Cyber Security Failures: Value of the Human Firewall

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Jon Stout

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Cyber Security Failurescybersec

With our information systems under aggressive attack, we cannot ignore any meaningful line of defense. The human element of cyber security is too often overlooked—and that a rigorous new approach to workforce cyber preparedness is urgently needed. This comprehensive new approach is called Building Human Firewalls.

The computing security model of the past decade, based on firewalls, anti-viral services, intrusion detection controls, system event monitoring, VPNs, etc., is failing to detect and block the most advanced malware. That is serious enough. But what’s worse is that this traditional defense model is of little use in preventing what many experts feel is the greatest threat to cyber security: human error.

Many recent reports indicate that traditional cyber security tools and techniques are not enough to prevent the loss of sensitive date to hackers. Even the best technology is only as good and reliable as the people in the organization. What is also required is knowledge training and trust in the organization. The human and social engineering

Research Reports on Cyber Security and Human Firewalls

There are numerous facts that bolster this view, but here are three of the most important:

1. 80% of all data breaches reported by the U.S. federal government from January 2009 through May 2012 were caused by human error. (“Data Breaches in the Government Sector,” a Rapid 7 Research Report. From the report: “From January 2009 through May 31, 2012, employee error and device theft caused the majority of data breaches. Combining unintended disclosure, insider threats, physical losses, the loss/theft of portable devices, and the loss/theft of stationary devices, the total number of incidents reached 214 (out of 268), exposing more than 93 million PII records.)


2. In 2012 survey, 710 experienced IT security professionals said lost devices and mishandled data were responsible for ten times more of their organization’s data breaches in the last two years than external cyber attacks.( “The Human Factor in Data Protection,” a study conducted by the Ponemon Institute.)


3. The prestigious cyber security researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI)
declared recently spear phishing to be the number one cyber security threat to the enterprise.

SecurityThe NSA/Edward Snowden affair clearly indicates that more than smart technology and multiple network administrators are needed to protect the secrets of any large organization. In addition to technical firewalls, a Human Firewall is required to eliminate cyber attacks and compromises from within. Some estimate project that, with a properly constructed Human Firewall cyber vulnerability may be reduced by up to 90%.

In addition, research on the rapidly growing hacker threat to Federal Government Agencies indicates that the Snowden threat, as a professional hacker, is not an isolated phenomenon and there are various forms of human error and threats that exist in any organization including:

  • Disgruntled employees
  • Opportunists
  • Careless Employees
  • Professional espionage threats

Clearly, traditional perimeter firewalls and automated security controls are proving ineffective without educating and informing the existing organization staff as to proper procedures of protecting the organization network.

Establishing the Cyber Security Human Firewall

A company with a strong Human Firewall:

  • Has an engaged, aware, well-educated workforce.
  • Has a clear policy that prioritize the protection of networks and data, and which foster compliance with security standards.
  • Is agile and responsive, and knows that in an era lacking bulletproof IT security, cyber breaches are not so much prevented as managed and mitigated.
  • Has learned to circle the wagons internally, increasing cyber risk collaboration and communication;
  • And, is obtaining critical intelligence by sharing information externally, with trusted partners and
    government agencies.

Organizations require effective tools, services and knowledge to create an effective Human Firewall and reduce human error. The best tools offer comprehensive solutions combined in a customized dashboard that provide:

  • New proactive data protection and incident response policies, driven from the top.
  • Better trained, and better equipped, work forces that can become as discriminating about
    malicious threats at the social level as our technology firewalls are at the data level.
  • Better cyber threat intelligence services, distributed more broadly through the enterprise—
    and fast incident response capabilities when a threat becomes an attack.
  • Ongoing threat vulnerability assessments and better real-time threat pictures.
  • More security apps, especially in mobile environments, that everyone can use to take
    greater responsibility for the security of their enterprise.
  • And, in the face of ever-escalating security breaches and data losses, we need them now.

Lastly, these requirements must be available in a form that is easy to access, user friendly, portable and is available to all members of the organization. Further, because of the evolving and dynamic nature of the cyber threat, the Human Firewall must be built on an architecture that is stable, robust and easily adaptable. This will enable the constant flow of new information and data.

And the Human Firewall must be secure from cyber penetration attacks.

What are the Benefits of the Cyber Security Human Firewall?

An obvious advantage of the Human Firewall is its leveraging of the organization staff.30

The individuals in the organization, if they are properly trained, educated and informed can create a culture of security on a cost effective basis. Effective use of Human Firewall tools and services will address the key vulnerabilities of most existing networks easily and continuously without costly upgrades of technology.

With the proper tools and services the Human Firewall can be built customized and maintained with a relatively small investment compared to existing penetration based Cyber technology. Combined with the leveraging aspects of the organization staff, the return on investment (ROI) is substantial.

Since the Human Firewall addressed processes and procedures it is technology neutral and focuses on the flow of current information.

Cyber Security Human Firewalls Recommendations 

  • Recognize the essential role your workforce plays in protecting the integrity and resilience
    of your IT systems—and then build a culture that helps your employees prioritize intelligent
    cyber defense.
  • Establish and enforce proactive cyber security policies.
  • Train and educate your workforce—using online services that stay current with the dynamic
    threat environment.
  • Establish compliance procedures and guidelines that standardize security practices, inside
    the IT department and throughout the enterprise.
  • Deliver cyber threat alerts and information that help mitigate cyber damage, and incident
    response procedures that help manage it.
  • Launch a Human Firewall campaign, designed to make all of the above central parts of
    enterprise cyber security efforts.
  • Consider utilizing a comprehensive tool like Cybero to reduce human error and build a human firewall.

About the Author: Jon M. Stout is Chief Executive Officer of Aspiration Software LLC. Aspiration Software LLC is an Information Technology/Cyber Security services provider specializing focused on the Intelligence Community (IC).

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