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Theory of IS Motivation Based on a Behavioural Science Approach



Information Security Practice has evolved over a period from a pure technical perspective to techno legal perspective. While the market is slowly absorbing this transformation, a new dimension of Information Security Management is calling for serious attention. That is the “Human Behavioural Aspects of Information Security Management”.  

Naavi has been in the forefront of defining the transformation of Information Security Management in India from the technical perspective to Techno Legal Perspective. He has introduced the concept of Defensive Legal Protection (DLP) and Offensive Legal Remedy (OLR) approach to augment the present system of Information Security Management based on Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) and Business Continuity Plan (BCP). Accordingly Corporate entities are urged to introduce a new Information Security Framework based on not only installing the most optimal technical security measures including access controls, encryption, IDS, etc, but augmenting it with compliance of Cyber Laws. Naavi has also developed an Information Security Framework , exclusively for Legal Process Outsourcing Companies called LIPS 1008 and also a more generic framework for Techno Legal Compliance under the new Information Technology Act (2008 version) called IISF 309 which is due to be effective anytime.

 Now for the first time in India, an attempt is being made to approach the Information Security implementation issue from the perspective of Human Behavioural Science perspective.

 The transformation from the technical perspective of IS to Techno legal perspective of IS was based on the appreciation that technical IS can never be perfect and hence breaches are a definite probability leading to legal liabilities. Hence the Techno legal IS approach was developed to cover the exceptions where the technical security is breached and a legal liability is created against the information owner.

 Now after a few years of intense interaction with the information security community in which Naavi has been discussing the need for a changed approach at corporate level we are seeing an emergence of an appreciation at the IT professional forums that they need to understand Cyber Laws and incorporate the principles of Cyber Law Compliance into the technical designs of IS systems. In the coming years we expect to see a convergence of Cyber Law professionals and IT professionals and the tribe of Techno legal professionals will be on the increase.

 However, during the course of these interactions, Naavi has found that in achieving the Techno legal information security objectives, there is a “Human Behavioural element” that plays a significant role. The adoption of the Techno legal prescriptions get influenced by these human factors which the society needs to understand and incorporate in Corporate IS policies.

 The experience which Naavi has gained through hundreds of interactions with corporate IS professionals has developed into a thought process represented here putting forth a hypothesis on how Companies and Corporate employees get motivated for the adoption of Information Security in their day to day affairs. This understanding may help in strategizing IS policies in an enterprise. The thoughts are in the preliminary stage of development and will be refined and expanded in the days to come with inputs from like minded persons. For the purpose of identification, this thought process will be referred to as “Theory of IS Motivation”. (TISM).

 The objective of TISM is to understand the human behavioural factors that affect implementation of Information Security in an enterprise using “Information” as a key asset.

 The theory can be visualized through the TISM Security Pentagon shown below:


 Fig 1: Five Elements of Security Implementation

 Naavi’s Theory of Information Security Motivation is built on the premise that Information Security adoption in an enterprise is built on five factors namely

  1. Awareness
  2. Acceptance
  3. Availability
  4. Mandate
  5. Inspiration

The natural progression of the enterprise in implementing the Information Security practices is  from Awareness to Acceptance to Availability to Mandate and Inspiration. However the relationship of these different elements of motivation is not  built one above the other as in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

 The Five Elements

 Though awareness is a  foundation element without which the IS implementation cannot be proceed in an organization, we consider that it is better placed as one of the five boundaries of the Security Pentagon in the model rather than the base of a pyramid. Awareness of IS at the top management level helps in the enterprise allocating necessary resources and making security available in an organization.

 Awareness at the user level is also an important building block of the IS system since no IS practice can be successful without the participation of the users.

 The reason why “Awareness” is not put as a foundation block over which other elements are developed is that the IT user industry is dependent on systems supplied by other vendors. Many times the users are not experts in IT but are domain persons to whom the tools have been given with operational training of how to use. In such cases the person using the IT device may not be aware of security requirements but the software may be having an inbuilt security implementation based on the vendor’s awareness of what the user needs.

 Awareness however cannot be passive information dump on the IS managers or users for it to be an action point. There are many instances where a person is aware of an IS policy but does not care to follow. Other needs such as convenience override his readiness to adopt security practices. The reason is that the person who is aware might not have “accepted” the security requirement. Hence “Awareness” needs to be translated to “Acceptance” before any action can be motivated. 

Once the awareness of security is present in an organization and is also accepted by the target group, the group will search for means to implement the security. At this stage the availability of security tools become relevant. At the management level this is the time for budgeting the acquisition of security products and services. In many organizations, the implementation stalls at this level because the solutions may not be available or even if available may not be affordable. The hurdle can be passed after further  awareness and acceptance is created on how critical is a security requirement, what are the consequences of not introducing the relevant security requirement etc. Once the new level of awareness and acceptance is high enough to overcome the barrier, the implementation may move forward.  

We can therefore say that the implementation tends to move in waves trying to move from one element to another crossing the barriers at each level when surge of energy is available. If the energy is not strong enough to cross the barrier, the implementation remains at the previous element only. 

The fourth element of the Security Pentagon is “Mandate”. This is the forced introduction of security practice as it happens when it becomes legally necessary to introduce reasonable security practices to be in a business. For example the Data protection Act or HIPAA mandates certain security practices or otherwise the enterprise may have to vacate the business. Again to reach this level and implement security practices, appropriate awareness and acceptance should be first crossed.

 Just as security implementation can precede awareness in certain cases as explained earlier, in some cases, the “legal mandate” may initiate IS practice though the management might not have accepted it whole heartedly as beneficial to itself. Based on the mandate the management may have to make available the security prescriptions. Therefore “mandate” precedes “availability” against the natural progression as indicated in the diagram through small arrows.


 Fig 2: Progressions and Influences Between different States of Motivation

 “Mandate” can itself trigger an awareness building exercise, create acceptance and also availability. This sort of development can be clearly seen in the HIPAA related security prescription as well as the ISO audit implementations. We foresee this to happen when ITA 2008 (Information Technology Act 2000 as amended in 2008)

 The fifth element of the Security Pentagon is termed “Inspiration”. What is meant by this element, is that certain individuals or organizations donot wait for “Mandate” to introduce security measures. They are so self motivated that they are fired by an inspiration to be role models and initiate security practices entirely on their own initiative. This may be a leadership characteristic. This is similar to the “Self Actualization” need which Maslow propounded in his theory of motivation.

 Inspired persons are not even constrained by “Lack of availability”. They create availability through their own initiative. Similarly, they trigger awareness campaigns and drive their colleagues towards acceptance through their own adoption and sincere belief. Normally such inspiration comes from the top management such as the CEOs. But it can start anywhere else too.

 How the Theory can be used in practice 

The Security Pentagon model can be used both within an enterprise as well as in other IT frameworks to understand where they stand in respect of implementation of security in their organization or network. It can also help in finding out what is preventing implementation of security, so that appropriate corrective actions can be taken.

 Each person in an organization can be mapped to the different levels of implementation of “Awareness”, “Acceptance” or “Inspiration”.  Their training requirements can be drawn up based on the expected levels at which an employee is targeted to reach. The HR department can design appropriate tools for testing the motivation levels and accordingly develop training plans.

 When security auditors rate an organization, they can develop models of evaluation based on the mapping of the employees to the motivation status of Awareness, Acceptance and Inspiration.


 Fig 3: Audit Observations

 As an example, let’s see the mapping of employees against three motivational status positions of Awareness, Acceptance and Inspiration shown above. The audit indicates that out of the total of 100% employees, in the audit period 1, 10% were classified as being in the self motivated inspirational status while 15 % were in the “Acceptance level”. 40% more were classified as being “Aware” so that a total of 65% were aware and 35% were below the awareness level. In the second audit period, on a percentage basis, while the Inspirational level employees did not change, the acceptance level employees reduced to 12% and the overall aware employees were 60%.

 The management can try to interpret these results and compare it with the efforts and investments made by the firm in awareness training, during the period between the two audits. It is possible that a set of new employees could not be given awareness training and hence the overall awareness level could have dropped. The drop in the acceptance level could be because  of dropping off of enthusiasm due to lack of “Refresher Training” for employees who had already been trained earlier. Such analysis could provide a measurable scale for determining the ROI of the IS investments.

 Where the regulatory authorities (or the top management within an organization) consider that the IS implementation in the community is below the acceptable levels they can try tightening the mandatory provisions.

 For example, if Cyber Cafes are not complying with the regulations, the State Government can make it mandatory and introduce a licensing system based on  the fulfillment of mandatory provisions. A corporate entity can make passing of an Awareness test mandatory for promotion or introduce sanctions to punish non compliance.

 Top Management can consider the status of making the security implementation tools “Available” to the users in the organization either on the basis of the “Inspiration” levels of the decision makers or because of “Mandate” as they are aware of and accept.

 Managements can consider additional investments in various security components if they need to give a push to the IS implementation.

 Thus several issues of IS management can be addressed using the Security pentagon model.

 At present many organizations which have high stakes in IT are low on awareness particularly of the Techno Legal Security requirements.  It is for this reason that many offences take place in an organization in which the employees are involved and causes problems for the superior officers and the organization.

 Company’s can also study why their investments in “Awareness” donot always translate into “Acceptance” and take appropriate corrective steps. This may require an enterprise level survey from time to time suitably structured to elicit the required information.

 It is easy to measure how many employees of an organization have been made “Aware” but it is not easy to measure how many of them have reached the level of “Acceptance” or how many are “Inspired” and self motivated. Suitable exercises on the lines of management games need to be developed to understand the number of employees who have graduated from awareness to other levels.

 It is possible that some individuals may be at awareness level for 10 concepts but at acceptance level for only 5 concepts and at Inspiration level for one or two concepts. The individuals may therefore exhibit a mixed status and their levels may have to be represented like what is normally done in the development of an “ego gram” in TA analysis. These are subjects of advanced study of the model.

Similarly it would be interesting to study how “Mandating” affects “Acceptance”. Will the users show a tendency to comply? or tendency to revolt? Does this have any correlation to the Technology levels of the users or power structures in the organizations? .. are also issues to be observed.

 Like all models, this Pentagon model of Information Security Motivation will be a tool to organize the IS efforts of an organization and help in resolving some difficult to understand reasons which seem to hinder IS implementation.

 More research can throw up data on how the model can be applied to a given situation and how the observations can be quantified and measured.


27th September 2009

[Comments Welcome]

 Comments are Welcome at naavi@vsnl.com

Also Read : What Motivates an Individual to adopt Security?