The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

The Center for Education and Research in
Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

Celeste Paul - National Security Agency

Students: Spring 2023, unless noted otherwise, sessions will be virtual on Zoom.

Hacking Stressed: Frustration, burnout, and the pursuit of happiness

Nov 13, 2019

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Anyone in this business knows how fun and exciting hacking can be, but also the emotional and physical toll it can take. Mental health is a longstanding dirty secret in the infosec community, and we are just now learning how to talk about it. The wear and tear of everyday stress combined with an 'always on' aspect of an operational environment creates a perfect storm for burning out. While stress can have a negative impact on job performance, my primary concern is on the health and safety of infosec professionals themselves. Not only does stress have short term effects on cognitive abilities and performance, but recurrent acute stress can have long term effects on health (mental and physical) as well as burnout and turnover. There are many sources of stress in infosec operations, some of which can be managed while others are simply the nature of the job. Activities that require long periods of vigilance and creativity will deplete cognitive resources and increase fatigue. Some of these activities have unpredictable results that can increase frustration. Other times, external factors unrelated to the activity itself may introduce new sources of stress that are not normally present. A certain level of stress is to be expected in these operations because they are considerably difficult, have a high risk vs. reward trade-off, and require a significant amount of knowledge and skill. But, how much stress can you take on and still be a happy hacker? In this talk I will discuss why infosec is so stressful, how this stress affects you and your network, and some things you can do about it. I will also discuss lessons learned from my research study of tactical cyber operations that studied fatigue, frustration, and cognitive workload in operators.

About the Speaker

Dr. Celeste Lyn Paul is a senior researcher for the National Security Agency where she studies the impact of human factors on cybersecurity.

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