Apple make remarkable products. Not because of any particular feature, but because my toddler was able to pick up my iPhone and scroll around before he was three years old. He instinctively knew how to work it because Apple make their devices so simple to use.
So why is it that a toddler can pick up and use one of the most complex and sophisticated products ever made, but we have to put talented adults on multiple training courses before they can make basic use of cyber security toolsets?

Mind the gap

Every country in the world has a problem with cyber skills. Governments are publishing strategies on how to address the skills gap. Consultancies are generating enormous skills taxonomies that draw in vast swathes of vendor courses, and billions of pounds every year are spent on training in this space – both in terms of purchase cost and also the indirect cost of time spent studying. And still the shortfall of skilled resources grows year on year.
The journey to being an experienced specialist in a complex environment like a Security Operations Centre (SOC) is many years long and necessitates extensive tradecraft development. However, only a minority of the tasks in a SOC actually require that level of knowledge, whilst the majority of tasks just require a fixed Why we must prioritise intuitive interfaces not training blog image approach to be followed – supported by a variety of SOC tools and a little tradecraft knowledge.

Just use it

Let’s just imagine that SOC tools had the time invested in their intuitive ‘just use it’ user experience that Apple applies to its phones. Let’s imagine that we could staff 75 per cent of the SOC with just an hour of tradecraft mentoring per person.
I was posed a question this week: How would I structure training to address a cyber defence skills shortage in a military environment?
My response was to first standardise tools, develop good accessible processes, and then roll out a considered user experience, banking the savings in foundational training to reduce the overall cost of the programme.
The traditional approach is training huge numbers of people but not because they fundamentally need to learn, but as a tactical workaround to an entirely fixable user experience problem.  Importantly, this not only bleeds budget but also perpetuates a culture where experts are experts because their CV consists of sufficient vendor qualifications, rather than their practical experience and ability to approach challenges creatively.
So what could we do to address this challenge?

Better by design

When I talk to my colleagues here at Digital Intelligence that work on the user experience across a range of our data and digital projects, it’s fascinating to discover how much science goes into making an intuitive experience. When we included their expertise in the engineering processes that created our own user facing interfaces years ago, their impact was immediate. Interfaces designed by engineers are created for functional reasons, but bring design specialists in and usability instantly improves.
We can bring this thinking to the SOC space. In a past project, our client delivery team observed that the retention of customer SOC staff was, on average, only between one and two years, primarily driven by internal promotions and career rotation within the customer environment. New starters took six to nine months to undertake training and ‘get their feet under the table’, and thus productivity remained low. The team hacked up a simplified independent interface to the client’s SIEM tooling APIs that presented junior analysts with minimal complexity and just the required information to make triage decisions about alerts. Problem solved; new starters could begin work in weeks, not months.
We vote with our feet for so many products we use every day, phones included. Unintuitive and complicated interfaces were commonplace as Blackberry and Nokia phones monopolised the smartphone market, both of whom then lost much of their cumulative majority market share when Scott Forstall's revolutionary iOS user experience arrived.
Surely we are due the same revolution in the cyber security market?

About the author
Chris Holt is a National Cyber Mission Pre-Sales Lead at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence

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Chris Holt

National Cyber Mission Pre-Sales Lead, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence