It’s tempting to think of the biggest cyber security risks as external, malicious actors who conspired to get access to your internal systems through brute force attacks. But for most businesses, employees are an even bigger cybersecurity risk.
How is this the case? And what should you do about it?
The Importance of Evaluating Risk
Risk evaluation is the first step you need to take in any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. After all, if you don’t know the risks you face, you won’t be able to plan the proper mitigation strategies to limit or avoid those risks.
With the help of managed IT services, you can do everything with the same, competent partners. That means identifying and weighing risks as well as addressing those risks with proper prevention and mitigation strategies. It’s also possible to conduct a thorough risk evaluation on your own, but even with excellent internal team members, you may have blind spots that limit your perceptions.
How can we make the claim that employees are your biggest cybersecurity risk?
Basically, it’s because security threats often take advantage of individual, isolated weak points. And human beings are capable of some pretty egregious mistakes, arguably making them the biggest weak points in your organization to exploit.
These are just some of the ways that employees can increase your vulnerability:
Some employees are lazy or ineffective with password management. They may choose passwords that are very simple or easy to guess, such as “password1234.” They may use the same password for every single application. They may even leave their passwords written on a sticky note, left adhered to their desk. Problematic password practices can turn even a total amateur into a “hacker” capable of getting authorization to systems they shouldn’t be able to access.
Many employees are openly willing to put foreign devices, such as flash drives and CDs, into company computers. This action can immediately introduce malware, which has the potential to affect your entire organization. If this seems unlikely to you, there’s some objective evidence backing the possibility. According to one study, 45 percent of people who found a random, discarded thumb drive were willing to plug that drive into a work computer.
Phishing (and similar) Scams
Even intelligent employees are capable of falling for phishing scams and similar scams meant to trick people into revealing their login credentials. If a person can realistically simulate a trusted website, or pose as an internal IT team member, an unaware employee could be caught off guard.
Employees using company devices should always be prudent to use them on secured, reliable networks. But often, they’re tempted to use devices on public networks without any form of additional security. This renders them open to attack. Read more to get more information about what does vpn do for you.
Employees can also lose track of company hardware, potentially leaking sensitive data or losing the devices entirely. This is especially problematic in remote work or hybrid work environments. For example, let’s say an employee takes a laptop into a café. They leave the laptop on the table while they go to the bathroom. In the time that they’re gone, someone could easily access information on the laptop – or steal it entirely.
Social engineering is a common tactic used by cybercriminals with limited technical knowledge. Instead of brute forcing their way into a system, they use charm and manipulation to fool employees into granting them access or sensitive information.
It’s easier to fall for this than you think.
Insider threats are easy to underestimate, since you want to feel like you can trust your employees. But a disgruntled, greedy, or outright malicious employee could easily take advantage of your good faith. Any employee who has authorization to access data or a specific system could hypothetically abuse that authorization.
How to Address Employee Risks
What steps should you take to address these types of employee risks?
First, you need to provide education, including ongoing education. That means helping employees understand best practices for cybersecurity and how to responsibly handle company technology.
In some cases, additional training may be required. Put employees in simulated scenarios to see how they respond.
Better, more detailed policies can also assist you here. For example, you might detail exactly how and when employees can use company devices outside of the office.
Regular evaluations can help you determine whether employees are adhering to your cybersecurity policies. In some cases, disciplinary action may become necessary.
Even if all your employees are talented, smart, and generally good willed, it’s possible for them to introduce new security threats to your organization. Only if you’re willing to acknowledge this and address it with a combination of strategies will you be able to properly mitigate these risks.
Tech expert fresh from the Australian Coast. Been in the tech industry more than 9 years, as part of a Business Growth Group. His out of office days are 100% for freestyle surfing and waves chasing.