Historically, a majority (82%) of the cyberattacks organizations face are attributed to human error. Something so technical often boils down to an employee clicking on the wrong link. Cybercriminals know this and often exploit this behavior.
With malicious actors working to take advantage of human nature, security leaders need to work with their teams to know how to quickly respond when a crisis strikes. To accomplish this, security leaders must stop thinking of their employees as their weakest link and instead work with them to turn them into their strongest asset.
This change starts with a shift in mindset. It’s essential to understand how attackers are tapping into the psyche of employees and using that to their advantage, as well as the steps organizations can take to build cyber resilience throughout the company.
How cybercriminals hack the brain
Psychology and behavioral science play integral parts in a strong cybersecurity foundation — and on the flip side, are heavily utilized by threat actors. When you dive into how the brain works, it’s impressive what human beings are capable of. It takes a lot of effort to keep a clear head, even in the calmest of settings.
But when in a state of crisis, a tiny part of the brain, the amygdala, releases adrenaline, which cuts the noise so people hyper focus on the one thing in front of them — this is what causes the “fight or flight” response. In this situation, people believe they’re in control of their actions, decisions and behavior. However, in reality, they’re unaware of many happenings around them. This is the natural state that malicious cybercriminals take advantage of when deploying threats and mining for weaknesses.
How security leaders can use psychology to protect their organizations from attacks
The good news is that there are ways security leaders can strengthen their workforce to overcome this exploitation. Cybercriminals hope to take advantage of what they see as the faulty component within organizations: employees. So, rather than double down on technological defenses, leaders should upskill their people to become an organization’s biggest asset, creating an unbreakable brick wall.
Here are three ways leaders can build true resilience within their organizations:
1. Strengthen team chemistry/morale
As important as it is for employees to be comfortable with cyber-specific scenarios, cybersecurity is a team sport. If strong, trusted group dynamics are not in place, defensive efforts will be much less effective.
Take a broader approach — employees should adopt a collective responsibility mindset throughout the entire organization, so as to not place blame or pressure on just the cybersecurity teams. That said, since security teams often feel the most pressure, leaders should implement team-building activities, such as exercising together regularly, as this helps the team build a better understanding of each other’s work methods and priorities. Doing this can make a huge impact, as it reduces the friction that can happen during a crisis.
It’s helpful for team members to understand each other in order to tap into each other’s strengths when navigating stressful situations, such as a cyberattack. Team-building efforts may seem trivial when there are “bigger fish to fry,” but security leaders will be thankful if they take the time to strengthen team dynamics during quiet times to ensure a cohesive dynamic during stressful times.
2. Implement regular crisis simulations
Tools and technology alone don’t cut it in building cyber resilience as they don’t account for the strongest and weakest part of the organization — the people. Individual and team capabilities need to be emphasized just as much, if not more.
The current landscape is messy and traditional certifications are not enough to protect against evolving attacks and sophisticated threat actors. Employees should instead participate in regular real-life cyber simulations that are up-to-date with the “threatscape” they are defending against. This goes a much longer way than certifications. By exercising more regularly and strategically, employees will build their cognitive agility and think more clearly in times of stress.
3. Understand how resilient your organization is
“Cyber resilience” is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days, but most people don’t know what drives real resilience. Real resilience means being able to assess, build and prove cyber capabilities across teams and individuals to ensure the entire workforce is prepared for the next attack. Human performance is measured in many areas of life, from sports to school, yet security leaders haven’t been able to develop a report on organizational security posture and how they can improve it.
Not only do organizations need to upskill and exercise their employees more frequently and strategically, but they also must benchmark against others to understand their current level of organizational resilience and identify gaps to highlight vulnerabilities. This bigger-picture view will ultimately drive the future exercises that organizations conduct to scale up and close skills gaps.
Cybercriminals are becoming more and more advanced and are starting to think like psychologists by exploiting the human brain’s ability to perform under pressure. Cyber leaders must tap into that same mindset and work to strengthen the humans within their organizations. By improving team dynamics, implementing frequent, strategic exercises and keeping a finger on the pulse of their workforce’s cyber skills or gaps, leaders will create a stronger, more cyber-resilient organization.