Security Audit

Are Humans the Weakest Link in Cyber Security?

Updated on: January 16, 2023

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Cyber security has been and will continue to be a more critical issue than ever. As technology becomes more complex, more advanced, and more user-friendly, it becomes more vulnerable. We can blame that on a few factors, but one such factor is the human element. Humans are the weakest link in any structure, and that’s no secret. 

This blog will examine how humans are the weakest link in cyber security and take a look at where the focus should be.

Are Humans the Weakest Link in Cyber Security?

There’s no denying that humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity. No matter how strong your technical defences, such as firewall, IPS, or IDS, are, they can always be circumvented by a determined attacker if they can find a way to trick or coerce a member of your staff into giving them access.

The reason for this is that humans are fallible and make mistakes. Mistakes in cyber security can have disastrous consequences, as we have seen with high-profile data breaches in recent years.

Humans are also the easiest target for cybercriminals. We can be social engineered into clicking on malicious links or opening attachments that contain malware. Once our systems are infected, detecting and removing malicious software can be challenging.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is the way of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. It is a type of security attack that takes advantage of human psychology rather than technical hacking techniques to gain access to sensitive data or systems. 

Social engineering attacks are often difficult to detect because they rely on exploiting human vulnerabilities rather than technical weaknesses. This makes them particularly dangerous, as even the most well-protected systems can be compromised if users are tricked into taking actions that allow attackers to gain access. 

There are many different types of social engineering attacks, but some of the most common include phishing, baiting, and pretexting. 

Recent Data Breaches using Social Engineering

Uber Data Breach

The recent data breach at Uber is a prime example of how even the largest and most well-known companies are not immune to security threats. The breach, which occurred in 2022, resulted in the personal information of over 57 million Uber users being compromised.

The attacker purchased employee credentials of Uber employee from Dark Web and was successfully able to log in, but there was MFA enabled. The attacker further contacted the employee via Whatsapp, pretending to be a member of the security team, and flooded the employee with MFA notifications. 

In order to get rid of notifications, the employee approved the request, and the attacker was able to bypass all security controls. Just by manipulating an employee, the attacker was able to access all internal data such as Slack, Jira, Hackerone Reports, AWS, etc.

Image 1: Uber Data Breach

Twilio Data Breach

The popular communications platform Twilio suffered from a data breach through a Smishing (SMS Phishing) attack in August 2022. The attacker sent an SMS with a malicious link to numerous Twilio employees and was able to able to log in successfully. The attacker was able to access the internal data of 125 Twilio customers.

Twilio quickly notified its customers of the breach and took steps to secure its systems. As per Twilio, attackers were not able to access sensitive information such as API keys, customer passwords, and auth tokens.

Lack of cyber security in Twilio
Image 2: Twilio Phishing SMS

MailChimp Data Breach

In March of 2022, the popular email marketing service Mailchimp suffered a data breach that impacted 214 Mailchimp accounts. This was done by performing a social engineering attack against Mailchimp employees, and the attacker was successfully able to execute the attack.

The attacker was able to access one of the internal tools of Mailchimp used by the customer-facing team. As per Mailchimp, the attack was very targeted to users in industries related to cryptocurrency and finance. MailChimp timely notified all affected users as part of the defence mechanism.

Four Reasons Why Humans are the Weakest Link

There are four primary reasons why humans are the weakest link in the security chain:

1. Humans are trusting by nature and want to believe in the best in people. We are more likely to fall for scams and social engineering attacks. Scammers and attackers know this, and they exploit our trust to get what they want from us.

2. We are creatures of habit and often do not like to change our routines. This can make it easy for attackers to exploit known weak points. For example, an attacker may know that you always check your email first thing in the morning. They could send you a phishing email at that time, counting on you to click on a link or attachment before you’ve had a chance to think about it.

3. We are often too busy to pay attention to detail, leading to us making mistakes that hackers can exploit.

4. We can be emotional creatures, clouding our judgment and making us more vulnerable to social engineering attacks. We may let our guard down when we’re emotionally invested in something, which can make us susceptible to scams and other fraudulent activity.

How to Make Humans Your Allies?

There are a few key ways to make humans your allies as part of your cyber security program. 

1. Educate Employees: It’s essential to educate employees on cybersecurity risks and best practices. This will help them to be more aware of potential threats and how to avoid them. 

2. Report Security Incidents: You should encourage employees to report any suspicious activity or incidents. This will help to identify potential problems early on and allow you to take corrective action. 

3. Culture of Security: You should create a culture of security within your organization. This means promoting a shared responsibility for security and making it a priority for everyone. 

Taking these steps can make humans your allies in the fight against cybercrime.

Conclusion

A lot of cyber security news stories center around how successful companies have been at foiling cyber attacks. However, the biggest threat to cyber security is not a sophisticated hack but human error. A human being is still the weakest link in cyber security.

Whether it’s a disgruntled employee, an overconfident employee, or an employee with a lack of knowledge, it’s always the human element. And this is why most cyber security breaches are due to human error.

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Keshav Malik

Keshav is a hacker by heart. He loves playing with fire (code) and loves discovering bugs. Not only in web applications but in all kinds of software. His first introduction to the world of Cyber Security was through bug bounty programs. He quickly made a name for himself as a bug hunter and now actively participates in bug bounty programs. Other than Infosec, he loves creating full stack web applications using cutting edge technologies.
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