The Human Side of Cybersecurity: Addressing Insider Risks


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I’ve written about the threat of insider risks before. However, it is worth covering again, as countering the threat is an important consideration to include in your cybersecurity planning and strategy.

Many of the organisations I talk to spend considerable effort and financial resources deploying cybersecurity solutions to protect their staff, systems, and data. While these tools are essential, it’s crucial not to overlook the human element in the cybersecurity equation.

In this article, I want to cover the importance of addressing insider risks with a focus on the role employee satisfaction plays in delivering an environment with reduced insider risks.

 Employee Discontent and Security Risk

A recent study by Pew Research in the USA found that only 50% of workers are very or extremely satisfied with their jobs. It also found that those who receive regular feedback are the happiest and most content.

How an employee views their relationship with their company has been shown to be a crucial factor in insider risk management (IRM). There is a direct link that we can draw between staff discontent and increased insider risk. If employees feel neglected or undervalued, they may become discontented, potentially leading to malicious activities or unintentional security breaches due to a lack of focus.

Leadership teams in organisations, especially in technical roles, often focus on the technical aspects of cybersecurity as a way of reducing insider risks. However, the research findings that focus on the psychological aspects of people management show that taking a purely technical approach isn’t enough. We all have to realise that our colleagues are people who have complex lives and needs. Discontent can grow out of multiple areas, and if we don’t pay attention to the human factor, we expose our organisations to risks that can be reduced or eliminated via changes.


 The Importance of Staff Engagement

I’ve stated that a lack of feedback and engagement from managers in an organisation can lead to employee discontent, which in turn feeds into behaviours that increase insider risk — via intentional and unintentional activities.

Unhappy staff are also more open to approaches from cyber criminals looking to find a way to bypass security. Why try to bypass all those cybersecurity solutions put in place to protect the network border, devices, and email systems when you can pay a disgruntled employee to take an infected USB drive into the office and use it on a networked PC?

The Pew Research report indicates that lower satisfaction levels often stem from a lack of feedback, poor compensation, and limited opportunities for growth. On the other hand, regular engagement and feedback from managers results in higher satisfaction levels. This emphasises the importance of leadership teams cultivating a culture of open communication and regular feedback to ensure that employees feel valued and heard.


 Countering Insider Risk

What can you do to counter insider risk? An important step is creating a culture where everyone supports and uplifts their colleagues. There also needs to be a safe way for staff to report any suspicious activity that might indicate an insider risk from others in the organisation.

You don’t want to build a culture where people watch and snitch on each other. That would be terrible and highly counterproductive to staff morale. No, you want to foster an environment where unusual behaviour can be passed on to relevant managers to look at and deal with promptly and sensitively. Studies show that when it is the human resources department, which is skilled in people management, who are the ones who initiate investigations into reports, then close to three quarters of these lead to a reduction in insider risk.

Final Thoughts

IIRM requires a balanced approach and is a team effort. While technical solutions are important, they need to be complemented by human-focused strategies. Organisations can significantly reduce the risk of insider threats by engaging with employees, providing regular feedback, and fostering a proactive security culture.

Business leaders need to recognise that insider risk is a human problem that requires a human solution. By promoting engagement, feedback, and open communication, we can establish a more secure environment for our organisations and reduce the risks associated with insider threats 

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