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Where Psychology and Security Meet: Cyberpsychology is Critical to Security Success

Good policies, excellent communication, and comprehensive training are crucial for hardening the human element of information security. 

Cybersecurity is more than the sum of its parts. Your organization's firewalls, antivirus solutions, and automated detection and response platforms are important security tools, but they can’t guarantee the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of every asset on their own. 

Information security success also depends on creating effective security policies. These policies only work if employees and partners comply with them. The human element is a vital part of every organization’s security posture. 

It’s also a growing part of every organization’s security risk profile. According to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, nearly three out of every four data breaches involve the human element. These include social engineering attacks, user errors, and intentional misuse. 

Hacking People is Easier Than Hacking Systems 

Cybercriminals are deeply aware of what modern security technologies are capable of. They know there is a small window of opportunity to leverage technical exploits before they get patched by a security update. 

When they target employees and trusted third-party partners, that window of opportunity is much larger. In this context, “patching a vulnerability” means running extensive training campaigns and investing in security awareness initiatives. These processes take time, and they don’t always work with the mathematical reliability of a firmware update. 

When hackers conduct social engineering attacks, they’re not just being clever and deceptive. They are essentially hacking human minds the same way they would compromise a DNS server. Instead of using code, they’re using regular everyday language to do it – and most employees aren’t prepared for it. 

How to Integrate Cyberpsychology into Your Security Posture 

Cyberpsychology is the study of how people interact through digital technologies, and how unique cultural and behavioral mindsets arise in digital environments. 

It’s a well-known fact that people act differently online. Security leaders need to take these differences into account when creating policies for employees and end-users to follow. 

For example, many people learn to distrust strangers at an early age and carry a sense of “stranger danger” with them throughout their lives. Most people would be suspicious of an unfamiliar person entering their workplace and asking sensitive questions. 

But people act differently when the exact same situation plays out through a semi-anonymous digital format like email. With minimal effort, digital intruders can disguise themselves as a trusted contact and freely ask questions (or demand actions) with very little risk. 

If employees are rushed and under stress, they are even more vulnerable to social engineering attacks. 

Security leaders need to personalize policies and gain executive-level support for mitigating urgent situations that put users in a reactive emotional state. 

Users who are calm and collected are far less likely to fall victim to social engineering attacks. Employees who aren’t afraid to authenticate unusual requests are well-equipped to handle the fallout from a high-level account takeover attack.  

Consider how a junior accountant might incorporate the idea of multi-factor authentication to a vishing attack telling them to immediately wire money to an offshore account. Security leaders must use policy to enforce rules that technology doesn’t cover. 

Effective Policies Take User Feedback into Account 

Before an organization starts monitoring assets and user behaviors, it must identify what acceptable use looks like. Security policies form the foundation of effective monitoring, detection, and response. 

Every organization has a unique internal structure and company culture. Security policies need to reflect those unique characteristics in ways that produce real results. 

That’s why security leaders don’t often get good results copying security policies from one organization to another. If imported policies don’t meet users’ expectations, they may simply bypass them out of convenience. 

Even a simple act like switching from the organization’s in-house messaging system to a popular external chat app like WhatsApp can lead to an entire shadow IT network into which security teams have no visibility whatsoever.  

Security leaders need to predict how likely users are to engage in this kind of practice. This kind of analysis isn’t based on technical metrics or network traffic data. It’s almost purely psychological and carries a deep impact on security compliance throughout the organization. That’s why security policies should be informed by input from real-world users. 

When employees feel included in the way policy is developed and implemented, they are far more likely to maintain compliance. Even more importantly, they are more likely to reinforce compliant behavior in their colleagues. 

Good Communication and Comprehensive Training Enhance the Value of Implementing New Security Technologies 

Security technologies play an important role in granting visibility into how human users interact with digital assets. That visibility enables security teams to enforce rules, monitor compliance, and respond to incidents effectively. However, it won’t prevent security events from occurring – not on its own, at least. 

Excellent communication and training can reduce your organization’s overall security risk profile by setting clear, actionable expectations for employees. When they encounter a suspicious event, they should feel empowered to question it and raise their concerns with the security team.  

Powerful behavioral analytics and scalable security resources allow for quick, comprehensive investigations into these reports. Technologies like User Entity and Behavioral Analytics (UEBA) allow organizations to improve cyber resilience while directly addressing the risk of social engineering, credential-based attacks, and malicious insiders. 

Combining a Castra partnership with regular, internal security training leads to a more comprehensive security posture overall. Ask us how you can shore up your organization's security risk profile today.