Welcome to the digital age where cyberattacks are becoming a common phenomenon. Businesses of all sizes, from small companies to giant corporations, not a single organization is immune to the potential cyber threats. While companies that have the budget successfully implement robust cyber security technologies, they fail to recognize their own employees as a vulnerability.
Cybersecurity experts know that the threats do not come only from sophisticated hackers, but also from their employees as they may put sensitive data at risk. In this article, we will try to explain why your employees are the weakest link in your network security and unveil common threats. Stay tuned to learn some practical tricks and how to mitigate employee-related risks.
The Importance of Employees in Network Security
Employees are the ones using all the applications you store valuable data. No matter how many security measures and advanced tools you have, they will always be the first line of defense when it comes to network security. But more importantly, the accounts and the user credentials they use daily create considerable risk to business resources. Employees may not be capable of protecting these credentials and their devices both physically and digitally.
Especially the remote users of a private network, who access company data from all around the world and from unsecured connections impact the security of your company. The location, devices, and applications of every user create another risk or a great line of defense depending on their awareness and the security culture in the organization.
Common Employee-Related Security Threats
Employees are a critical part of network security, both in terms of protecting sensitive data and preventing cyber attacks. But unfortunately, they are also a significant cause of digital risks, and we call these insider threats. Below, you’ll see some examples of these risks and how employees can impact network security.
Insider threats do not only mean intentional damage to sensitive data. The most common issue with employees in terms of digital security is human error. They have a real possibility of causing cyber attacks due to carelessness and lack of knowledge. Employees can fall to phishing attacks, use weak passwords, or simply leave their computers open which puts sensitive data at risk.
Some employees do have malicious intent, which is why access restriction is crucial so they cannot access everything in a network. But whatever they have access to, if an employee wants to intentionally compromise network security can steal sensitive data, install malicious software into company devices, or sell business data to competitors.
Social engineering is a big part of why employees may be the weakest link in your network security posture. Cybercriminals will often use these tactics to manipulate your employees into sharing sensitive data and business information, or directly grant access to systems. These tactics include baiting, phishing, or pretexting that appear to come from a trusted colleague.
Employees have the potential to use very weak, short, and guessable passwords. This can be a big security threat to your network as hackers not only try to guess passwords but use some tools to hack them and get into protected networks. If your employees don’t have strong passwords right at the beginning, the chances are they will get compromised.
Best Practices for Mitigating Employee-Related Security Threats
Now let’s talk about how we can address these risks and mitigate them to prevent a potential cyberattack caused by our colleagues. To help you with that, we’ve come up with some best practices.
Training and awareness programs
Without a doubt, the first step in addressing employee-related threats is providing them with a well-thought training program. Training that include issues such as phishing prevention, password security, and network and application security will help your employees be aware of incoming threats.
Weak passwords are unfortunately a big reason why employee accounts may get compromised. People just don’t want to use long and complex passwords when they can simply use five-digit ones.
This is a big mistake and something that you can prevent. Simply enforce robust password policies to ensure your employees are using secure passwords, changing them regularly, and not re-using them on different platforms.
Access controls are particularly important to prevent intentional insider threats. As we already mentioned, some employees might want to sell business data to competitors or steal sensitive data. The best way to prevent this is to implement role-based access controls to grant them access only to resources they need to do their jobs.
Incident response plans
Data breaches can happen at some point cause of a failed password or due to the carelessness of an employee. In order to control the impact of a potential breach, it is crucial for companies to have an incident response plan.
The plan should include how to identify and contain the data breach, notify affected partners and stakeholders, and restore regular business operations. In general, it should be a guideline for IT operators and supervisors to check for every step in the event of a cyber attack.
Organizations should also help their employees be ready for digital threats by providing them with the necessary security software. Using advanced technologies such as firewalls, antivirus programs, and intrusion detection systems. These can help detect malware infections, prevent unauthorized access to resources, and warn professionals in case of a data breach.
The human factor will be always there regardless of the advanced and automated tools we use for cyber security. That’s why the people who use the private network of a company daily are the weakest link in the network security posture of your company. From weak passwords to social engineering methods of hackers, your employees may be threatening your business data.
In order to turn this to your advantage and protect your network with the help of your coworkers, we highly suggest scheduling training programs, using helpful tools for cybersecurity, enforcing security policies and access controls, and having a strong incident response plan.