Combatting human error in cyber risks

According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, more than one-third of companies that had data breaches in the past quarter are due to simple human mistakes. This won’t come as a surprise in the security industry; human error has long been known to be the weakest link when it comes to IT security. It’s time for businesses to act on this vulnerability.

Businesses need to have the right protection measures in place but if that doesn’t include educating employees about the ways they can mitigate risk, then the business is likely to fall victim to an attack no matter how good their technology is. It’s therefore crucial for businesses to understand the ways in which employees contribute to risk and, therefore, how to combat this.

Employees contribute to security risks in five ways:

1. Lack of attention

Employees are busy trying to do their jobs. Phishing attacks use this to their advantage. They send emails that look like they’re from a legitimate source, tricking employees into paying money into accounts, providing password details, or divulging other sensitive information without realising they’ve been hacked.

2. Lack of understanding

Employees can feel stymied by good security policy if they don’t understand why that policy is in place. They can look for workarounds that help them move faster but open up the organisation to risk. For example, they may use Dropbox to share documents instead of sharing them through secure channels. It’s essential to ensure that employees understand the reason for security policies that they may find cumbersome to increase the chance that they’ll comply.

3. Lack of hygiene

Good security hygiene demands that employees don’t connect unsecured devices to the network. Don’t insert unknown USB drives into laptops, and don’t click on suspicious links in emails. Yet, every day, organisations catch their employees doing all of these things. So it’s imperative to put in place specific policies around these actions and communicate them regularly and clearly to employees so everyone knows what not to do.

4. Lack of complexity

One of the weakest links in an organisation is passwords. Staff members can become overwhelmed with the number of unique passwords they need to remember, so they opt using the same password across multiple accounts or they use easy-to-guess passwords. This makes it easier for cybercriminals to gain access to the network. Employees must use complex, hard-to-crack passwords, change them regularly, and use multi-factor authentication when it’s available.

5. Lack of device management

Bring your own device (BYOD) policies are appreciated by employees who prefer using their own device for work. However, this can blur the lines between personal information and corporate information. And if the employee downloads or accesses sensitive customer information on their own device, it creates potential for non-compliance with privacy legislation. Companies that do allow BYOD must ensure that devices are properly secured and segmented on the network, and must insist that employees protect these devices with biometric security and remote wiping features. Companies should consider providing purpose-built devices for employees to eliminate the risk posed by employee-owned devices.

Being aware of these people-based risks is the first step in mitigating them. Organisations must embark on a sustained, consistent campaign of staff education to ensure that employees know their role in keeping the organisation secure. Regular reminders and updates on security will help keep this important issue top of mind for team members. Minimising user risks, when combined with implementation of the appropriate network security measures will ensure the highest degree of protection in an increasingly risky environment.

Hugo Hutchinson, National BDM for Fortinet, Wavelink

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