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The Two Faces of Cybersecurity

In the race to beef up security measures through electronic surveillance, the crucial “human factor” is often overlooked.

Virtually every time we pick up the paper or turn on the television, we hear about yet another breach of data security at companies like Target, Home Depot, Sony, OPM, Hilton or even the Defense Department. Cybersecurity has even featured prominently in the 2016 presidential campaign. The mantra to corporate executives seems to be “if you think you haven’t been hacked, think again.”

Nearly all CEOs place cybersecurity at or near the top of their concerns. According to PwC’s 2015 CEO survey, nearly 45 percent of U.S. CEOs say they are ”extremely concerned” about cyber threats and a lack of data security. So where should a CEO focus?

Often, the primary focus of cybersecurity is to hire experts and acquire expensive tools that scan computers and networks electronically to identify and remove viruses, worms and other malware based on their “electronic signatures.” We call that “electronic surveillance” and experts like Symantec, Mandiant and Kaspersky are in high demand by companies all over
the world to do this work.

“The human factor (rogue employees) continues to be the biggest threat to information security.”

While electronic surveillance is critical, it is only one facet of cybersecurity. The other, the “human factor,” is much more mundane. This component consists of rules, procedures, controls, training and constant reminders to physically secure critical assets and data. Examples are controls restricting physical access to crucial facilities, multi-factor authentication, rules to never access unknown websites (phishing), never insert an unknown thumb drive and policies to never leave one’s computer unsecured (as in a taxicab or to be used by unauthorized people). We refer to these common sense procedures as the “human factor.”

According to 37% of IT professionals polled at Infosecurity Europe 2014, the human factor (rogue employees) continues to be the biggest threat to information security. In the case of Target, where 40 million customer accounts were stolen, the perpetrator gained access via a password stolen from an air-conditioning vendor. At Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), data on over 800,000 insured individuals was at risk when computers were stolen by construction workers following Hurricane Sandy. At Anthem BCBS, where data on 80 million customers was
accessed, the bad actors gained entry when an employee fell victim to a successful phishing campaign.

Finally, at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the 127-page security SF-86 forms of at least 14 million secret and top secret government and military employees were stolen, most
likely through the lack of multi-factor authorization (ID + password + a second security factor).

Unfortunately, the human factor is not as exotic as electronic surveillance and often receives less attention and funding. Expert cyber firms that focus on electronic surveillance, such as Mandiant, Kaspersky and Symantec, are frequently in the news with discoveries, challenges and conquests. Unfortunately, the tedious and boring process of managing and enforcing human factors simply doesn’t sell papers.

The importance of human factors is underscored by the International Standards Organization (ISO) framework of controls. This framework, known as ISO 27000, is used by companies to manage their cybersecurity initiatives. Of the 113 ISO controls, 68% fall into this category, while the remaining 32% are electronic surveillance. Clearly, we need to be sure that human factors in cybersecurity don’t get shortchanged.

If by better managing human factors, we prevent malware from entering the system, electronic surveillance can be enhanced. If we can get folks to always close the screen door, the bugs don’t get in, don’t bite people and don’t need to be hunted down and eradicated.


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