The Edge Blog

The Greatest Security Threat To Your Brand Is Your Customer

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The number one reason often cited by consumers for not adopting new technology is fraud.  Having been around for the introduction of a number of new technologies, I can testify this has been a consistent theme for almost a quarter of a century.  The first time I recall hearing the issue of security expressed as a deterrent to technology adoption when the company I worked for in the mid 1990s was in the middle of a very successful IPO road show.  Our company played in the payments space and the investment community was trying to measure the potential of an idea that seemed outrageous to most:  e-commerce.  At nearly every stop on our road show institutional investors would express their belief that our business would see no benefit from consumers shopping online using their credit cards because of security.

Our CEO responded to this assertion in a way that would become a mantra for me when considering what drove consumer behavior related to how they did or did not use technology.  Here’s what he said:  “Really?  How many of you or your spouses order things over the telephone? (Nearly everyone in the room from the investment firm would raise their hands.) So, you give your credit card number and other details to a person in a call center working for minimum wage that you have never met?  (Quiet falls over the assembly!) Why?  Because it is easier than going to the store.  As much as people claim security is a concern, convenience will trump it every time.”  Of course, our CEO Bill Fisher was right and has been right ever since even though at that time all those smart folks in the room disagreed with his statement.

So, even though “security” is still the reason most consumers state as why they are slow to adoption new technology, they will adopt most any technology that adds convenience to their lives regardless of their concerns around safety.  That makes these end users that all our brands ultimately rely on for their value, the greatest threat to that value we covet. This is because not only will they chose convenience over security but that need for convenience also  does convenience trump security concerns when these consumers are deciding what technology they will use, convenience makes them some of the worst practitioners of security measures.  Studies show the average consumer has stored personal information on more than two dozen websites protected by fewer than five unique passwords.  In fact, that information maybe a generous read of the situation as the most common password used by consumers remains “Password123.”  Meanwhile, reverse engineering methods have become increasingly sophisticated, meaning that a single weak link in the chain can be exploited to compromise an entire system.

The consumer’s willingness to trade convenience for security without even realizing they are doing is based on the fact that time remains our most precious commodity.  It is the one thing that none of us can make more of and the one thing most under siege in our multi-tasking based lives.  And things are probably going to get even more complex as the “Internet of Things” is extended into homes with the promise of letting our chip-enabled, fully connected homes take over more of the mundane, repetitive tasks.

Almost certainly future technology advances such as IoT devices will involve making some type of payment when the refrigerator orders more milk (or beer) or the HVAC arranges for its annual service.  That is not a comforting scenario if your job is to make sure the infrastructure that makes payments possible is fully tested and secure since already weaknesses in IoT devices have been exploited in distributed denial of service attacks.  Less serious and more humorous are the stories of Alexa users accidentally ordering merchandise they did not intend to order. 

While those of us in the business can vent their frustrations over end user behavior, our complaints are largely moot. In today’s tech environment, the consumer dictates the rules of engagement. Insistence on stringent constraints that run counter to those rules is a recipe for lost market share and product irrelevance. In such a conundrum, testing strategies that automate repetitive processes and allow for more code coverage will be essential to staying out of the headlines. 

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