31, 2020 4:40 PM

I work with a bunch of financial advisors who have their degrees and accreditations framed and posted on their walls. The only thing on my wall is the “Security fever – catch it!” poster printed on an 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper. Clearly I should frame it.

Clive Robinson January 31, 2020 4:48 PM

@ ALL,

Anyone else notice that a few of them could be copied as is as book covers?

The most obvious one being,

    Security in a nutshell

Anders January 31, 2020 5:13 PM

Being ex USSR those Boris and Natasha characters are close to heart 🙂
Actually it’s quite interesting how USA visualizes Soviet spies.

Sed Contra January 31, 2020 5:37 PM

@ Anders

As little kids in the US we saw Boris and Natasha as for laughs caricatures. But not wholly. Even more, there was the subtle humorous perplexity in accounting for their boss, Fearless Leader.

One finds basically the same thing in the earliest stories of Eric Ambler. And much later in Len Deighton’s Game-Set-Match series.

uh, Mike February 1, 2020 11:29 AM

Bruce, if you have doubts on the copyright, why are you publicly displaying the poster?
Honoring intellectual property is part of security.

rec00k February 1, 2020 12:56 PM


“The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they have gotten a hold on us” sounds uncomfortably close to actual events…

— rec00k

Clive Robinson February 1, 2020 4:14 PM

@ SpaceLifeForm,

It also looks worryingly close to Prince Charles as well as BloJo…

R. I. Abel February 1, 2020 10:13 PM

My favorite? The ‘ Hollow Nickel ‘ poster …

Seriously, Bruce, THANK YOU! (It made my day.)

myliit February 2, 2020 11:12 AM

John Le Carre, aka David Cornwall, recently won the Olof Palme prize. In his words:


“But the cold war was anything but irrational. It was two players facing each other across a nuclear chessboard. And for all their clever spying, neither knew the first thing about the other. …

I try to imagine how it was for Palme in those times: the shuttle diplomacy, the tireless reasoning with people locked into their positions and scared of their superiors. I was the lowest form of spy life, but even I got wind of contingency plans for outright nuclear war. If you are in Berlin or Bonn when the Russian tanks sweep over you, be sure to destroy your files first. First? What was second? And I doubt whether your chances would have been much rosier in Stockholm. …

Spying? Palme? There’s been a lot of talk about it. As a young intern in Swedish intelligence, he had acquired an early taste for the black arts and it stayed with him for the rest of his political life. And who can blame him? When you’re defending yourself on half a dozen home fronts; when you’re sitting out the night on tedious committees; when a far right mob of hooligans is burning your effigy in the street and chucking darts at pictures of your face, what greater relief than to settle down comfortably with your spies and give yourself over to the consolations of intrigue?

And I am not at all surprised that in the midst of excoriating the Americans for the Vietnam war, Palme the pragmatist was reading secret American intelligence reports. After all, he had a country to protect. …

So Boris Johnson with our blessing has taken his place beside two other accomplished liars of our time: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. If Palme were trying to get the truth out of them, which of the three would he turn to? Or none of the above?

One day somebody will explain to me why it is that, at a time when science has never been wiser, or the truth more stark, or human knowledge more available, populists and liars are in such pressing demand.

But don’t blame the Tories for their great victory. It was Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, with its un-policy on Brexit, its antisemitism and student-level Marxism-Leninism that alienated traditional Labour voters and left them nowhere to go. …

How would Palme have responded to today’s Orwellian lie machines that would have made Joseph Goebbels blush as they wear down our decency, our common sense, and drive us to question incontestable truths?

The last splinters of Jamal Khashoggi have, we assume, been swept under the carpet of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The culprits have freely confessed that they acted on impulse. They just went a bit wild, the way boys do. The Crown Prince is shocked. The rest is fake news. No bone saw, no screams, no Khashoggi lookalike walking out of the consulate wearing the wrong shoes.

So here’s a question. If Palme were Sweden’s prime minister today, and Sweden had a fat arms deal running with Saudi Arabia, which way would he jump? Would he take a sensible, relaxed British view and say, look here, for heaven’s sake, let’s stop moaning and get on with the next shipment, they’re Arabs and they’ve got a war to feed? Or would he – as I want to believe – tell his arms industry: whatever it costs, just bloody well stop. …

How would Palme wish to be remembered? Well, by this for a start. For his life, not his death. For his humanism, courage, and the breadth and completeness of his humanist vision. As the voice of truth in a world hell-bent on distorting it. By the inspiring, inventive enterprises undertaken yearly by young people in his name.

Is there anything I would like to add to his epitaph? A line by May Sarton that he would have enjoyed: One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.

And how would I like to be remembered? As the man who won the 2019 Olof Palme prize will do me just fine“

la abeja February 2, 2020 11:23 AM

That’s Boris Badenov with his girlfriend, Natasha or Natalia, I forget. The “bad” guy.

I say girlfriend, because they probably never had the paperwork to get officially married in the “West” (the United States), and a birth certificate with Cyrillic lettering never goes down very well in small town city hall anyways.

It’s a stereotype of a short little Russian guy who doesn’t like to be picked on, and he’s probably pretty sharp with math and computers, and suspected to be involved in organized crime.

It’s from the détente or rapprochement of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, the easing of tensions of a generation.

With all that “official propaganda” from the Kremlin, were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg really that “bad” to have been executed in 1953?

Or Anna Chapman and the “Russian spy ring” in New York, for that matter?

The Rosenbergs were, I believe, at least partly Jewish or Russian Jewish, and in any event opposed to the Nazis in WWII, and the U.S. intelligence community’s recruitment of former or not-so-former Nazi scientists via Operation Paperclip.


That’s the problem with Communism. It’s too touchy-feely, exclusively oriented to a mafia “society” or “the community” in the view of the bosses or dictators of a disarmed proletariat, without any respect whatsoever to individual rights.

itgrrl February 2, 2020 5:32 PM

I’ll bet that even if Jay Ward Productions knew about it they would have decided that discretion was the better part of valour and refrained from suing the NSA for copyright infringement…

stormwyrm February 3, 2020 3:05 AM

The magician on page 17 kinda looks more than a little like Guy Fawkes as made famous by V for Vendetta and Anonymous. I wonder what they’re trying to say with the one on page 31. The words “UNDER GOD” crossed out and “PEOPLE” in “OF THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE” and replaced with “STATE”. Is that their goal? (grin) Then there’s the hollow nickel with the microfilm on page 116. A MicroSD card is about that size, so I imagine a lot of folks at the NSA might be having fits about that.

wiredog February 3, 2020 6:56 AM

@la abeja
The Rosenbergs and others in that spy ring started feeding information to the USSR during WW2. They were caught when the KGB violated one of the Prime Directives of spycraft: Don’t reuse your one-time pads.

Z.Lozinski February 3, 2020 10:07 AM

Oh those posters are wonderful, and they are so much a product of their time. My favourites:

  • John Travolta – on a security poster!

  • The Nickel and microfilm – that one is genuinely interesting. (If anyone from the National Cryptologic Museum is reading this, please do a print run for the museum shop …)

  • Think (I’m sure Clive can guess why!)

Jailaid February 6, 2020 3:13 AM

Hello, This is my favorite one. “He can relax… You can’t. Security takes no holiday” It was approved for release NSA on April 17, 2018, FOIA CASE 83661.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.