This post was written by Derek Pearcy.
Everyone has their limits — limited budget, limited staffing and time — but we seldom take into account the basic limitations imposed on us by something we can hardly control: our minds. But understanding limits helps us work with them, not against them. Following years of hard work and focus, we have now begun to introduce a new security experience.
McAfee wants to bring radical efficiency to cybersecurity staffs. That can be achieved in part by developing technologies like the McAfee® Data Exchange Layer (DXL) to bring cross-product and cross-vendor communication to cybersecurity solutions, though we see a place where the needs of our customers can be met even further by honestly addressing the limits of our minds.
How large is the average person’s working memory? Conventional wisdom says we can juggle seven different things at a time, plus or minus two. Even the smartest among us can still remain fairly ignorant about how little we can hold in our heads at any one time.
Some years ago, University of Notre Dame researchers ran a study1 where they instructed people to start a task at a table on one side of a room before walking to a table on the other side of the room to complete it. As humans, we do that kind of thing reasonably well.
But then the researchers partitioned the room, leaving a doorway between the two tables, and completion rates plummeted. The study blamed that common human experience of walking to another room to get something and forgetting what it was once you got there.
Imagine leaving your living room to make popcorn, but the moment you enter the kitchen you can’t remember what you’d been thinking. The study supposed that our minds dehydrate our sense of where we were as we move from one place to another, to better focus on our new location. But context-switching is a lossy operation. If you don’t deliberately carry something over that threshold, you might drop it. Returning to the living room rehydrates that context, and suddenly you remember the popcorn.
Those researchers ran the same study with people in front of computers. When moving from one end to another of a single space on screen, people did well. Place a virtual partition in the virtual space and completion rates tanked equivalently to moving through contexts in the real world.
Some cybersecurity products might look simple, but navigating through simple contexts still costs something, and with stakes much higher than failing to make popcorn. Common cybersecurity workflows — from investigating threats to changing policy — regularly require moving across many more screens than anyone can hold in their head at the same time. This burns vast amounts of cognition.
Simply by disassembling the old cybersecurity experience to bring related information together in a single, high-context workspace — encouraging the user to drive into the right information at the right time — we shift the cognitive load from managing context switches to actually solving cybersecurity problems.
Over the past 18 months, McAfee has shipped several new and innovative experiences designed to accelerate mundane tasks, focusing limited cybersecurity staff on the task at hand. Our most recent launch was an entirely new product, McAfee® Investigator which combines a high-context, guided experience with powerful cloud-based analytics and machine learning, with strong customer outcomes being praised by industry analysts and customers alike. Bringing McAfee’s UX approach to our existing products is also testing well, reducing some common workflows from minutes to seconds.*
While we look forward to sharing more about our efforts in the weeks and months to come, we know all too well that once you move your attention somewhere else, you’ll likely forget most of what you just read here. Still, if you keep just one thing, remember this: McAfee wants to be your number one security partner, not only by offering full protection from device to cloud but also by making cybersecurity workers radically more efficient — to help you avoid dropping crucial clues without even realizing it, like something you went to the other room to get and forgot what it was once you got there.
We see a bright opportunity for a new security experience. At McAfee, we look forward to getting there together.
1 “Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Situation models and experienced space” (University of Notre Dame); Radvansky, G.A. & Copeland, D.E. Memory & Cognition (2006) 34: 1150.
*Time reductions are intended as examples of how a given McAfee product, in the specified circumstances and configurations, may provide time savings. Circumstances and results will vary.
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