The Human Firewall
We’re living in a digital age. Some call it the age of the internet due to the prevalence of its impact on society. With the dependence on the internet for most parts of our daily lives and business, cybersecurity has become a must for everyone. A large part of cybersecurity has to do with the human element. Programs like antivirus software and digital firewalls prevent a lot of harm from coming to your devices and network. However, a human firewall is just as necessary as a digital one. This article will cover what a human firewall is, its benefits and weaknesses, and the risks that you may incur without one. It will also explain how to set a human firewall up if you haven’t already implemented one.
What is a Human Firewall?
In any organization or company, you run the risk of cyberattacks. These can happen in several ways. While most people and companies have a standard firewall that blocks malicious traffic, some can get through. This is where the human firewall comes in.
A human firewall is a group of people in an organization that detects the threats your standard firewall lets through. For the most part, these threats come in through phishing attacks and ransomware. While this group of people may be specialized, most companies implement a human firewall corporation-wide. Employees should be trained on how to handle data safely and how to detect any possible threats. If trained well, your entire organization can become an effective human firewall.
It should be noted that the human firewall is a company’s last line of defense. The most malicious threats are the ones that go undetected by your software. As such, the training of your human firewall is essential.
What are the Benefits of a Human Firewall?
The most significant benefit of having a human firewall comes down to the security of your organization’s data. When you have a well-trained human firewall, you can identify threats that may severely affect your company. The most significant advantage of having your employees as a line of defense is the peace of mind knowing that your data is being handled well.
What are the Weaknesses of a Human Firewall?
While having a human firewall can provide great benefits, there are some particular areas of weakness in most of them. To prevent these areas of weakness, a large amount of education and training may be necessary. Here are the biggest weaknesses that most companies find in their human firewall.
Phishing attacks are the biggest area of weakness when it comes to a human firewall. These attacks are designed to trick your employees into thinking they’ve received something important via email or text. The message then prompts them to act quickly, and it takes them to a page to provide personal or company data.
An important thing to note about phishing is that it tends to happen in trends. Often, you can look up what phishing attacks are trending to know what to warn employees about. However, these cybersecurity attacks have been on the rise. They are happening more frequently, and they are getting trickier to identify.
Many of the latest phishing attacks have been using social engineering. This is the practice of finding key details out about the target prior to the attack. The person implementing the phishing attack will then use these details to make their claims seem more legitimate. These are sometimes called spear phishing, and they’re very effective. They require lengthy training so that employees know how to identify them.
Theft or Loss of Devices
Sometimes, the biggest threat to your company’s data is losing a device with data on it. An employee can lose the device outright, or it may be stolen. Either way, it has your organization’s information on it, making it a digital security threat.
This isn’t limited to just a company’s devices, however. It can be the loss of a personal device that has company information on it. The ‘bring your own device’ model has become much more prevalent in today’s times, thanks to the global pandemic. Companies that couldn’t afford to provide a device to every employee had to encourage them to use their own devices. If these devices don’t have a secure way of accessing company data, they are at risk.
This can be combated in several ways. Personal devices can have security measures installed on them. A hotline to the company can also be opened for any lost or stolen devices. This is a proactive way to identify possible threats to your organization’s data and information.
If your employees browse any compromised websites, there’s a chance that the devices they’re using will be exposed to malware. Malware tends to appear as a pop-up, and it uses scare tactics to coax employees to download a ‘fix’ for an infection. What they’re actually downloading is the malware itself.
Malware can be identified relatively easily. It just takes time and training, as do many of the different aspects of being a part of the human firewall.
What Risks Do Employees Present Without a Human Firewall?
Several risks come with the lack of a human firewall. No matter what damages occur, you can bet that they’ll be harmful to your organization. These are some of the risks that employees not properly trained to be a human firewall pose.
Compromises in your data will always represent a monetary risk, regardless of what kind of issue your company faces. Ransomware is an outright costly issue that any business may face should employees not be trained to be a human firewall. The loss of data, or a data breach, can cause even more monetary losses for your company. While cybersecurity training can be costly, it will cost less than any compromises in your cybersecurity. On average, a major data breach costs a company $1 million. Keep that in mind when considering the cost of education and training.
Risk to Reputation
The general public doesn’t want to work with a company that cannot protect its data. When companies suffer a data breach, they feel the effects of it long after the issue has been resolved. When word gets out that a company’s data and its customers have been compromised, the organization’s reputation becomes tarnished. This makes people far less likely to work with your organization in the future, especially if the data being worked with is sensitive.
Disruption of Business Activities
While this seems like it should relate to the monetary risks, it encompasses more than just money. When business activities are disrupted, it affects your company’s cash flow, your customers’ orders, and your employees’ wellbeing. The issues will be ongoing, as well, and your internal operations will likely require an overhaul. It’s better to be preemptive about these things and expect the worst rather than hope for the best.
How to Implement a Human Firewall
If you don’t have a human firewall established within your company, you can do several things to implement one. Rather than framing this as a step-by-step guide, however, we’re going to look at it from many angles. These solutions can help your business create a robust human firewall using a number of different techniques.
First Things First: Educate Your Workforce
If you don’t have a human firewall established already, then the first thing you need to do is provide education to your employees. Even the most basic educational course can go a long way. Establishing the precedents of data security in your business is a must, and it should be included with employee onboarding at the very least.
When considering education, try to build your plan based on a user with little to no computer experience. It would help if you taught them the building blocks of data security and why it’s important to your company. From there, you can move into more complex topics of discussion. Some of the things you should cover are phishing emails, social engineering, and visiting secure websites. All of these are things that they’ll have to worry about in their day-to-day jobs.
We will expand upon the theme of education and discuss the need for tool-specific training. Most organizations use some form of mass communication for their business activities. These programs tend to be the most likely place for a breach to happen within the company. While they aren’t malevolent, these data breaches can cause the same issues that a malicious program can. All company data needs to be cared for accordingly. Teaching employees how to use their tools safely can accomplish that.
Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
Lost or stolen devices pose a threat to a company’s data. One of the best ways to keep data safe on any device is by enabling multi-factor authentication, or 2-factor authentication. These programs add a second layer to the security of your devices and your programs, meaning that should a phishing attack work, it won’t accomplish the true goal of accessing your company’s data.
Multi-factor authentication enhances security because it requires users to rely on something they know and something they have. Users know their password, and they have a device for a one-time code to be sent to. If they are missing either one of these elements, the data or the device cannot be accessed. Some multi-factor authentication programs also enable users to lock access entirely if they aren’t the person trying to access the device or the data. If a breach happens, the chances are likely that the multi-factor authentication will prevent any data access or manipulation.
Keep Things People-Oriented
This relies on two different frames of reference. The first requires that you realize that people make mistakes. As such, you have to encourage the adoption of cybersecurity to everyone in the company, not just the tech-savvy. In the world we live in, the workforce is made up of many different people, all of which have different backgrounds. Not all people are going to understand the need to be part of the ‘cybersecurity team.’ Be sure to have patience and to make things as people-oriented as possible.
The other part of this is making sure that all people participate in the human firewall. This includes every level of employee, especially those in executive positions. These high-level individuals are going to be the target for most spear phishing attacks. They have access to the most valuable data in the company, and they are more likely to be well-known. Remember, for the human firewall to be effective, all people must participate in it.
Provide Company-Issued Devices
Company-issued devices are the best way to have complete control over the information being transmitted, as well as how it’s protected. These devices will have company-approved software installed on them, meaning that the human firewall can be more relaxed than if the device were personally owned. Employees are also much less likely to lose track of a company-issued device. They’re costly, and they understand that they could be penalized if something happened to them. Company-issued devices can save a lot of trouble in the long run.
Test Employees From Time to Time
One of the best ways to keep people on their toes is by simulating cybersecurity attacks. There are programs available to simulate phishing emails and social engineering schemes. Should an associate fail one of these tests, they can be reeducated by another member of the human firewall. The entire basis behind this is education, not punishment.
Keep Things Up to Date
As you notice trends in cybersecurity change, be sure to keep your human firewall up to date. This vigilance is one of the best ways to ensure that you can stay safe from data breaches or other cyberattacks. Cybersecurity is constantly evolving; your human firewall should be, too.