Security in Practice: Examining the Collaborative Management of Sensitive Information in Childcare Centers and Physicians' Offices


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Virginia Tech


Traditionally, security has been conceptualized as rules, locks, and passwords. More recently, security research has explored how people interact in secure (or insecure) ways in part of a larger socio-technical system. Socio-technical systems are comprised of people, technology, relationships, and interactions that work together to create safe praxis. Because information systems are not just technical, but also social, the scope of privacy and security concerns must include social and technical factors. Clearly, computer security is enhanced by developments in the technical arena, where researchers are building ever more secure and robust systems to guard the privacy and confidentiality of information. However, when the definition of security is broadened to encompass both human and technical mechanisms, how security is managed with and through the day-to-day social work practices becomes increasingly important.

In this dissertation I focus on how sensitive information is collaboratively managed in socio-technical systems by examining two domains: childcare centers and physicians' offices. In childcare centers, workers manage the enrolled children and also the enrolled child's personal information. In physicians' offices, workers manage the patients' health along with the patients' health information. My dissertation presents results from interviews and observations of these locations. The data collected consists of observation notes, interview transcriptions, pictures, and forms. The researchers identified breakdowns related to security and privacy. Using Activity Theory to first structure, categorize, and analyze the observed breakdowns, I used phenomenological methods to understand the context and experience of security and privacy.

The outcomes from this work are three themes, along with corresponding future scenarios. The themes discussed are security embodiment, communities of security, and zones of ambiguity. Those themes extend the literature in the areas of usable security, human-computer interaction, and trust. The presentation will use future scenarios to examine the complexity of developing secure systems for the real world.



Security, Trust, Privacy, Usable Security, Computer Supported Collaborative Work