How to address the 6 most overlooked causes of data breaches

By addressing weaknesses in human factors, agencies can reduce their attack surface and make every employee a soldier in the battle against cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity experts repeatedly warn about the growing number of sophisticated malware and hacker attacks against IT infrastructure and data. Organizations can’t control the bad guys, and the criminals are getting better. However, rudimentary attention to security threats can go a long way toward protecting systems and data.

The human factor plays a critical role in how strong or weak an organization’s security defenses are. Be alert to the six most common human-factor mistakes that can lead to deadly security breaches.

1. Awareness

It’s not just rogue employees who compromise agency defenses with insider information. Out of ignorance, even the most loyal, hard-working employees can make mistakes that cost the agency dearly. For example, simple phishing attacks can be launched by opening emails from unknown senders, clicking on links and downloading attachments, after which they deliver malware onto a computer or convince a user to give up passwords. About a quarter of recipients open phishing emails, and 11 percent click on attachments. How can we keep this from happening?

The first lesson to convey to employees is the extreme importance of security. Are employees aware of the criticality of the data they deal with every day? Do they understand the necessity to comply with data-privacy regulations and what it might cost the agency if they don’t?

Once employees are aware of the requirement for security and their critical role, they must be warned about using unauthorized websites and shadow IT tools and shown how their daily activities can lead to undesired endpoint or network penetration. And these lessons must be reinforced periodically to ensure that they are not forgotten.

2. Time constraints

Often lacking sufficient budget and headcount, security staff are overburdened. Given all the pressure to “get everything done,” sometimes things just don’t get done correctly.

Misconfiguration of a tool and neglecting to follow security policies to the letter are regular mistakes. So is spinning up a certain service, such as a container, a proxy or monitoring tool, but forgetting to secure it.

Still another consequence of time pressures can be forgetting to update security patches or not updating  them on time. About half of IT professionals see outdated security patches as a problem and cite human error and patch management as stumbling blocks to making web apps totally secure.

Cutting corners may sometimes be a good way to get the job done quickly, but it also makes way for poor security. Security managers must keep their teams on their toes. And when they undertake to respond to an incident, they must see it through to its final resolution.

3. Passwords

While hacking and malicious attacks are often the top concern for protecting an organization’s data, often it’s the weak or lost password that proves to be the Achilles’ heel that leads to disaster.

Protected only by weak passwords, laptops, tablets, cell phones, computers and email systems offer up little defense against the committed hacker who can easily obtain subscription information, personal, financial and health information as well as sensitive business data. IT departments will go a long way to enhancing security by implementing policies that enforce use of strong passwords on all devices.

Another password vulnerability is employees’ tendency to use the same password (or even the same set of passwords) for both work and home. If a home network is breached, there may be little damage that an attacker can do, but if the attacker can extract passwords from a home computer (or personal smartphone) and use them as a springboard to launch attacks against the enterprise, devastation can ensue.

4. Friendly outsourcers, vendors and partners

As technology becomes more complex, companies increasingly rely on outsourcers, vendors and partners to support and maintain systems. These third parties typically use remote access tools to connect to the agency’s network, but they don’t always follow security best practices.

Organizations must trust their contractors and vendors. However, even partners with benevolent intent can leave their customers open to attack. Third-party threats increase exponentially if unvetted partners are allowed to access an organization’s network.

Agencies must be certain that their trusted partners and vendors follow best security practices, such as enforcing multifactor authentication, requiring unique credentials for each customer and creating a comprehensive audit trail of all remote-access activity. Third-party accounts should be disabled as soon as they are no longer required, and login attempts using these accounts should be monitored.

5. Alert fatigue

Alerts signal a potential problem that might require immediate attention, but if alerts are frequent and coupled with a high false-positive rate, they lose their power.  About a third of cybersecurity professionals face more than 10,000 alerts every month, and more than half of the alerts are false positives.

Alert fatigue occurs when security personnel are exposed to a large number of security alerts and become numb to them, which can cause increased response times and missed alerts.  

For the security team, the number of false alarms belies the actual problem. Alert fatigue leads to a loss of confidence in security tools. Over time, the sensitivity threshold falls to a point where all alerts are suspect, and actual security becomes almost non-existent. When the real thing happens, nobody recognizes it.

Cybersecurity incident response teams are dealing with their own version of alert fatigue. After investing in state-of-the-art systems that detect potential attacks and sound alerts, the extremely high rate of false positives undermine the value of the detection systems.

Hiring more personnel is not the answer. Attacks are increasing exponentially and agencies cannot keep up just by throwing more people into the fray. Arming staffs with the best technology -- one that provides accurate alerts with no false positives – is a much better approach. Deception-based solutions, for example, fall into this category.

6. Routine

Most organizations are very good at preparing for a targeted event. Security teams will be on high alert when the latest advanced persistent threat is published or a new zero-day attack is discovered. But once the danger has passed, teams tend to fall back into a routine, let down their guard and can miss a new attack.

Be on guard against routine. Re-allocate tasks. Give your security team training in the latest technologies and tools. Keep the environment fresh and dynamic.

Everywhere, networks and data are under attack. This is war! In order to defend their agency assets, cybersecurity professionals must rely on every means at their disposal. These days, while we tend to focus on technology and expertise to spearhead our defenses, we must not overlook the simple, internal steps we can take to reduce our attack surface and to make every employee a soldier in our battle against cyberattacks.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.