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The Human Factor in Cybersecurity: How to Mitigate Human Errors

In the world of cybersecurity, we often talk about sophisticated hacking tools and complex encryption technologies. But one factor that is frequently overlooked, yet plays a crucial role, is the human element. A simple mistake like clicking on a phishing email or using a weak password can open the door to a major cyber incident. The 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, for instance, spread through an email phishing campaign, causing havoc across 150 countries and costing $4B in damages.

Types of human error

Humans are both the weakest link and the first line of defence in cybersecurity. They can inadvertently cause breaches by failing to follow security protocols or they can prevent them by being vigilant and proactive. Thus, understanding and managing human behaviour is key to strengthening cybersecurity defences.

There are tons of ways people can make mistakes, but we can generally put them into two groups: slips and lapses, and lack of knowledge errors. The main difference between these groups is whether the person knew how to do the right thing or not.


Slips and lapses

When people make small mistakes while doing things they know how to do. These are called slips and lapses. Imagine you're doing something you've done many times before but, this time, you mess up. In these scenarios, the end-user knows what the correct course of action is, but fails to do so due to a temporary lapse, mistake or negligence. These might happen because the employee is tired, not paying attention, is distracted, or otherwise has a brief lapse of memory.


Lack of knowledge

Mistakes happen when a person makes a bad choice. This can be because of many reasons, often it includes the user not having the necessary level of knowledge, not having enough information about the specific circumstance, or not realizing that by doing nothing, they are actually making a decision.

For instance, if you don't know about phishing risks, you're more likely to fall for such scams. Similarly, if you're unaware of the dangers of public Wi-Fi, your data can be easily stolen. This lack of knowledge isn't usually the person's fault - organizations should educate their staff to ensure they have the skills needed to stay safe and secure.


Common Human Errors in Cybersecurity

Some common human errors that lead to cybersecurity breaches include:


Using weak or reused passwords

This is a major security risk because weak passwords can be easily guessed or cracked by hackers. Common weak passwords include simple sequences like "123456" or common words like "password". Reusing passwords across different accounts also poses a risk because if one account is compromised, all others using the same password are at risk.

Clicking on phishing emails

Phishing scams are designed to trick people into revealing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details. The email might look like it's from a company you know, but when you click on a link, you're taken to a fake website where your personal information can be stolen.

Failing to install software updates

Software updates often contain patches for security vulnerabilities. Not installing these updates can leave your device open to attacks. Hackers are quick to exploit known vulnerabilities and when you don't update your software, you're not repairing those weak spots, making it easier for the hackers to get in.

Sharing sensitive information without verifying the recipient's identity

This can occur in various ways, such as over email, phone calls, or text messages. If you share sensitive information without confirming who you're sharing it with, you risk that information being used maliciously. This is like handing over your credit card to a stranger.

These errors, while seemingly minor, can have catastrophic consequences if exploited by malicious actors.


What are the strategies to mitigate human error in your business?

Human error only happens when there's an opportunity for it, so it's crucial to reduce these chances as much as we can. However, without knowing the right course of action or understanding the risks, users will continue making mistakes. Therefore, it's important to tackle human error from both angles to protect your organization effectively.


Regular, comprehensive training 

Ensure that all employees, regardless of their role or level of expertise, receive consistent training, to establish a uniform understanding of procedures, expectations and standards across the entire organization. This consistency is key to preventing misunderstandings or discrepancies that can lead to errors, because Business processes, technologies, and industry regulations can change over time.


Software Updates

are critical improvements to existing applications or system software, often containing fixes for known vulnerabilities. These weaknesses can be exploited by hackers for unauthorized access, disruption of operations, or theft of sensitive information. Developers create patches to rectify these issues, which are included in subsequent updates and distributed to users. Installing these updates not only equips the software with the latest features and optimizes performance, but also fortifies its defenses against potential exploits, thereby maintaining a secure digital environment.


Privilege Control

Ensure your users have access only to the data and functionality they need for their roles. This limits the potential exposure of information in case a mistake leads to a security breach.


Password Management

Password-related errors are a significant risk, so keeping users away from managing passwords can help. Using password manager applications allows users to generate and store strong passwords without having to memorize them or risk writing them down. Implementing two-factor authentication across your organization adds an extra layer of account protection.


Promote Dialogue

Encourage conversations about security, particularly those relevant to users' everyday tasks. This encourages engagement and helps users understand how they can contribute to the organization's security.


Encourage Questions

Users may often find themselves unsure about certain security aspects. It's better if they ask questions rather than guessing and potentially making a mistake. Make sure there's always someone available to answer their queries in a friendly way, and reward those who ask insightful questions. Your team should know who to go to if they get an email they suspect is a phishing attempt.


Use Visual Reminders

Security posters and tips can serve as constant reminders, helping users keep security in mind during their workday. For example, a poster about strong passwords can remind users about the requirements for keeping company accounts secure.

A Comprehensive Approach to Mitigating Human Error

Mitigating human error in business is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a comprehensive approach involving both preventive and proactive strategies. By combining these methods, businesses can significantly reduce the likelihood of errors and enhance their overall security posture.

Enabl has a platform that delivers user-tailored training, phishing simulations, dark web monitoring and policies – all automated in a single tool.

If you're eager to significantly minimize human error within your organization, don't hesitate to contact us.