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Cybersecurity experts explain how to create a resilient human firewall

February 16 2024 (Nordlayer)

Cyberattacks are indeed sophisticated. However, almost all of them have something in common – they attack people, and people’s awareness determines their success. This is why the human firewall concept within an organisation is core to protecting a company from cyber threats. Well-known crime and intelligence analyst Mark T. Hofman and Nordlayer’s cybersecurity expert Carlos Salas explain why people click on suspicious links, reveal organisations’ weakest links, and discuss why most cyberattacks fail at the coffee machine.

What is a human firewall?

According to cybersecurity expert Carlos Salas , the term “human firewall” describes employees who, within a business, adhere to the best cybersecurity procedures. They act as the first line of defence in the event of a cyberattack that targets people. “A human firewall creates an atmosphere of trust and support between people, making cybersecurity a shared duty as social engineering attacks increase in frequency,” he says.

A human firewall is an important element of every organisation because cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated. By targeting beyond the physical premise, such attacks make your employees a key asset, especially when an organisation falls prey to a complex cyberattack. “Well-prepared company employees could make a significant difference in the event of a  security breach, reduction in fines, and repelling attacks,” says Salas.

What do we know about cybercrime today?

Hofman, in his interview with NordLayer, reveals a new typology of cybercrime:

  • Cybercriminals operate within structured, business-like entities that use advanced tactics like ransomware as a service.
  • This type of crime is not just about money. It’s more about the excitement of outsmarting the system.
  • Cybercrime targets human error more than system flaws since it often exploits moments of inattention or bad luck.
  • Cyber awareness across all levels of staff is key for organisational security. Anyone, even IT admins, can become the weakest link in a cyberattack.
  • The right cybersecurity culture across the whole company is key to digital safety. 

How do cybercriminals analyse our weakest points?

The human firewall is essential for modern workforces that foster remote or hybrid ways of working. Due to the lack of face-to-face communication, cyberattacks are significantly more effective. Hofman shares an example:

Many cyberattacks fail at the coffee machine. Identity theft scams like CEO fraud exploits can be avoided. If I meet my boss at the coffee machine and ask them about a bank transfer, they will ask, ‘What transfer?and the attack is stopped.”

Working from home increases the risk of cyber threats because people might fall for online scams that prey on individual mistakes and the absence of physical verification. Phishing emails are a prominent way to attack companies without much effort. However, spear phishing attacks can outsmart anyone, even IT admins. The bad actors behind such scams tailor emails exactly for you with information found online.

Talking about modern workplace challenges of the human firewall, the key message is “every chain is as strong as its weakest link.” That’s because the main target group is people who are not interested in cybersecurity — they could be interns, executive assistants, and everyone who’s not working with cybersecurity directly.

What are ways to protect your organisation?

  • Stay physically and psychologically aware. This means being wary of third-party USB sticks, suspicious links, or email attachments and always updating your software.
  • Think before connecting. Avoid using public Wi-Fi without a trustworthy VPN app — never buy USB sticks from online shops.
  • Take care of your device. Never leave your laptop or cell phone unlocked.
NordLayer provides flexible and easy-to-implement cybersecurity tools for businesses of any size or work model developed by the standard of NordVPN. We help organizations secure networks in a stress-free way. NordLayer enhances internet security and modernizes network and resource access with technical improvements aligning with the best regulatory compliance standards. Helping organizations to adopt FWaaS, ZTNA, and SWG principles, NordLayer is focused on the Security Service Edge of cybersecurity services.

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