Connecting with the senses in today's digital world

Being mindful of the five senses that make us human might make for better security

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Credit: iStockphoto

Yesterday my niece graduated from Hamilton Wenham Regional High School. I attended the ceremony and shed a few tears sparked by the pangs of regret that I no longer engage with students during their formative high school years. The day was bitter sweet, as I also bubbled with pride that the once little babe who told grown ups to touch her red hair because it was "on fire" was now an adult beginning a new chapter in her life.

How does this at all relate to cyber security? I'm getting there, but I first wanted to create some emotional context for you.

In his commencement speech, principal Eric Tracy asked the graduating class of 2016, "I’m sure you all know about the five senses, sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, but how many of you can truly say that you have mastered them as well as you have mastered your technology?"

His words echoed those of so many LifeJourney mentors I have interviewed who spoke about the value of non-technical skills. Communication skills. From interns to CISOs, many have begun to realize that the ability to interact with human beings, to understand what motivates them, to anticipate their behaviors, those in the cyber security world need to not only master technology but also practice the art of being human.

"We live in a world that is moving so quickly that we hardly have a moment to enjoy the company of others without some interference from technology," Tracy said.

It's true. When was the last time you completely disconnected from work while on vacation? Does the fear of a breach distract you from enjoying the company of others? From taking in every moment of your child's soccer game?

Less than an hour after the ceremony ended, my family gathered at a restaurant to celebrate with my niece. We were a party of 15 spread out among a line of four tables. As I watched my daughter laugh with her cousin, I turned to see my niece on her phone. Then my sister pulled out hers, then my dad. Even my husband, who rarely spends his personal time using technology of any kind, was texting at the table.

It saddened me to accept the truth that this is the world that we live in. My children will never appreciate the simplicity of life before hand held devices.

In closing his address, Tracy said, "No matter the path you choose, I know that the most successful of you will be the ones who can make the best personal connections. Take the time to see and feel the textures, to smell the smells, to hear the sounds and see the sights of the world around you. These experiences will last a lifetime and help you to slow down and soak in all that is truly important in this fast paced world of the 21st century."

I couldn't help but see the correlation between Tracy's message to these graduates and the future pool of candidates who will slowly fill the cyber security jobs gap. His words resonated with me so much that I've been reflecting for the past 24 hours, on some of the most profound statements people have shared with me during interviews.

Though I can't recall who among the many folks I've spoken with said it, I remember I was affected by one man's words, which were akin to At the end of the day, cyber security is about a human being defending against another human being. The technology doesn't matter. 

Tracy warned, "As we know, there is no emotion in a text. We often infer the meaning of the electronic communication, but we rarely get it right." If the next generation of cyber security professionals relies on technology to infer meaning, they won't get it right either.

As automation tools, machine learning, user behavior analytics, and even AI continues to evolve, what will remain a critical key to the success of security programs is the participation of human beings. Honing in on the human ability to feel compassion and empathy, to walk in someone else's shoes, to understand the opponent's objective and perspective might afford greater success in defending against bad actors. 

The wishful thinker in me hopes it might even deter some people from engaging in cyber crime. The anonymity of cyber allows human beings to act without conscience because they know they are not being watched. Our task as human beings as we develop more intimate relationships with technology is to somehow convince people that there is value in doing good even when no one is watching.

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