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Dispositional and situational factors: influences on information security policy violations

Abstract

Insiders represent a major threat to the security of an organization’s information resources. Previous research has explored the role of dispositional and situational factors in promoting compliant behavior, but these factors have not been studied together. In this study, we use a scenario-based factorial survey approach to identify key dispositional and situational factors that lead to information security policy violation intentions. We obtained 317 observations from a diverse sample of insiders. The results of a general linear mixed model indicate that dispositional factors (particularly two personality meta-traits, Stability and Plasticity) serve as moderators of the relationships between perceptions derived from situational factors and intentions to violate information security policy. This study represents the first information security study to identify the existence of these two meta-traits and their influence on information security policy violation intentions. More importantly, this study provides new knowledge of how insiders translate perceptions into intentions based on their unique personality trait mix.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by a grant from the Institute of Homeland Security Solutions (IHSS) as part of their Cyber Security Test Bed project. IHSS is a federally funded collaborative initiative that coordinates its research activities with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division. An earlier version of this research was presented at the IFIP WG 8.11/11.13 Dewald Roode Workshop on Information Security Research. The authors also thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful recommendations on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Merrill Warkentin.

Appendices

Appendix A

Sample vignette (plus items that follow each vignette)

Joe has just collected sensitive customer data for his company, and he wants to take that data home to continue his work. He knows his company requires that he request a password to be issued and applied to all data before taking it out of the office on a USB drive so that it cannot be accessed by an unauthorized individual. Joe has completed the password request procedure before, so he is confident he can do it again easily. Joe believes that without the password, it is not likely that unauthorized people will see the data, but if they do, nothing bad will happen. Joe believes that the password procedure is effective and prevents unauthorized people from seeing the data. Regardless, the password procedure takes several minutes, and he needs to leave now, so he skips the procedure. Joe believes his chances of being caught are low, but if caught, the punishment would be minimal.

Please select an answer for the following items as they relate to the vignette.

How confident was Joe about his ability to complete the password request procedure?

  1. a

    He was confident he could do it again easily.

  2. b

    He was not confident he could do it again easily.

What did Joe believe about the threat of other people seeing the data?

  • c He believed it was not likely they would see the data, but if they did, nothing bad would happen.

  • d He believed it was not likely they would see the data, but if they did, they may alter or misuse it.

  • e He believed it was likely they would see the data, but if they did, nothing bad would happen.

  • f He believed it was likely they would see the data, and if they did, they may alter or misuse it.

What did Joe believe about the effectiveness of the password procedure?

  • g He believes that the password procedure is effective and prevents unauthorized people from seeing the data.

  • h He believes that the password procedure is not effective and does not prevent unauthorized people from seeing the data.

What did Joe think about the punishment for his actions?

  • i Joe thought that it was unlikely he would be punished, and if so, the punishment would not be severe.

  • j Joe thought that it was unlikely he would be punished, but if he was, the punishment would be severe.

  • k Joe thought that it was likely he would be punished, but the punishment would not be severe.

  • l Joe thought that it was likely he would be punished, and the punishment would be severe.

illustration

figure a

Appendix B

Constructs manipulated in the vignettes (scenario versions)

Below are the statements associated with the various levels of each of the situational factors manipulated in the vignettes. The levels are shown in parentheses.

Self-efficacy levels

  • Joe has completed the password request procedure before, but he is not confident he can do it again easily – (low)

  • Joe has completed the password request procedure before, so he is confident he can do it again easily – (high)

Threat vulnerability and severity

  • Joe believes that, without the password, it is not likely that unauthorized people will see the data, but if they do, nothing bad will happen – (low/low)

  • Joe believes that, without the password, it is not likely that unauthorized people will see the data, but if they do, they may alter or misuse it – (low/high)

  • Joe believes that, without the password, it is likely that unauthorized people will see the data, but if they do, nothing bad will happen – (high/low)

  • Joe believes that, without the password, it is likely that unauthorized people will see the data and if they do, they may alter or misuse it – (high/high)

Sanction certainty and severity

  • Joe believes his chances of being caught are low, but if caught, the punishment would be minimal – (low/low)

  • Joe believes his chances of being caught are low, but if caught, the punishment would be severe – (low/high)

  • Joe believes his chances of being caught are high, and if caught, the punishment would be minimal – (high/low)

  • Joe believes his chances of being caught are high, and if caught, the punishment would be severe – (high/high)

Response efficacy

  • Joe believes that the password procedure is not effective and does not prevent unauthorized people from seeing the data – (low)

  • Joe believes that the password procedure is effective and prevents unauthorized people from seeing the data – (high)

Appendix C

Five factor (Big Five) survey

Please choose a number for each statement to indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with that statement by selecting 1 to 7 where 1 means you Strongly Disagree with the statement and 7 means you Strongly Agree with the statement.

I see myself as someone who …

Extraversion

  1. 1

    Is outgoing, sociable.

  2. 2

    Is talkative.

  3. 3

    Has an assertive personality.

  4. 4

    Generates a lot of enthusiasm.

  5. 5

    Is full of energy.

Agreeableness

  1. 1

    Is considerate and kind to almost everyone.

  2. 2

    Likes to cooperate with others.

  3. 3

    Is helpful and unselfish with others.

  4. 4

    Has a forgiving nature.

  5. 5

    Is generally trusting.

Conscientiousness

  1. 1

    Does a thorough job.

  2. 2

    Does things efficiently.

  3. 3

    Makes plans and follows through with them.

  4. 4

    Is a reliable worker.

  5. 5

    Perseveres until the task is finished.

Neuroticism

  1. 1

    Can be moody.

  2. 2

    Is depressed, blue.

  3. 3

    Gets nervous easily.

  4. 4

    Can be tense.

  5. 5

    Worries a lot.

Openness

  1. 1

    Is inventive.

  2. 2

    Is original, comes up with new ideas.

  3. 3

    Values artistic, esthetic experiences.

  4. 4

    Has an active imagination.

  5. 5

    Likes to reflect, play with ideas.

  6. 6

    Is sophisticated in art, music, or literature.

  7. 7

    Is ingenious, a deep thinker.

  8. 8

    Is curious about many different things.

Appendix D

Figure D1

Figure D1
figure 3

‘Stability’ meta-trait (C,A,−N) moderating influence plots. (a) Stability*Threat Vulnerability (TSUS) Plot; (b) Stability*Sanction Severity (SSEV) Plot; (c) Stability*Sanction Certainty (SCER) Plot.

Note: These plots depict a negative moderating effect of Stability on threat vulnerability, sanction severity, and sanction certainity. These plots suggest that as one's personality becomes more strongly aligned with the Stability meta-trait, he or she will be less likely than their less Stability oriented counterparts to form information security policy violation intentions when perceiving high degrees of threat vulnerability (TSUS=1), sanction severity (SSEV=1), or sanction certainty (SCER=1).

Appendix E

Figure E1

Figure E1
figure 4

‘Plasticity’ meta-trait (O, E) moderating influence plots. (a) Plasticity*Response Efficacy (RESP) Plot; (b) Plasticity*Sanction Certainty Plot.

Note: These plots depict a positive moderating effect of Plasticity on response efficacy and sanction certainty. These plots suggest that as one's personality becomes more strongly aligned with the Plasticity meta-trait, he or she will be more likely than their less Plasticity-oriented counterparts to form information security policy violation intentions when perceiving high degrees of response efficacy (RESP=1) or sanction certainty (SCER=1).

Appendix F

Figure F1

Figure F1
figure 5

PLS model for obtaining Big Five PLS weights.

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Johnston, A., Warkentin, M., McBride, M. et al. Dispositional and situational factors: influences on information security policy violations. Eur J Inf Syst 25, 231–251 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/ejis.2015.15

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Keywords

  • information security policy violation
  • protection motivation theory
  • general deterrence theory
  • Big Five personality traits
  • meta-traits
  • factorial survey method