5 Examples of a Potential Weakness to the Human Firewall

By Daniella Balaban
image March 05, 2022 image 6 MIN READ

Human firewalls can often function as an extra layer of cybersecurity. Creating a human firewall means ensuring that staff are a part of the security process by providing them with structured and ongoing education on the cybersecurity threat environment.

While human firewalls can improve an organization’s overall security, human error is part of many successful data breaches and cyber attacks. Statistics gathered in Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that 85% of data breaches in 2021 resulted from human error. With such high stakes on the line, understanding that human firewalls are far from impenetrable is essential.

What Is a Human Firewall?

A human firewall is defined as a group of employees who commit to following best security practices to report or prevent data breaches, suspicious activity, or other cyber threats. The bigger the group making up the human firewall, the tighter its security becomes. A human firewall can add an extra level of security but its reliance on human staff also makes it vulnerable to human error.

Employees may innocently click on a link containing a virus, fall victim to phishing attacks, or make other errors of judgment compromising your network security. Awareness is the first step to take when combating these vulnerabilities.

What Is a Human Firewall?

Five Common Potential Weakness of the Human Firewall

Knowing the potential weaknesses of a human firewall allows you to protect your network against these security vulnerabilities and incorporate security software that compensates for these weaknesses. 

These are the five most common human firewall weaknesses and how to address them:

1. Phishing Attacks

Phishing is an attack in which the malicious actor poses as a trusted person or entity and sends the victim messages. These messages are designed to manipulate the user into performing actions such as downloading an attachment, clicking a link, or revealing sensitive information such as passwords or access credentials.

Although phishing awareness has grown in recent years, phishing attacks are continuously growing more sophisticated and easy to fall for. It is the most commonly-used social engineering attack and targets victims in a place they feel secure – their own inbox.

Statistics show that 44% of phishing attacks that occurred in the third quarter of 2020 were done via email. In some cases, the malicious actor even used information gathered from the web to impersonate someone the victim knows well, such as an employer, or referenced personal details to make the message appear more legitimate.

The only protection against phishing attacks is increasing education and awareness. Training solutions such as CybeReady’s Phishing Training will automatically deploy simulated phishing messages. The system uses data to create customized phishing messages that best mimic those likely to target your organization. Additionally, your organization’s employees will be automatically enrolled in a training program. The stimulation content is then adjusted to meet the abilities and needs of the training group.

2. Shoulder Surfing

Shoulder surfing is a form of spying in which malicious actors observe victims when they are using an electronic device such as a phone, computer, or ATM until they inadvertently reveal sensitive information. Like phishing, it is a form of social engineering, but shoulder surfing can happen randomly and doesn’t just take the form of a targeted attack.

Although shoulder surfing can be used to steal any type of data, it’s most commonly used to steal payment details, passwords, and PINs. Alternatively, malicious actors will use the technique to steal personal information that can later be used for identity theft or to lend credibility to phishing messages. Personal information is often easier to steal as many people feel comfortable revealing minor personal details in public or online.

To protect your team from shoulder surfing scams, ensure that they’re aware of the scam and its dangers. Additional steps that you can take include:

Five Common Potential Weakness of the Human Firewall

3. Untrained Employees

We’ve already established that a lack of education or awareness often leaves your organization’s employees vulnerable to scams and hackers. That’s why if you plan to make your organization’s employees a significant part of your cybersecurity strategy by creating a human firewall, you need to ensure that they’re educated and up to date on cybersecurity news, methods, and risks.

To build a human firewall that will maintain your organization’s high-security standards, you need to provide your employers with reliable training from certified or proven cybersecurity training providers. F

inding a training platform that will engage your team and provide a smooth, clear, and understandable training experience that directly addresses the security challenges your organization faces can significantly impact your overall security. Employee education has proven to be a successful method of tightening security and reducing vulnerabilities.

4. Device Theft/Loss

Although awareness has grown around many software threats that can put your organization’s data at risk, hardware vulnerabilities are often overlooked. Even traditional firewalls can become obsolete in cases of hardware loss.

As the work from home model becomes more common and employees have constant access to company devices and information, the risk of devices getting lost or falling into the wrong hands has grown exponentially. Therefore, increasing awareness of the need to protect company hardware should be a top priority for organizations taking their security seriously.

Once a device has entered the possession of a malicious actor, it can easily gather sensitive company information from the device’s memory despite password protection. To protect against hardware vulnerabilities, ensure all your hardware protective measures are robust and up to date. For example, many organizations still use company device security policies developed when infiltrating hardware was costly and complex. Now hardware breaching technology can be accessed easily online and is generally affordable, and security policies should be updated to reflect this change.

Additionally, it’s critical to keep all applications installed on the devices updated. Old applications are more vulnerable to new attacks, and updates are designed to patch these vulnerabilities. Keeping apps like browsers, messaging apps, or other applications up to date ensures your devices meet current security standards. This principle should also be applied to the device’s operating system.

5 Examples of a Potential Weakness to the Human Firewall

5. Malware

Malware (malicious software) is an umbrella term that covers any code or program designed with malicious intent to harm systems. Malware can damage or disable computer systems, networks, mobile devices, tablets, or laptops. These programs are generally designed to take over the infected device’s operations, giving the code’s writer or owner complete control over the device.

Organizations are a popular target of malware attacks, as their devices contain particularly profitable information that can be sold, used to stop operations, or used as ransom. Malware can even exist dormant in your system, spying on the activities happening in the network while you remain unaware. In short, malware can delete, encrypt, or alter data, take over computer functions, and spy on network activity, making it extremely dangerous to organizations.

The code can be delivered to your network via traditional phishing attacks or less well-known means such as suspicious pop-ups or unreliable websites. You can prevent falling victim to malware attacks by avoiding suspicious pop-ups, only downloading information from verified, trusted sources, and only browsing secure sites. Training your team to spot malware and suspicious sources, even where they least expect it, is crucial to protect your organization’s network and devices.

Cybersecurity awareness protects

Awareness is the best solution for many of the vulnerabilities mentioned above, and your first step when creating a secure human firewall is ensuring the education of all its members. Cybersecurity awareness begins with proper training and the process should keep your organization’s employees invested by being enjoyable, informative, and entertaining. 

CybeReady offers measurable KPIs for InfoSec teams, adding efficiency to their daily work and customized training plans that directly address the security challenges your organization faces. Contact Cybeready to start improving the effectiveness of your security training program today.