Strengthening Human Risk Management – Part 1: Creating Awareness

This is our two-part series on strengthening Human Risk Management (HRM). In this first part, we will talk about using awareness while the second part will focus on leveraging technology. 

What is Human Risk Management (HRM)? 

Human Risk Management (HRM) is a comprehensive cybersecurity approach that emphasizes multiple techniques like identification, quantification, and active management of risks to reduce losses due to human behavior.  

HRM has taken centerstage as it is estimated that 90% of breaches in 2024 will involve a human error. Also, the Verizon Data Breach Report indicates that 80% of data breaches in 2023 had a human element to it. While these numbers are scary, it’s important to understand the cause of HRM in the first place.  

There are two key aspects in human risk management – vulnerability and threat.  

Vulnerability is the susceptibility of humans to engage in behaviors that could lead to security lapses. This vulnerability increases due to a lack of awareness, illegal acts like insider attacks, and just human errors. Threat, on the other hand, is the cause of a security incident. This threat can be a specific cause of a cyber-attack like Denial of Service (DoS), ransomware, credential stuffing, and more. 

How do both these aspects come together to impact cybersecurity? 

Human behavior is often the weakest link in cybersecurity. Vulnerabilities arise from unintentional actions, like clicking on phishing emails or using weak passwords. Threats exploit these vulnerabilities, leading to incidents like data breaches and financial loss. HRM aims to reduce these risks by improving awareness and promoting better security practices. 

Let’s look at the human behaviors that greatly impact cybersecurity. 

Human Behaviors Impacting Cybersecurity 

Social Engineering 

In social engineering attacks, cybercriminals pose as a trusted family member, friend, or colleague to trick individuals into providing sensitive information like usernames, passwords, or financial details. Phishing exploits human vulnerabilities, like a lack of awareness or a moment of inattention.   

Social engineering attacks, as the name suggests, take information about an individual from social media and other publicly available sources. Based on the identified data, cybercriminals plan their strategy to extract information. They often come disguised as legitimate emails from trusted sources, making it easy for even the most cautious individuals to fall victim.  

Insider Attacks 

Insider attacks involve employees or other trusted individuals within an organization who misuse their access to harm the organization. These attacks can be motivated by various factors, including financial gain, revenge, or coercion. Insiders may steal sensitive data, sabotage systems, or aid external attackers. Detecting insider threats can be challenging, as the perpetrators often have legitimate access to the information they misuse. 

To mitigate insider threats, organizations should implement strict access controls, conduct regular audits, and create a culture of transparency and trust. Encouraging employees to report suspicious behavior and providing channels for anonymous reporting can also help identify potential insider threats before they cause significant damage. 

Weak Passwords 

Weak passwords are a significant vulnerability in any organization’s cybersecurity defenses. Many individuals use easily guessable passwords, such as “password123” or “123456,” or reuse the same password across multiple accounts. This practice makes it easier for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. 

Password security Human risk management
Password security

Organizations should enforce strong password policies, requiring employees to create complex passwords that include a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Additionally, implementing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security, making it more difficult for attackers to compromise accounts even if they obtain the password. 

Poor Handling of Sensitive Information 

Improper handling of sensitive information can lead to data breaches and other security incidents. This includes actions like sharing confidential information over unsecured channels, leaving sensitive documents unattended, or failing to encrypt data. Such practices can expose the organization to significant risks. 

To address this issue, organizations should provide clear guidelines on handling sensitive information and conduct regular training sessions to reinforce these guidelines. Employees should be educated on the importance of using secure communication channels, encrypting data, and securely storing and disposing of sensitive documents. 

Lack of Awareness 

A lack of awareness about cybersecurity threats is one of the biggest challenges organizations face. Many employees may not fully understand the risks associated with their actions, such as clicking on suspicious links, downloading unauthorized software, or using personal devices for work purposes. This lack of awareness can lead to unintentional security breaches. 

Organizations should invest in comprehensive cybersecurity awareness programs to educate employees about the latest threats and best practices for maintaining security. Regular training sessions, interactive workshops, and continuous communication can help ensure that employees are aware of the risks and know how to protect themselves and the organization. 

Now that you know how human behaviors impact cybersecurity, let’s move on to what you can do as an organization to strengthen human risk management through rigorous training and awareness.  

Strengthening Human Risk Management Through Awareness 

Awareness is critical and is the first step to beefing up your organization’s security. To create this awareness, you must regularly educate employees about the latest threats and best practices for maintaining security. Training programs should cover topics like recognizing phishing emails, creating strong passwords, and safely handling sensitive information. Also, regular awareness campaigns can help reinforce good security habits and reduce the likelihood of human errors. 

Key Strategies for Building Awareness 

  1. Regular Training Sessions: Conduct regular cybersecurity training sessions to keep employees informed about the latest threats and security practices. These sessions should be mandatory and tailored to the specific needs of the organization. 
  1. Interactive Workshops: Organize workshops where employees can engage in hands-on activities, like identifying phishing emails or creating strong passwords. Interactive learning can help reinforce important security concepts. 
  1. Simulated Phishing Attacks: Conduct simulated phishing attacks to test employees’ ability to recognize and respond to phishing attempts. Provide feedback and additional training based on the results. 
  1. Security Newsletters: Distribute regular newsletters with updates on the latest threats and security tips. Keeping security top-of-mind can help reinforce good habits. 
  1. Visual Reminders: Place posters and reminders around the workplace to reinforce key security messages. Visual cues can serve as constant reminders of good security practices and can help improve human risk management. 

Building a Culture of Security 

Creating a culture of security requires ongoing effort and commitment from all levels of the organization. The management of an organization should lead by example, demonstrating good security practices and emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity. Employees should feel empowered to report suspicious activity and confident that their concerns will be taken seriously. 

  1. Leadership Involvement: Leaders should actively participate in security training and promote a security-first mindset. Their involvement in human risk management strategies underscores the importance of cybersecurity to the entire organization. 
  1. Clear Communication: Establish clear channels for reporting security incidents and provide regular updates on the organization’s security posture. Transparency can help build trust and encourage proactive behavior. 
  1. Reward Good Practices: Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate good security practices. Positive reinforcement can motivate others to follow suit. 
  1. Inclusive Policies: Develop security policies that are clear, practical, and inclusive. Policies should be regularly reviewed and updated to address emerging threats and changing circumstances. 

With regular training, you can create greater awareness about cybersecurity while efforts from the management can help build a culture of security.  

Collaboration with Threat Alliance 

In conclusion, you must strengthen Human Risk Management (HRM) to protect your organization from cybersecurity incidents. Implement regular training and awareness programs to educate employees about threats like phishing, poor password management, and negligent behavior.  

Additionally, collaborate with cybersecurity consulting companies like ThreatAlliance to leverage collective intelligence and reduce the chances for attacks.  Their cybersecurity services can provide comprehensive protection for your organization. They work with you to create awareness trainings and building a culture of security – the essential components for strengthening human risk management.