Human Factor in Cybersecurity: Know It, Prevent It, Minimize It

The text says, human factors in cybersecurity and man using his phone and checking security in the background

‘Cyber’ and ‘human’: surely there couldn’t be any two words with more opposite meanings? Still, when it comes to the digital security of your company’s business operations, these two terms often go hand in hand.

One of the biggest cybersecurity threats is, in fact, the so-called human factors in cybersecurity. Keep reading our essential guide to learning more about it and learn some bulletproof techniques to prevent and minimize human errors across all your systems and networks.

Defining Human Factors In Cybersecurity

When we talk about the human factors in cybersecurity, we essentially mean any actions performed by an employee that can constitute a threat to a company’s systems or networks. As we are about to discover, there are many reasons why such things happen. But thankfully, there are also many ways in which they can be prevented or minimized.

What remains clear, though, is that a simple human error can cost company millions, not to mention the impact of the lack of trust and confidence that follows in the aftermath. And while companies can’t simply dismiss an employee because of an error they have made, it’s paramount to take preventive actions on human factors in cybersecurity.

This applies both to large corporations and small businesses, and start-ups. The investment in Zero Trust Cybersecurity might be a substantial one, but it is also one that should be non-negotiable.

Man confusingly looking at his laptop about human factors in cybersecurity

Top Three Key Contributors to Human Errors

So, what are the main culprits that drive human errors and can generate serious security concerns? Let’s find out below.

1.   A Stressful Working Environment

Putting huge amounts of pressure on your workforce is not going to help on multiple levels, whether they are using digital workplace tools or in an office setting. First of all, it can be detrimental to their mental health, causing you to eventually lose valuable team members who resign and move to better, more supportive working environments.

High levels of stress, however, can also mean that your employees are not able to focus fully on their daily tasks. The human body’s response to stress, in fact, can lead to distraction, memory problems, and physical exhaustion can also be a case of human factors in cybersecurity. In a nutshell: your employees might risk burning out and then it comes human factors in cybersecurity.

When an employee experience those feelings, they are a lot more likely to make mistakes – sometimes potentially devastating ones. For example, they might absent-mindedly click on phishing emails.

These are powerful and very dangerous methods that cyber attackers leverage to access a company’s systems and networks, and, by doing so, they also gain access to its confidential assets and information. Phishing strongly relies on users being easily distracted, catching them off guard.

Through phishing attacks, employees can be tricked without almost even noticing it, and they might end up disclosing their credentials or downloading and running malicious software. All it takes is a single moment of lost focus, tiredness, or distraction for a potential threat to become a real, tangible security compliance problem.

2.   Too Much Data, Not Enough Technical Knowledge

Think about the amount of data that your employees deal with daily. How can you be sure that not only do they know how to manage security, but they also understand the real value of it?

A workforce that doesn’t have enough technical knowledge is, unfortunately, one of the human factors in cybersecurity. A workforce that is more likely to fall into the trap of making mistakes. Sharing sensitive information, not backing up confidential data, and sending critical emails or messages to the wrong recipient. These are just some of the many issues that can occur if your team is not tech-savvy.

Thankfully, though, you can remedy this by offering ongoing and expert support in the form of training, webinars, workshops, and more. You will gradually be able to build a workforce that knows and understands Enterprise Application Modernization and deals with it in a safe, efficient, and secure way.

Graph of top cybersecurity concerns identifying human factors in cybersecurity

3.   Obsolete or Unauthorized Software

How many times have you had to remind your employees to update their software version or to uninstall old software? Running only up-to-date and authorized programs is one of the cornerstones of solid human factors in cybersecurity.

Outdated software is also one of the human factors in cybersecurity, that extremely easy for hackers to access, as it has vulnerabilities that cyber attackers know and can take advantage of. Whenever one of your employees forgets or neglects to update software tools, they automatically make it much easier for hackers to break into your company’s systems and networks.

But there is even more to it. Downloading unauthorized software, for example, can represent another potential security threat. This is because software programs that have an unknown origin or have not been approved by your security department can be either malicious or they can contain vulnerabilities that hackers will swiftly exploit.

Disabling the security features of a software program is another big mistake that some employees make. Using workflow management software with aim of simplifying and speeding up tasks, they can be tempted to pause or completely remove specific security features, which in turn leads to easier exposure and vulnerabilities.

Minimize Human Errors In Five Steps

Now, for some good news. While human error is, indeed, quite common and can lead to potentially dramatic consequences, there are ways in which business leaders can prevent or minimize its occurrence. Below we are discussing the five best practices to start implementing right away.

Step 1: Regular Cybersecurity Training

As obvious as it may sound, the first step towards minimizing and preventing human error is ensuring that your entire workforce is trained in human factors in cybersecurity best practices. This, of course, doesn’t mean that every single team member needs to become a security tech expert or an IT consultant overnight.

It means, however, that they will have a basic understanding of what the main cyber threats are, what some problematic actions can be, and how they should behave in order to minimize them. It’s also important to run these sessions regularly to ensure that your business never stops being protected.

Step 2: Authorizations, Access Rights, and Other Privileges

Your employees probably expect to be able to access almost every single file across your company’s entire network. The truth, however, is that you must establish a specific set of access rights, authorizations, and privileges.

Assigning permissions is an essential component of strong human factors in cybersecurity because it can help you ensure that only the people with the right skills, knowledge, and understanding will access the most critical information your company owns. Ultimately, this gives you the peace of mind that your sensitive, Confidential Data is always in good and expert hands.

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Step 3: Thorough Cyber Hygiene

As we mentioned earlier, obsolete or unpatched software represents a huge security concern. Therefore, employees should be encouraged to keep running regular software updates on all the devices that they use.

In parallel, continue to remind them that downloading and running suspicious or old software programs is simply not allowed. Also, whenever you want to download new software, it can be useful to use some functional testing automation tools, as they will help your developers with bugs, functionalities, and updates.

Step 4: Frequent Data Backups

While backing up data might not be at the top of your employees’ to-do list, you need to keep stressing how important this is – and help them get into the habit of running regular data backups. It’s actually much easier than you think.

For example, you could show them how to enable automatic backups and ask them to set reminders to back the data from the cloud to an external hard drive. Data backups are essential as they ensure that your company can keep its operations up and running, whatever happens.

Step 5: Monitor Your Employees’ Activity

Another way to promote better cyber security across your company is through Activity Monitoring. By keeping an eye on your employees’ online and offline activity, in fact, you can rapidly spot any problematic behavior – and stop it right away.

If, for example, instead of running the top customer support software that they are supposed to, an employee is found to be using an unauthorized program, they need to be warned immediately, and their actions need to be halted.

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Conclusion

Cyber security is a vital aspect of any competitive and part of scaling up your business. More often than not, though, the security of a company’s systems and networks is threatened by the so-called “human factors in cybersecurity”.

Employees make mistakes, and then the unthinkable happens millions get lost, clients run away, and competitors thrive in the aftermath. Our guide discussed not only what the most common types of human errors are and what their underlying causes might be, but it also provided some effective, practical ways to prevent or minimize the occurrence of such mistakes.

Investing in cyber security can be seen as a massive commitment, particularly for small businesses and start-ups – but it is certainly one investment that is necessary, and that keeps paying off.

Grace Lau

Grace Lau

Director of Growth Content, Dialpad

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered communication platform for better and cloud-based collaboration tools. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Here is her LinkedIn.

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