Security Awareness Blog

Security Awareness - Lost In Translation

One of the things I absolutely love about security awareness is how I'm constantly learning about human behavior and the challenges when dealing with different cultures. One example is languages, many things we may take for granted in our native language can be very different in other languages or cultures. If you are a large organization, or if your security awareness program encompasses many different groups, these differences become a big issue. One of my favorite examples is the concept of Safety versus Security. In English these two words address two different concepts. Safety is focused more on environmental or accidental threats, such as storms, earthquakes, car accidents, food poisoning, etc. Security is more focused on deliberate threats, such as cyber criminals or malicious insiders. Most awareness programs focus on deliberate threats, i.e. Security. At this point, if you are a native English speaker you are probably asking asking yourself what is the big deal? The challenge becomes when you start translating these concepts into other languages. For many languages, especially European ones, the word Safety and Security is actually the same word. Seriously, go to and try these two different words in other languages such as German, Spanish, Norwegian or Polish. If you design your awareness materials in English, you may confuse users if your materials are literally translated into other languages. For example, the term "Securing The Human" may sound like in Dutch how to walk in the Netherlands safely without getting ran over by crazed byciclists (if you have ever been to Netherlands you know what I mean :). It is challenges like these that require you to have people who really understand the local cultures and languages.

By the way, another lesson learned. Humor does not translate well into other languages. If your awareness training will be used in many different cultures, be very careful how you use humor. I learned this the hard way in Japan at a presentation I did. What favorite stories do you have about things Lost In Translation?