Reducing Normative Conflicts in Information Security

Wolter Pieters, Lizzie Coles-Kemp

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Security weaknesses often stem from users trying to com- ply with social expectations rather than following security procedures. Such normative conflicts between security poli- cies and social norms are therefore undesirable from a secu- rity perspective. It has been argued that system developers have a “meta-task responsibility”, meaning that they have a moral obligation to enable the users of the system they design to cope adequately with their responsibilities. De- pending on the situation, this could mean forcing the user to make an “ethical” choice, by “designing out” conflicts. In this paper, we ask the question to what extent it is possi- ble to detect such potential normative conflicts in the de- sign phase of security-sensitive systems, using qualitative research in combination with so-called system models. We then envision how security design might proactively reduce conflict by (a) designing out conflict where possible in the development of policies and systems, and (b) responding to residual and emergent conflict through organisational pro- cesses. The approach proposed in this paper is a so-called subcultural approach, where security policies are designed to be culturally sympathetic. Where normative conflicts ei- ther cannot be avoided or emerge later, the organisational processes are used to engage with subcultures to encourage communally-mediated control.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNSPW '11: Proceedings of the 2011 New security paradigms workshop, 12-15 Sep 2011, Marin County, CA.
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4503-1078-9
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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