22 March

90% of Cyber Breaches Are Caused by Human Error: Here’s How to Close the Loop

Your greatest threat to IT security is not who you think it is. 

When we picture a cyber threat, we picture a hacker; a shady person in a hoodie, hunched over a desk of several computer screens, walls of green binary code flashing away on the monitors like they’re entering the matrix, as they rapidly tear apart your firewall.

In reality, the greatest threat to your IT security is a little closer to home. If you’re sitting reading this in your office, they may have just handed you a report, or preferably, a coffee.

Your employees are far more likely to cause a breach in your IT system than a hacker grinding away at their keyboard. More than 90% of data breaches are the product of human error. 

What Could Your Employees Be Doing Wrong?

The most common form of human-related data breach is falling for simple phishing emails. It’s not ingenious hackers that pose the real danger to your systems, but instead clever and creative copywriters who can craft emails and messages that are so convincingly real your employees believe they are genuine.

Employees give out passwords, personal data and encrypted files totally at peace with the idea they are communicating with a colleague or an official organisation, only to later discover they’ve been duped.

But, while phishing emails may make up the bulk of problems, they aren’t the only problem. 

Leaving devices with access to your systems in public places, accidentally sharing files with the wrong people, connecting personal devices to your IT system that contain malware; there are more than a few ways your employees can accidentally sabotage your cyber security from the inside.

But every problem has a solution.

How to Stop Employee-Related Data Breaches

It’s not a bad thing that employees are your greatest threat to cyber security. Unlike third-party hackers and cybercriminals intent on causing harm, these individuals aren’t your enemy. You have the power to influence your employee’s decisions and behaviours in a way that protects your workplace. 

Reduce Human Interaction 

It’s simple rules of probability. If human error is the primary contributing factor to cyber breaches, the more humans with access to important IT systems and information, the more likely a breach will occur. 

Remove the human, remove the error. Reducing the number of employees who have access to sensitive systems protects your business. 

Automation tools, like automated data entry software, can stop people from being responsible for customer data. The automated systems can’t fall for phishing emails or introduce malware to your servers; therefore, replacing human input processes with machine input processes cuts the chance of system breaches. 

One recommended tool to specifically protect login data through automated data entry is LastPass

This is a system where credentials are assigned to an account belonging to each member of your staff. If they were to receive a request for login information from another member of the team, they would share it with that person’s LastPass account rather than directly. If the request is genuine, the correct person gets the information. If the request is a fake request from somebody posing as the team member asking for login details, the cybercriminal won’t be connected to the LastPass account. Therefore when information is shared by your employee in the belief of this being a legitimate request, the cybercriminal can’t access it. 

You can also reduce the number of employees who access your system by more strategically assigning responsibilities, e.g., you give one member of your team overall control of customer financial data. They can share information if needed with colleagues but retain exclusive responsibility. This means you only have one person at risk of a data breach of consumer finances, rather than if everyone on your team had access to this data. 

Setting Guidelines & Regulations 

A clear and detailed internal policy can make a big difference to your chances of getting hit by human-error-related cyber attacks. By outlining rules that help prevent actions that could benefit cybercriminals, you can stop employees performing an activity that would otherwise have harmed your business. 

For example, having internal policy governing the sharing or use of login details, such as only ever distributing login information on direct instruction from a particular team member, or never inputting sign-in information through a clickable link within an email, and only ever using direct channels, can eliminate certain risk factors to your cyber security. 

These kinds of processes also help alert your staff to fraudulent activity. Say the internal policy is to never request passwords over email or text, yet they receive a request through one of these platforms, they’ll instantly be aware the request is unlikely to be coming from a colleague. 

Education of Risk

Human error is exactly that – an error, a mistake. It’s easier to make mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what to look out for in phishing emails, if you don’t know that malware can jump from your personal laptop to the business computer network when you connect it, you don’t know you are risking company cybersecurity. 

Most people are aware of basic cyber threats, but many individuals are not prepared for the level of complexity that now goes into phishing attempts and malware infiltration. Your staff might be looking out for dodgy-looking emails, but successful attempts at cyber breaches are rarely this amateur. Phishing specialists will regularly use social media, public information and other avenues of specific and targeted exploitation to gain access to sensitive information. This is not the kind of thing many people are trained to look out for, which is why education of risk by qualified IT security service specialists is potentially the most powerful way of reducing your risk of human error breaches. 

The more advanced the training, the more intricacies of how data breaches can occur are imparted and understood, the better your chances of avoiding such a problem. 

Develop Data-security Culture 

You can set guidelines and you can evaluate and educate, but if your employees don’t take these things seriously, it’s all wasted effort. People naturally resist change. Our brains are wired to maintain the status quo. To get people to follow the rules, they need to care about following the rules. 

To really protect your business, you must foster an environment of proactive behaviour; a culture that not only serves to effectively vilify negative behavioural patterns that risk cyber security but also a culture that rewards behavioural patterns that reduce its likelihood. Make it clear how significant cyber security is and how understanding this is a desirable trait in an employee. 

Don’t just educate on what can happen, educate on the consequences of a cyber breach. 

Present reasons why a cyber breach isn’t just ‘bad’, but bad for your employees, bad for their prospects, bad for their colleagues’ prospects, and you’ll start to develop a united culture that stands against the negative consequences of a cyber breach. It’s not even just about getting employees in the mindset to conduct themselves appropriately but giving others a sense of justification to speak up when they feel others are putting security at risk.