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Cybersecurity In-Depth

The Edge

5 Signs Someone Might be Taking Advantage of Your Security Goodness

Not everyone in a security department is acting in good faith, and they'll do what they can to bypass those who do. Here's how to spot them.

Wikipedia defines "good faith" as "a sincere intention to be fair, open, and honest, regardless of the outcome of the interaction." A person who acts in good faith must be truthful and forthcoming with information, even if it affects the end state of a negotiation or transaction. In other words, lying and withholding information, by their very nature, make an interaction anything but good faith.

For many security professionals, good faith is the only way they know how to operate. Unfortunately, the security profession, like any profession, has its share of bad faith actors, too. For example, consider a co-worker who is underperforming and introducing unnecessary risk into the security organization. In certain cases, underperformers will look to sabotage others rather than improve the quality of their work. Or, as another example, consider a bad faith actor who is out to gain competitive intelligence or other information that can be used for any number of purposes, including social engineering.

How can good faith security practitioners identify bad actors and understand when they're being taken advantage of? Here are five signs.

1. Information hoarding: Ever had a conversation, meeting, chat correspondence, or email exchange that feels more like an interrogation than a two-way exchange information? This is a well-known trick – and sign of – a bad faith actor. By the time most good faith actors catch on to the fact that the information flow is entirely one-way, they've already given the bad faith actor a wealth of information.

2. My way or the highway: As a generally rational bunch, good faith actors understand that life is a give and take. But bad faith actors know only how to take, making it difficult to negotiate. Their only concern is what they want, and they will employ a variety of tactics to get what they want while offering little to nothing in return. Unfortunately, good faith actors often fall for this approach, as they would rather disengage and get back to constructive activities than get dirty wrestling in the mud with a bad actor.

3. False generosity: When bad faith actors seek to manipulate people or situations, they will sometimes make what appears to be a generous offer. Conversely, these offers often come at a tremendous cost. How so? If a good faith actor takes a bad faith actor up on an offer, it could be used against them in the future. The bad faith actor could also attempt to convince others of their "good nature" and "generosity" by pointing to a good faith actor who took the offer.

4. Bait and switch: Bait and switch is one of the oldest tricks in the book. As the Latin phrase so aptly states, caveat emptor: Buyer beware. Bad faith actors will often make promises of something they have absolutely no intention of giving to extract what they want from good actors. Once they have what they were after, they go quiet or become evasive. The chances of a good faith actor ever seeing what they wanted are very slim.

5. Promoting a narrative: One way bad faith actors seek out, persuade, and take advantage of new victims is by surrounding themselves with a chorus of approvers. This "posse," of sorts, may consist of witting and/or unwitting accomplices. In some cases, accomplices were recruited via lies or manipulation. In other cases, the accomplices may have their own motivations for why they wish to partake in certain bad faith activities. In any event, bad faith actors will often promote a narrative to help convince new audiences they can be believed. This can be difficult to navigate and often catches good faith actors by surprise.

In the end, a heaping dose of awareness – and even a bit of healthy cynicism – of misleading behaviors can stop bad faith actors from taking advantage and achieving their goals.