What Can Vintage NSA Security Awareness Posters Tell Us?

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From its earliest days, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has used inventive security awareness materials to keep security top-of-mind among employees, as evidenced in the NSA’s recent release of more than 100 posters from the 1950s to the 1970s. While many of the posters reflect the secrecy (even paranoia) of the Cold War era, they also offer interesting takeaways for today’s security awareness and infosec professionals.

  • The posters are designed to grab employees’ attention. The eye-catching graphic design makes use of illustrations, photos, and pop-culture references. By turns lighthearted, grim, patriotic, and sentimental, the posters are never dull. Are your security awareness efforts similarly engaging?
  • The NSA used security awareness posters for decades. Think about it: An agency charged with handling some of the country’s most sensitive secrets found these reminders valuable enough to keep producing over the years. Shouldn’t such materials also have a place in your company’s security awareness program?
  • Many posters offer actionable tips and advice. They encourage security practices that are still relevant today, such as clean desk habits, disposing of sensitive materials safely, and protecting information when traveling. Today’s employees can still use reminders of these and other best practices.

One theme that emerges across these posters — and one that resonates with our approach — is that information security requires the attention and participation of end users. Security cannot be accomplished with technology alone, whether that technology is 1960s-era locked file cabinets or the latest firewall and endpoint protections. End users have a critical role to play.

The following gallery highlights posters we found particularly relevant to creating a culture of security. A PDF of all 135 posters is available from the Government Attic website, which obtained them from the NSA under a Freedom of Information Act request.