For all the hundreds of firewall rules and network protocols that your security staff may put in place to better safeguard your network, sometimes there’s simply no accounting for the most unpredictable variable of them all: human behavior.

Whether it be through social engineering techniques, bad actors within your own organization, or simple human error, hackers around the world are trained on how to take advantage of a company’s employees and staff in order to gain access to a protected network.

How Employees Become the Weakest Link

“Only amateurs attack machines; professionals target people.” This quote, first coined by famous cryptographer Bruce Schneier in 2000, gets to the root of the problem that many security professionals face in today’s cybersecurity climate. According to the Cyber Risk Culture Survey released by Willis Towers Watson, upwards of 90% of all successful corporate cyberattacks in 2017 could be attributed back to employee error.

Another report released by the cybersecurity firm Dtex Systems estimates that roughly 95% of companies have employees who will attempt to override previously implemented security measures. These kinds of statistics suggest that no matter how hard your network security staff may work to harden the digital barriers to your internal network, ultimately it is the company’s own workers that often prove to be the greatest risk of all.

These security lapses are not always as a result of malicious intent on behalf of the employees, but rather due to their ignorance on the proper ways to protect both themselves and their corporate network while connected to the web.

That said, according to the 2016 Cyber Security Intelligence Index, IBM found that 60% of all major attacks on corporations that year were carried out by insiders, and of those roughly 75% involved malicious intent, while only 25% were the result of reckless employee practices.

So, what is the best way that a company can account for both unintentional human errors, while also remaining vigilant against the threat posed by compromised internal staff?

What Companies Can Do to Mitigate the Problem

Enforcing employee training and implementing proper vetting protocols are the key to mitigating employee-related security issues. By thoroughly vetting employees before they’re hired (especially so in the case of security staff), companies can more effectively plug one of the largest security holes – malicious actors within the company – off at the source.

Similarly, creating efficient training protocols to help non-security employees get up to speed on the risks they face and responsibilities they share in ensuring corporate security is just as important. This way a company can ensure that their network is protected from both intentional and unintentional attacks that may come as a result of human error.

In a more tangible sense, here are some more common techniques that will help a company better protect its data from external and internal threats:

  • Use Smart Employee Emailing Protocols: Many hackers will attempt to hijack the identities of senior staff within a company in order to impersonate them in emails to other employees. They’ll send an infected or malicious email using the manager’s own address, with the expectation that other departments won’t question the validity of the email’s request or any attachments within it. Employees can fight against this by always replying to suspicious requests with a fresh message sent outside of the original chain. This can alert the manager to any potential breaches of their account, and allow network security staff to fix the issue before it has a chance to cause any significant damage.
  • Use Analytics to Predict Employee Behavior: In the age of AI and machine learning, computer systems are getting better than ever at figuring out that most humans – despite how unique we may think we are – generally work in a series of patterns and habits. Using analytics and machine learning to detect anomalies in employee behavior, security staff can be alerted to potential threats earlier, allowing them to react to threats faster.
  • Know Your Biggest Potential Security Holes: Finally, a company should perform regular audits of their security systems and keep track of areas where threats appear the most. By understand which business units are consistently being exploited, upper management can delegate their security personnel to devote more time to ensuring that these departments are better trained, secured and vetted for any employee mistakes that may come up.


Closing Thoughts

Even in an age where employees are more aware of the threat that the web can pose than ever, there’s never going to be a perfect company where every staff member can be considered a security expert.

Therefore, it’s vital that companies take a proactive approach in vetting and training every member of their staff on the risks that the Internet can pose, and inform them on how they can be more vigilant in their day to day life to prevent an attack that may be lurking in the shadows.