It’s widely agreed that users – people – are the weakest link in the security chain. But every obstacle presents an opportunity and so does this one. If we can change user behaviour through a cultural shift, people can become an organisation’s first line of defence against cyber-attacks, rather than the weak link in the chain.
Before we discuss how to strengthen user behaviour against cyber-attacks, let’s understand how attackers exploit users to attack organisations. There are two types of attacks that do not require a technical vulnerability to be exploited for an attack to be successful: Denial of Service attacks and social engineering. Social engineering is the art of exploiting human psychology, rather than technical hacking techniques, to gain access to buildings, systems or data – and it is the one we can prevent via cultural change.
For example, in our Cybersecurity Standoff study found that both CEOs and CISOs of Australian organisations that had experienced a data breach cite human error as the most likely cause.
The simplest way to explain how attackers exploit users to gain unauthorised access to an organisation is simply to look at the kill chain and understand how an attacker gets a foothold into an organisation’s network for nefarious purposes. For example, ramsomware / malware attacks are usually deployed using methods that require a user to click on a link or button that then downloads a malicious payload onto their network connected desktop machine. Once the malware is deployed, the attacker uses the desktop that they now control to gain further access into the network. The ultimate goal is to gain administrator privileges at the network layer and then exfiltration of data that they want to steal. Once this occurs, it’s a serious issue for the affected organisation. The most effective way to stop this occurring in the first place is to look at where the attack started in the chain of events and stop it there. Hence the concept of the kill chain.
So how do you bring about the cultural change required to change user behaviour so that they are more security savvy? Here is a five-step methodical approach:
Executives should be charged with pushing the cybersecurity awareness message down into the broader user base on a regular basis – at least after each training sessions (ie twice a year minimum).
Fortunately there are tools available to deliver a lot of what I have discussed above in an easy and cost effective fashion.
Given exploiting users is a common way for intruders to get into organisations, increasing user awareness of cybersecurity issues and ways to prevent them is critical to every organisation. It takes more than awareness training, it needs a cultural shift driven from the top down. This will drive a cybersecurity aware culture that reduces cybersecurity incidents at the start of the attack chain in a cost effective manner.