The Human Factor in Cyber Security: Importance of Employee Awareness

Cyber threats pose a significant risk to businesses of all sizes. While technological defenses play a crucial role in safeguarding an organization’s digital assets, it is equally important to recognize the human factor in cybersecurity. Unfortunately, personnel who underestimate cybersecurity requirements can expose their organizations to disastrous consequences. Without awareness and understanding of best practices, employees can unwittingly become the weakest link in an organization’s security posture. This article delves into the significance of employees in cybersecurity and provides solutions for organizations to mitigate potential threats.

The Role of Employees in Cyber Threats

In the complex landscape of cybersecurity, it is crucial to recognize the significant role that employees play in both protecting and potentially endangering an organization’s security. Recent studies reveal that businesses increasingly perceive their own staff as a potential risk factor, with more than half acknowledging the potential threat from within.  

The top cybersecurity fears for businesses revolve around human factors and employee behavior, highlighting the concern over how easily employee actions can compromise security. Specifically, businesses worry about employees sharing inappropriate data via mobile devices, the physical loss of mobile devices, and the use of inappropriate IT resources. 

According to a study, human error played a significant role in 95% of all security breaches examined. Essentially, this means that if human error had been eliminated, it is likely that 19 out of the 20 breaches analyzed in the study would have been prevented entirely. 

Despite the clear and irrefutable impact of end users on cyber risk, a significant number of organizations persist in adopting a security posture that prioritizes technology over the role of individuals. If a cybercriminal manages to guess the password for an online company portal or tricks an employee into making a payment to the cybercriminal’s bank, relying solely on technical solutions will not stop these intrusions.

What are some common human errors that attackers exploit?

Attackers often exploit common human errors or vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access or manipulate individuals into performing actions that compromise security. Some of these include:

  • Lack of awareness: Many individuals lack awareness about common security threats, such as phishing emails, social engineering, or malicious downloads. Attackers exploit this by creating deceptive messages or websites that trick users into revealing sensitive information or installing malware.
  • Blind Trust: Humans tend to trust authority figures or reputable sources without questioning their legitimacy. Attackers capitalize on this by impersonating trusted entities like banks, government agencies, or colleagues to deceive individuals into sharing confidential information or granting unauthorized access.
  • Weak Passwords: Password-related vulnerabilities, such as using easily guessable passwords, reusing passwords across multiple accounts, or not changing default passwords, make it easier for attackers to gain unauthorized access.
  • Inadequate Security Practices: Neglecting basic security practices such as not updating software, ignoring security patches, or not backing up data regularly increases vulnerability to various attacks, including ransomware, malware, or system exploits.
  • Misdelivery: This involves sending information to an unintended recipient and poses a significant threat to corporate data security. According to Verizon’s breach report, misdelivery ranked as the fifth most common cause of cybersecurity breaches. The prevalence of features like auto-suggest in email clients increases the risk of accidental disclosure of confidential information if users are not cautious.
  • Lack Of Caution on Social Media: Oversharing personal information or providing clues about passwords, security questions, or locations on social media platforms can give attackers valuable information to launch targeted attacks or facilitate identity theft.

How to Reduce Human Errors in Cyber Security 

  • Enhance threat detection and prevention

Employees who are educated about common cyber threats and trained to recognize suspicious activities can act as an additional line of defense. They can be vigilant in identifying and reporting potential security incidents, such as phishing emails, suspicious attachments, or unusual system behaviors. By actively participating in threat detection, employees can help prevent or minimize the impact of security breaches.

  • Mitigate social engineering attacks

Social engineering attacks heavily rely on manipulating human psychology to deceive employees into divulging sensitive information or performing unauthorized actions. By raising awareness about social engineering techniques and educating employees on identifying and responding to such attacks, organizations can reduce the success rate of these tactics. Employees who are cautious and skeptical of unsolicited requests for information or financial transactions can serve as a barrier against social engineering attacks.

  • Strengthen password security and Enable two-factor authentication (2FA):

Promoting strong password practices, such as using complex and unique passwords, regularly updating them, and utilizing password managers, can help organizations significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Additionally, implementing 2FA wherever possible adds an extra layer of security. This helps mitigate the risk of unauthorized access, even if passwords are compromised. 

Employee awareness campaigns can also emphasize the importance of protecting sensitive data, highlighting the potential consequences of data breaches and the significance of following security protocols.

  • Utilizing Privilege Control 

Privilege control involves granting users the minimum level of access required to perform their tasks effectively, based on the principle of least privilege. Define clear and granular access levels, ensuring that users can only access the data and systems relevant to their roles. This approach reduces the risk of accidental or intentional misuse of data by limiting user permissions to only what is essential.


While advancements in anti-malware and threat detection software have become more sophisticated, cybercriminals are aware that the efficacy of technical security measures relies on humans effectively employing them. By prioritizing employee awareness and fostering a culture of cybersecurity, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of successful cyber-attacks. Investing in ongoing training, engaging employees in security initiatives, and providing them with the knowledge and tools necessary to identify and respond to potential threats is essential.

Ultimately, by recognizing the human factor, organizations can establish a robust defense against cyber threats. Organizations can further enhance their IT security posture by partnering with STL Digital to help protect against evolving cyber threats.


  • What is the most common type of social engineering attack?

The most common type of social engineering attack is phishing, where attackers trick individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing unauthorized actions through deceptive messages or websites.

  • How often should organizations conduct security awareness training?

Organizations should conduct security awareness training regularly, ideally at least once a year, to ensure employees stay informed about the latest threats and best practices.

  • How can employees identify phishing emails?

Employees can identify phishing emails by looking for signs such as spelling or grammatical errors, suspicious sender email addresses, requests for personal or financial information, and urgent or alarming language.

  • How can organizations measure the effectiveness of employee awareness programs?

Organizations can measure the effectiveness of employee awareness programs through metrics such as the reduction in successful phishing attempts, increased reporting of suspicious activities, and improved adherence to security protocols during internal audits or assessments.

  • Are remote workers more susceptible to cybersecurity risks?

Remote workers can be more susceptible to cybersecurity risks due to potential vulnerabilities in their home networks, their use of personal devices, and their increased reliance on cloud-based services. Organizations should provide specific guidelines and training to remote workers to ensure they follow secure practices and use trusted networks and devices.

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