What Is The Weakest Link In Cybersecurity?


Although there have been recent breakthroughs in cybersecurity defense, the weakest link in cyber security isn’t software or hardware. It’s the “wetware” operating the systems that are to blame, according to Thales 2022 Data Threat Report. Human error is the highest threat to organizational cyber security, with 38% of organizations ranking it as the top threat. 

Human operators are the weakest link in any cybersecurity system. Fraudulent links, emails, and malware can now be detected and thwarted by different tools, but they frequently miss well-organized tactics that prey on human psychology and emotion.

Security experts, organizations, and individuals must now, more than ever, address the psychology driving such cyberattacks. By comprehending how cybercriminals deceive users, they can close the loophole and lower the likelihood of people falling for the bait. To better understand this, let’s look at how the tactics work as well as how to prevent them.

Sunrise with woman as a silhouette marionette as concept for being the weakest link in cybersecurity
It professional holding laptop next to servers while inspecting weakness in cyber security

Psychological Operations Tactics That Aim To Manipulate Behavior

Because today’s phishing efforts rely on human weaknesses and expertly exploit basic human psychology, they can even make intelligent people make mistakes. Social engineering, an approach where a criminal uses data to appear as a trusted source, enables most of these psychological tactics. They then earn the victims’ trust and persuade them to hand over their credentials, pay an invoice or fill out a form.

They use a variety of persuasion strategies, which can exploit basic human emotions like the need to please, empathy, pity, or fear.

A business email compromise attack (BEC) is one of the most popular, where “perceived authority” is utilized to trick people into responding swiftly. These attacks frequently appear to come from bosses or managers, who request that workers in the accounting or IT departments pay an invoice, wire funds, or fill out a form.

For example, John Podesta, the former White House Chief of Staff and Chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, responded to a bogus Google security alert by entering his login credentials on a fraudulent login page.

According to an Internet Security Threat Report by Symantec, the top five subject lines for BEC attacks include:

  1. Urgent
  2. Request
  3. Important
  4. Payment
  5. Attention

Inattentive Blindness & Visual Similarity

Malicious actors also employ cognitive visual tactics to deceive people. Many cyberattacks can be disguised as legitimate-looking login requests from well-known firms, vendors, or other reliable sources. According to Google Safe Browsing data, there are approximately 75 times as many phishing sites as malware sites on the web.

Many of these sites imitate well-known names like Wells Fargo, Microsoft, HSBC Holdings, PayPal, and Adobe.

Emails from such sites are intended to divert victims’ attention away from the finer points of the scam. To collect credentials, hackers leverage the concept of “inattentive blindness” to deceive victims with Visually Similar sites built to mimic a real website closely.

It professional holding laptop next to servers while inspecting weakness in cyber security
It professional holding laptop next to servers while inspecting weakness in cyber security

What Can You Do To Prevent Being Targeted By Such Attacks?

While you cannot prevent hackers from sending phishing or tricking emails, you can ensure that you or your staff are prepared if and when it happens.

Start by training them on the fundamental of security, as human error can present itself in various ways. Inform them how to deal with any potential issues that may arise during their daily job activities. Email, social media safety, phishing, and malware training are all issues that should be covered in training.

Other measures you can take include:

  • Review the email address of senders and look out for impersonations of trusted people or brands.
  • Email Filtering. A secure email gateway like Proofpoint will block spam and remove emails containing malicious attachments or links.
  • Keep an eye out for URL redirection and slight alterations in the website content.
  • Look out for malicious email attachments. First, save the file to your downloads and look at the file extension. If the file name ends in one of the following extensions or suffixes, it’s likely dangerous and should not be opened, clicked, or tapped on:
    • .JS
    • .EXE
    • .COM
    • .PIF
    • .SCR
    • .HTA
    • .VBS
    • .WSF
    • . JSE
  • Also, hackers know people reuse the same passwords. If your banking password is the same as your email or Amazon password, a single vulnerability in one site can put the others at risk. That’s you should use different passwords for every single account. If you can’t remember them, use a password manager to safely store unique passwords for every site. The article Does Changing Your Password Stop Hackers + 5 Essential Tips is an excellent source and must-read for more information.
  • Privilege control. Ensure your users only have access to the information and functionality needed to do their jobs. This will minimize the amount of data at risk if the user makes a mistake that might cause a breach.

Josh Breaker

Josh is a technology writer with a focus on all things cybersecurity. The topics he writes about include malware, vulnerabilities, exploits, and security defenses, as well as research and innovation in information security. I have also written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix.

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