A viewpoint by Yann Petiot, Chief Information Security Officer at Amaris Consulting.
As you embark on reading this article, consider a staggering statistic from the cybersecurity world: In the opening month of 2023, a survey showed a remarkable 68% of Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) worldwide agreed that human error represents their organization’s most significant cyber vulnerability. Moreover, they shared a deep concern that their organizations were at risk of experiencing a material cyberattack within the next 12 months. In other words, the digital threat landscape has evolved to a point where the odds of falling victim to a cyberattack are unsettlingly high.
In this ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats, where these odds are stacked against us, a concept has gained immense significance: the Human Firewall. This term is used to describe individuals who not only follow best practices to prevent cyber threats but also actively report any data breaches or suspicious activities. While firewalls and cutting-edge technologies undoubtedly form the bedrock of an organization’s cybersecurity program, they can’t protect everything.
In a world where every click, email, or seemingly harmless message can potentially conceal a cyber threat, understanding and bolstering the human factor in cybersecurity is not solely the responsibility of IT professionals. It is a responsibility shared by all of us, whether we work in large corporations, own small businesses, or simply value our online privacy. As the threat landscape evolves, understanding and reinforcing the human factor in cybersecurity becomes paramount.
As we delve into the realm of social engineering, a sinister domain where attackers manipulate human psychology to breach cybersecurity defenses, we will uncover four prominent cyber threats.
Tailgating: gaining unauthorized access through politeness
Imagine a scenario where an attacker gains unauthorized access to your company’s premises simply by following an unsuspecting employee through a secure entrance. This technique, known as tailgating, exploits a fundamental human instinct: politeness. In this scenario, the intruder, often carrying a stack of packages, politely requests that someone holds the door open. They seize the opportunity to exploit our ingrained social behavior and this seemingly courteous gesture can lead to a catastrophe. Once inside, the tailgater may proceed to damage the property, steal information, obtain access credentials, and even install malware.
Phishing: exploiting trust in digital deception
Phishing attacks involve cybercriminals sending deceptive emails to users, pretending to be legitimate entities such as social networks, banks or government institutions. They leverage human curiosity and trust to steal private information, make unauthorized charges, or infect the user’s device. A single click on a phishing email can unleash potential data breaches and financial harm.
Smishing and Vishing: communication scams
These two tactics are variations of phishing, where cybercriminals use messages and calls to deceive individuals. In smishing, they send deceptive text messages, often pretending to be trusted organizations, to trick people intro sharing personal information. Vishing follows a similar pattern but through voice calls. These attacks often appear urgent and enticing, exploiting our instinct to respond quickly.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and a few minutes of cyber-incident to ruin it.”Stephane Nappo, 2018 Global CISO of the year.
Guarding against intrusion
In the ongoing battle against social engineering attacks, organizations have made substantial investments in advanced technology solutions to fortify their cybersecurity defense. The global cybersecurity market, with its growth forecast exceeding $538 billion by 2030, underscores the critical importance placed on technological safeguards as indispensable components in the fight against cyber threats. Below, we spotlight some of the key technical solutions commonly employed.
Physical Access Control
Keycard access systems, biometric scanners, and physical badges have become stalwarts in restricting unauthorized entry to secure areas. These technologies, powered by fingerprint and iris scans or secure validation badges, lay down a formidable foundation for mitigating risks such as tailgating.
The first line of defense against external threats is a robust network security infrastructure. Firewalls, acting as digital guards, fortify network perimeters by blocking malicious attempts to breach them. Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) continuously scrutinize network traffic patterns, alerting administrators to potential threats. Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) take it a step further by actively blocking such threats. In addition, antimalware and antispam software filter out malicious emails and attachments before they reach users’ inboxes.
Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)
EDR solutions have emerged as vigilant guardians operating at the endpoint level. These systems are responsible for monitoring individual devices within the network. It keeps a close watch, scanning for signs of suspicious activities or anomalous behaviors. In the event of a potential threat, EDR can react swiftly, limiting the damage inflicted by malware or unauthorized access.
While these technological defenses offer formidable protection, it is crucial to recognize that cybercriminals are constantly evolving their tactics and techniques. They are adept at finding new ways to breach defenses, underscoring the truth that no single solution is entirely impervious.
The last line of defense
Think of your organization’s cybersecurity as a well-fortified castle with multiple layers of defense. The moat and drawbridge represent your technological safeguards, and the guards manning the walls are your security systems. But what if an intruder manages to breach all these defenses and stands at the castle’s gates? This is where the human element comes into play.
Human Firewalling involves arming employees with the knowledge and tools needed to identify and respond to social engineering attacks. It underscores the principle that cybersecurity is a collective responsibility within any organization. To enhance your Human Firewall, consider a range of strategies, starting with fostering a culture of security awareness through education initiatives. Regular training sessions and workshops empower your workforce with the skills to remain vigilant. Additionally, employ phishing simulations to assess and enhance employees’ ability to identify phishing emails, transforming these exercises into engaging gamified experiences that reward accuracy and reporting. Keep your team well-informed by consistently sharing cybersecurity updates, tips, and real-world examples of social engineering attacks through your organization’s social network. These measures not only bolster your defense but also foster a security-conscious workforce.
Never trust, always verify
In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, the concept of Zero Trust has gained significant prominence. While not a new concept, Zero Trust has evolved and gained greater attention as a cybersecurity strategy in response to the evolving threat landscape. It challenges traditional notions of trust within networks and access, emphasizing a “never trust, always verify” approach at every level of network access, including user actions and device health. This approach has become increasingly vital in today’s digital world, where the perimeter defenses alone are no longer sufficient to safeguard sensitive data and systems.
In this approach, Identity Verification is paramount—placing significant emphasis on robust authentication and continuous user identity verification. Additionally, Zero Trust emphasizes Least Privilege Access, ensuring that users are granted only the minimum access rights necessary for their roles, thus minimizing the potential damage from insider threats or compromised accounts. Continuous Monitoring is another cornerstone, with proactive detection and response to unusual network activity being key. Lastly, Contextual Access Control is vital as it makes access decisions based on factors such as user location, device type, and behavior, ensuring access is restricted if a user’s behavior deviates from the norm.
Despite dedicated efforts to reinforce the Human Firewall, it is vital to acknowledge its inherent limitations. Even the most security-conscious individuals can, at times, fall victim to meticulously crafted social engineering attacks. Human beings are, by nature, fallible, while cyber attackers remain unwaveringly persistent and highly inventive.
So, is Human Firewalling enough? The answer is complex. While it undeniably stands as a critical defense layer, it should not be solely relied upon as the sole safeguard. A comprehensive cybersecurity strategy necessitates the fusion of technical solutions with human awareness and resilience. This is where the incorporation of Zero Trust into the strategy becomes pivotal, as it can significantly fortify the Human Firewall and bolster the overall security posture of an organization.
In the ever-evolving battlefield of cybersecurity, the concept of a Human Firewall emerges as a beacon of hope, representing the last line of defense when all other measures falter. The imperative now lies in fortifying this critical human element through education, heightened awareness, and proactive measures. However, it is equally crucial to acknowledge that no defense is infallible.
As organizations adapt to the ever-shifting threat landscape, they must embrace a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity, one that harmonizes advanced technology with a vigilant and well-informed workforce. It is by marrying the power of cutting-edge technology, the resilience of human defenders, and the principles of Zero Trust that we can aspire to safeguard our digital realms from the unrelenting tide of cyber threats.
To fortify our digital kingdoms and ensure their security, let us not only recognize the significance of this alliance but also actively participate in strengthening our cyber defenses. Together, we can transform the cybersecurity landscape, ensuring a safer and more resilient digital future for all.
With years of experience and a context-driven mindset, our team at Amaris Consulting seamlessly integrates with your existing workforce and organization, ensuring a united front against evolving cyber adversaries. Learn more about our custom-made service here.