How analyzing employee behavior can improve your cybersecurity posture

September 30, 2022  |  Shigraf Aijaz

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

Despite the ongoing rise in social engineering attacks, the idea that cybersecurity is only about technology manifests within most of our minds. Organizations often neglect human behavior's impact on their cybersecurity postures. Instead, they spend lavishly on endpoint security tools, threat hunting programs, and building incident response plans.

Admittedly, these security measures are a crucial part of mitigating attacks. However, it is critical to remember the role of your employees in maintaining a robust cybersecurity posture, specifically as cybercriminals have been increasingly targeting and exploiting human behavior.   

How employee behavior impacts cybersecurity

A study by IBM highlights that human error is the leading cause of 95% of cybersecurity breaches. Although human errors are by definition unintentional, generally caused by a significant lack of awareness, they can often result in adverse circumstances. In other words, an unsuspecting employee who accidentally falls victim to a phishing attack can expose their organization to significant data breaches, causing major operational, reputational, and financial damage.

One such example is the Sequoia Capital attack, which was successful because an employee fell victim to a phishing attack. The company, known for being Silicon Valley's oldest notable venture fund, was hacked in February 2021. The attack exposed some of its investors' personal and financial information to third parties, resulting in significant damage to the company.

Such attacks demonstrate the consequences of inadequate phishing awareness training that every organization must provide to its employees. In this sense, simulated micro-learning can be highly effective at teaching teams to recognize potentially malicious messages. A recent report by Hoxhunt found that after some 50 simulations, people’s “failure rates” plummeted from 14% to 4%. By being exposed to simulated phishing attacks over time, they became far more skilled at recognizing them.

Beyond educational solutions, ensuring that your employees practice proper password hygiene is likewise critical. Although passwords have played a remarkable role in ensuring cyber security, relying only on a single password makes your organization vulnerable since it can be stolen or compromised.

Your users might be ignorant of password security and keep generic passwords such as "12345" susceptible to brute force attacks and hack attacks. These practices are standard within an organization that doesn't deploy the use of secure password managers and has strict password security guidelines for employees to follow.

How can your employees help maintain cybersecurity?

The significant rise in social engineering attacks and the ongoing occurrence of data breaches due to human error have reinforced the idea that humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity. A workforce that can be distracted or tricked is indeed a liability. However, this narrative is hardly set in stone.

With the below strategies in place, it’s possible to maximize team vigilance and circumvent much of the risk associated with human error.

Integrate the principle of least privilege access

The principle of least privileged access has become a crucial aspect of effective cybersecurity. According to this information security philosophy, every user, application, or process should only have a limited amount of permission necessary to complete a particular task. In other words, it stresses the importance of maintaining a hierarchy within an organization so that every employee only has access to the kinds of sensitive information that they need to do their work.

This method significantly helps strengthen an organization's cybersecurity posture. It eliminates human error and minimizes the attack surface in case of a hack attempt. Any account that a hacker breaks into will only have limited information.

Help employees deploy proper password security

Maintaining password security is a crucial step every organization needs to strengthen its cybersecurity posture. Since most employees are lax when it comes to maintaining password security, it falls upon organizational leaders and policies to ensure people adhere to best practices.

The most crucial step is that organizations need to start using multi-factor authentication (MFA) methods. As the name implies, this technique often involves using a code that is generated upon request and is received on a personal device or email. This method is secure and reliable, as the only way a threat actor can access the account is by acquiring personal devices or emails. Apart from that, organizations can also use managed single sign-on (SSO) services and secure password management platforms that help keep complex passwords with additional layers of security.

Educate and spread awareness regarding phishing attacks

Phishing attacks are a menace and are not going away anytime soon. Since these attacks work on exploiting human behavior and psychology, many of these attacks are successful. It's their success rate that is causing phishing attacks to rise significantly. In the last year alone, 83% of organizations claim to have experienced a phishing attack.

Amidst this, organizations must deploy adequate training and awareness regarding phishing attacks. An organization can either do this through seminars or exercise classes or utilize gamified applications and software that help improve training.

Strictly monitor employee behavior

Not every human-enabled attack is caused by an unsuspecting employee. Insider threats are also a common occurrence that every organization needs to remain vigilant of.

It is, therefore, crucial for businesses to strictly monitor their employees’ behavior. It is essential to carefully study each employee and notice if they show any signs of malice against the organization. Moreover, organizations can also hire third-party vendors to conduct human reconnaissance practices that rely on studying individuals' online and normal daily activities to gain insight into their personalities. Such background checks can help management identify any wolf in sheep's clothing prowling in their midst.

Implement identity and access management

Identity and access management (IAM) is a set of techniques designed to ensure that only the right person or job role is allowed access to a particular tool, information, or resource. Implementing IAM enables the organization to manage employee apps without having to log in each time as an administrator. Moreover, it also helps manage a range of identities, including people, software, and even hardware.

Proper implementation of IAM not only helps enhance productivity but also improves security. It minimizes the chances of slip-ups such as lost passwords and makes access to sensitive information secure and easy.

Final words

To do their jobs well, employees need access to many types of information and resources. Because humans can be tricked in ways that tech can’t detect, they are also the easiest targets for threat actors.

Since employees play such a crucial role, analyzing and learning about their behavior can help the organization understand the weaknesses and cracks in its cybersecurity posture. This can help leaders to deploy adequate training and tools that enable cybersecurity. 

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