6 Techniques to Reduce the Risk of Human Error in Network and Computer Security

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Maintaining network security and computer security in today’s cyber environment is a big task. Even individuals without a company to worry about must constantly remain on their toes. In the business world, every company that handles data (aka everyone) is a target for today’s hackers. From a handful of credit-card numbers to reams of private customer information – hackers and human error have endless treasure troves to seek from business computer networks – physical or virtual.

Giving credit to the business world, we have developed some extremely effective software and firmware solutions to the hacker problem. Encryption, firewalls, virus scanning, document security, and network monitoring could – in a perfect test system – stop most hacker intrusions most of the time. The problem is that hackers have found the one weak link in the chain that we just can’t patch with a security update: Human employees.

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Human Error Risk in Network and Computer Security.

Depending on the stats you read, human error is the cause of 80% to 95% of all data security breaches. We live in a world where the simple act of clicking a spammy email or browsing cat pictures on a break can infect the entire business network with malware. Factor in normal professional mistakes like sharing documents with the wrong account or accidentally using a home email address the statistics have a point – It’s nearly impossible to avoid the risk of human error in the network and computer security.

The risk is there and until we have all-robot teams, human error is not something we can fully avoid. But we can take technological steps to minimize the possibility and impact of human error when it occurs. Just as hand rails can reduce the risk of falls, the right guard rails and protective software can also prevent the risk of normal employee mistakes from causing any harm to cybersecurity measures.

Today, we’re here to dive into the top six techniques for reducing the risk of human error in cybersecurity. These are the leading solutions to the industry’s biggest challenge in securing networks or information.

1. Human Error in Guided Password Creation

The single most well-known and commonly exploited security breach is password theft. Some password theft cannot be avoided – the result of a previous data breach on another platform. However, a few changes to the standard procedure can significantly reduce the risk of a data breach occurring as a result of password invasion.

First, there is the necessity of making a new password for important logins. As people, we tend to prefer to use the same password for everything. The problem with this is once one password is stolen, all of a person’s passwords are then breached. Second, weak passwords are easier for hackers to crack with a brute-force program that guesses likely password combinations in a methodical order until one is found.

The answer is guided password creation. You have likely seen this feature in action. Build or implement a widget that guides new password creation for a strong, memorable combo every time. Go beyond the usual character requirements, and provide a guide for building an acronym that they can remember. Coach them by replacing letters with numbers, characters, and caps, then use your widget to strength-check the final password result.

A man working on his laptop to reduce human error in computer security
A man working on his laptop.

2. Multi-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is the new security standard, as it’s well-known that passwords are often stolen and breached. The second factor adds a direct connection to the user through their personal accounts – primarily their personal email and phone number. Hackers may be able to steal a password, or even an entire email account, but the two-factor method ensures the true account holder is always notified if they log into a new location, fail to log in a number of times or change their password. For the account holder, it’s one extra step. But in the case of hacker activity, it’s a priceless alarm.

However, we can go beyond two-factor in ways that hackers don’t even have the formula to hack yet. Human irregularity may lead to security risks, but it also allows you to ‘outsmart’ computerized invasion tactics. This is done with multi-factor authentication.

Once you pass the two-factor mark, you can get creative and make the login process easier. Have your users draw a picture inside a dot grid – a picture no hacker can programmatically guess from letters and numbers. Create a musical password or a game of memory picture selection. Your users will fly through these ‘fun’ password types while stopping hackers in their tracks. As a bonus, users can hardly use their unique passwords to be lost on other websites.

3. Email Phishing and Malware Scanning Software with Human Error

Employees get Phished. This is a fact of modern business life and hackers are upping their game as human error becomes one of the last remaining vectors of invasion. Fortunately, we can also use technology to protect our team – from interns to execs – from the risks of phishing and malware-riddled messages.

The first step is education. A team that understands how phishing works and what to look out for is safer than an untrained team. However, even wary professionals get phished from time to time. We can significantly reduce that risk with email defense software. These solutions come in three parts

  • Scanning for malware and viruses in attached files
  • Posting visible alerts when an email contains a potentially dangerous link or file
  • Detecting phishing attempts and flagging suspicious emails

You are likely familiar with email scanning and danger alerts – these features have been in play for over a decade. The latest innovation, however, is phishing detection. Today, email reading algorithms can scan a message for points of suspicion that might suggest false senders or deceptive purposes. Just like emails can now detect ‘spam’ messages, phishing is just another format we can filter for.

Examples of suspicious phishing features include

  • Using the name of a known contact – but not the email address in your contacts list
  • Requests for files, transfers, or money from an email outside the company
  • Posing as a bank or institution without emailing from the proper domain
  • Known suspicious phrases and formats of formula phishing emails

These flags give employees a chance to switch out of auto-work mode mentally and assess the email for its true risk or deception value.

4. Preventative Network & Document Permissions

Network permissions can be used like bumpers to prevent any actions or transactions that you know are always wrong. For example, your configurations can make it impossible for an employee to delete your customer database – because you would never want that. You can make it impossible for certain workstations to access core network resources. You can isolate all wireless devices on a separately secured network so that mobile hacks can never infiltrate the inner network. 

Preventative network permissions will be unique for each business or industry, depending on what you need to prevent. You may prevent the ability to make some documents ‘public’ in permissions, or conversely make it impossible to hide some documents that must be public. On a more technical depth, the same limitations can also prevent data from transferring between two specific servers, or only allow users to read data from a server, never write to it.

Simply by putting bumpers on the server to prevent known disaster scenarios (and lesser common mistakes) you can prevent a whole category of human-technology risks in the work environment.

5. Guided or Synchronized Software Updates & Configuration

Now let’s talk about software installation, updates, and configuration. In a traditional workplace, your in-house or outsourced IT would set up all the computers, installations, and security configurations, and sweep through occasionally to handle updates. But times are changing and many once-office-workers are now at home configuring their own systems. This is a yet-unmeasured increase in the risk of human error in your cloud network security.

Software that is not properly configured leaves security gaps – and default out-of-the-box configurations can be even riskier than misconfiguration because hackers know all the default passwords and ports. Employees left to install their own software almost never take care of security configurations and wouldn’t know where to start. Updates are also risky because they can reset settings or even cause data corruption if they do not go correctly.

You have two options to solve this issue. The first is to guide employees through software installations, updates, and configuration. The second is to cloud-sync every device so that remote IT can oversee the software and security configurations centrally.

Guided installations and updates. Instead of giving your team a list of software to download and install solo – walk everyone through the right process. You have three options for software config guidance. You can build a tutorial or slide show that automatically guides employees through the process, or you can have IT lead groups and individuals through the software changes.

The other option is to centralize devices via cloud administration. If every device that connects to the work cloud system is also remotely managed, IT can analyze and push updates to devices with oversight. The admins can then take on the responsibility updated and configuring installations on all managed devices.

6. Automated Malware Scanning and Isolation

Last but certainly not least is getting rid of lingering malware. Especially when employees use personal or home devices, malware happens. Kids pick it up by clicking ads or playing web games on their parent’s laptops. Professionals pick up malware by opening the wrong email or installing an infected piece of personal software. This is a natural part of humans using devices today.

Many types of malware are designed to lurk, either gathering data invisibly, using resources to mine crypto (or other nefarious purposes), or waiting for an opportunity to strike. That opportunity might just be your employee logging into their work accounts. So a savvy IT director can cut this problem off at the pass by having every work-used device automatically scanned and wiped of malware on a regular basis. This prevents anything from lurking for longer than the between-scan duration.

In addition, any device found to have malware can immediately be network-isolated and the employee alerted in case additional steps need to be taken.

Human error is a natural part of the human workforce. The creativity, ingenuity, and productivity that come from human effort are indispensable, but we don’t have to accept risk just because it’s natural. We put handrails on stairs and texture pavement to prevent falling, which is also natural and human. These technological measures are designed to work with your team’s strengths and make up for their weaknesses when it comes to network and computer security. Contact us today to find out more about how you can reduce the risk of human error in network security for the sake of your team and your secure data.

The NetTech Content Team

NetTech Consultants is a Jacksonville based managed IT services provider that serves SMBs and organizations in Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida. NetTech publishes content discussing information technology and cybersecurity concepts and trends in a business context.