How human error impacts human risk in cybersecurity?

You may recently have noticed more discussion about human risk in organizations. In cybersecurity, human risk is the result of the possibility of human error. As news and information are constantly emerging about data breaches that have been caused by employees’ incorrect actions, companies have begun working to mitigate the risks that relate to users.

The more employees you have, the more potential errors they can make; thus, your human risk profile remains high. Social engineers are aware of the challenges organizations face when it comes to minimizing human error.

If your employees are not prepared to face the threat confidently, they can easily fall victim to cyberattacks, and your operations could be jeopardized.


What exactly is human risk?

Human risk in cybersecurity means that employees can fall victim to cyberattacks (such as social engineering) by making an error. This could leave your company vulnerable to data breach or ransomware.

The more employees you have, the higher your risk profile is. Nevertheless, human risk can be reduced with the right kind of strategy that includes a balance of policies, adequate and engaging training, and improving cooperation with your users. Building a strong culture of cybersecurity in which people care about security and understand their role in reducing risk is a fundamental element of minimizing the chances of a breach.

Studies show that security teams believe that employees could be the greatest point of vulnerability for their businesses. Attackers are exploiting the lack of tools, knowledge, practice, and skills employees have to protect themselves against attacks. A simple human error, such as downloading malware from a malicious email, could result in a serious data breach. Attackers know that if they want to penetrate your defenses, the easiest way around them is to target your employees and trust that someone will take the desired action.


Human risk in cybersecurity is on the rise

We identified three main reasons that could affect an organization’s human risk profile.

First, companies are increasingly digital. People use multiple devices to do their work from anywhere. Earlier, you only needed to secure your offices. Now that people work remotely from all around the world, suddenly the number of endpoints you need to protect has increased significantly.

Second, it’s simple psychology. Sometimes people are careless or are curious or simply fall victim to urgency, fear, or other emotions. Errors cannot be completely eradicated.

Third, for a long time, companies have failed to address the human element of their cybersecurity strategy to build resilience. Addressing the human element has been built on policies, creating awareness with less-than-optimal tools and techniques, and has been using fear and punishment to enforce the rules.


What is ‘human error’?

Human error in cybersecurity is an unintentional action or lack of actions that allow a breach, ransomware, or result in some other form of damage, such as transferring a payment to attackers. Errors could mean a vast range of actions, such as downloading malware by clicking on a link or attachment or failing to use a strong password.

Opportunities for human error are almost infinite, for reasons such as complicated work environments, increasing numbers of tools, services, and rules – and, of course, employees are trying to take shortcuts.

Human error could be divided into two categories: skill-based or decision-based errors.

A skill-based error occurs during highly routine activities when the individual’s attention is diverted from the task because of his/her thoughts or external factors. When a skill-based error happens, people generally have the right skills to perform the task properly, but they fail to do so.

Decision-based errors are also referred to as mistakes. A decision-based error has two sub-types: knowledge-based error and rule-based error. A decision-based error occurs when we make the wrong judgment, but we believe that our call is the right action.

A knowledge-based error means that the person does not have enough or the correct knowledge to perform the right action.

Rule-based error refers to situations when there are clear rules or guidelines, but the individual disregards them and does not act according to these rules, resulting in the wrong action.

All these errors rely on basic human behavior psychology and neuroscience. These behavior patterns are something that social engineers exploit to deliver successful attacks.

Even when people have the right knowledge and skills, and they are aware of the rules, they could still make an error for various reasons. It could be that they are just so busy that they don’t think twice about clicking a link, or they make the wrong decision when they are unsure, or they simply ignore the rules, or they don’t have enough knowledge to do the right thing.


Understand how people make errors to tackle the risk and build resilience

Most CISOs we have been talking to realize that their biggest vulnerability is the fact that their employees could make a mistake. This is why companies that truly want to improve their resilience work on developing a people-centric cybersecurity strategy.

Understanding how and why people make errors is the first step to planning on how to address risk and how to eliminate it. In the next blog post, we will talk about how social engineers prey on human error, how companies address the risk their employees mean for their operations, and we will give recommendations on how to tackle human risk.