5 Ways to Limit Human Errors That Threaten Your Data Security

The most formidable threat to the security of IT networks and resources isn’t malware or ransomware. It’s the people who have access to them. Human error is responsible for the lion’s share of information loss, outages, and data breaches.

Whenever IT managers take systematic steps to reduce errors, organizations can prevent many problems tied to outages and data loss. When data is both accurate and secure, clients don’t lose their trust in a company. The organization’s image and reputation remain intact. Employees gain confidence in their abilities while learning new skills. 

From tech fixes to training, here are five ways to limit human errors when transferring, securing, and storing data.

1. Take Advantage of Tech Solutions

Enterprise-level technology solutions such as integration platform as a service (IPaaS) can prevent the introduction of human errors. Utilizing IPaaS, your IT staff isn’t solely responsible for transferring data from one app to another. Solutions such as this move information between applications automatically, ensuring data gets entered correctly and consistently the first time.

An overwhelming 70% of data center outages are due to human error. Outages can end up leading to days of downtime and millions in lost revenue and recovery costs. IPaaS solutions can help employees pinpoint errors, including information inconsistencies across applications and systems. By automating the transfer of information and identification of issues, IPaaS can prevent and mitigate downtime.

2. Train Employees at Regular Intervals

We all know that humans make mistakes, often because of physical or mental fatigue. Sometimes carelessness or rushing through a job will cause problems, but a lack of updated knowledge is also a common culprit.

Cybercriminals frequently manipulate employee weaknesses to gain access to networks and other company resources. The main cause of data breaches and the loss of sensitive information is human failures linked to social engineering. CIOs and other C-suite executives cite human error as the source of breaches 53% of the time.

Whether breaches or losses involve customer or employee data, these events end up costing more than lost revenue. Employee turnover can exacerbate the expenses associated with breaches and data losses tied to human mistakes. Data breaches can prompt executives and other staff to be fired, resign, or actively begin looking for another job.

Thorough training can lower the chances that employees make errors. Training can be both general and specific to various positions within an organization’s structure.

For example, all employees can be schooled to recognize phishing and social engineering. Workers whose roles involve securing networks and IT resources can take advanced courses such as Security+ certification. Employees should also go through refresher courses and retraining whenever new tools, threats, and security protocols emerge.

3. Control Access to Sensitive Data and Systems

Sensitive information and documents can get into the wrong hands due to simple oversights and mistakes. An employee may unwittingly send confidential files through email and file-sharing sites that aren’t encrypted. Data with personal identification details can wind up on a thumb drive that someone later loses.

Allowing employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) and use personal USB drives exposes an organization’s network to risk. It’s relatively easy for malware and ransomware to infect a USB drive while the employee is at home. When that USB drive gets plugged into a company computer connected to the network, an infection can spread quickly.

Training can reduce the possibility of these scenarios, but so can implementing security policies and restricting access.

Many organizations do not allow BYOD devices to connect to company networks or online resources. Others create a separate public Wi-Fi network these devices can connect to, helping to isolate access and potential problems. A public Wi-Fi network can be shut down temporarily without impacting the rest of the network.

Using tools such as Active Directory, IT departments can also control employees’ access to internal resources. One way to leverage these tools is to grant access to various folders and folder structures according to job roles. Proprietary data related to these roles can go into separate folders that employees without sufficient network permissions can’t access.

IT staff can also set up permission groups to add and remove employees as needed with user management tools. Many organizations implement policies that require written permission from managers of departments that deal with sensitive data. IT staff shouldn’t grant access to staff members simply because they request it.

Once a system administrator gets written permission from an employee’s manager, they can permit access to the folder. These types of policies and protocols do require periodic auditing in cooperation with IT and departmental leadership.

4. Rigorously Assess All Third-Party Vendor Protocols

Organizations of all sizes rely on external vendors to help manage networks and IT resources. This creates a separate source of risk and potential human errors that companies need to manage.

Third-party vendors have also been the cause of infamous data breaches in the past, including the massive Target breach in 2013. That breach compromised Target customer’s personal financial information and ended up costing the company $202 million.

Vetting external vendors through risk and security assessments can reveal security gaps and potential problems. Restricting vendors’ access to internal resources and networks is another layer of security organizations use.

Many companies also set up oversight committees composed of internal and external members. These committees create and help implement overall security programs, periodically conducting audits and identifying ways to further strengthen security measures.

5. Run Your People Through Data Breach Simulations

A good way to root out network vulnerabilities is to test your staff, existing resources, and security measures. Have your employees run through simulations that replicate unwanted intrusions, phishing attacks, and other common mistakes. These replications of real-life scenarios can uncover areas that need attention.

As noted, your employees should receive training to help them recognize social engineering tactics. You may need to add additional steps to the IT staff’s response to suspicious network activity. Your BYOD policy could very well need to be revamped. Regardless of what the simulation results reveal, they can be instrumental in preventing problems before they start.

Whenever data breaches, losses, and outages appear to originate from an external threat, it’s natural to focus on firewalls and other “castle wall” solutions. However, human error also needs to be seen as your single-greatest vulnerability. While human error will never be 100% avoidable, organizations can reduce mistakes through automated solutions and comprehensive training. Restricting access to network resources, vetting third-party vendors, and testing security measures can prevent even more sources of human miscalculations.

Written by Adam Eaton