Cyber security criminals outspend businesses in security battles

Cyber security criminals are spending 10 times more money finding weaknesses in the cyber defences of organisations than the organisations they target are spending on protecting against attack.

Cyber security criminals are spending 10 times more money finding weaknesses in the cyber defences of organisations than the organisations they target are spending on protecting against attack.

Research from Carbon Black carried out in August also asked 250 UK-based CIOs, CTOs and CISOs about the attacks they faced over the past 12 months.

In total, 92% of UK businesses have had cyber security breaches in the past year and nearly half off those reported falling victim to multiple breaches (three to five times in the past year).

A total of 82% of respondents said they have experienced more attacks this year than last year. In the financial services sector, 89% said this is the case, while 83% of government organisations and 84% of retailers had also experienced an increase in the number of attacks.

Malware was the most common attack on the UK organisations surveyed, with about 28% experiencing at least one such attempted breach. Ransomware was the next most common, with 17.4% reporting at least one attack.

“Following a global trend, cyber attacks in the UK are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated, as nation state actors and crime syndicates continue to leverage fileless attacks, lateral movement, island hopping and counter incident response in an effort to remain undetected,” said the report. “This issue is compounded by resources and budgeting. Not only is there a major talent deficit in cyber security, there is also a major spending delta.”

The report found that IT leaders believe Russia and China to be the source of the vast majority of cyber attacks, but it identified North America as the starting point for more attacks than Iran and North Korea combined.

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Money transfer frauds are top aim of business email cyber attacks

Tricking recipients into transferring money to cyber criminals is the top objective of business email compromise (BEC) attacks.

Tricking recipients into transferring money to cyber criminals is the top objective of business email compromise (BEC) attacks.Business email compromise is increasingly popular with cyber criminals to steal money and information as well as spread malware, security researchers find

The second most popular objective is to get the recipient to click on a malicious link aimed at stealing information or spreading malware, according to an analysis of more than 3,000 BEC attacks by Barracuda Networks.

BEC attacks are also known as whaling or CEO fraud because attackers typically compromise the email accounts of CEOs and other top executives so those accounts can be used to send messages to more junior staff members, tricking them into taking some action by impersonating the email account holder.

This tactic is extremely effective in manipulating employees as well as partners and customers of targeted businesses because few organisations have processes in place for checking or verifying instructions ostensibly received from a top executive in an email message sent from a genuine account.

In most cases, cyber criminals focus efforts on employees with access to company finances or payroll data and other personally identifiable information(PII).

The study shows that PII is another top target for BEC attackers, accounting for 12.2% of the attacks studied. Another 12.2% were aimed at establishing a rapport with recipients, which in most cases was followed up with a request for a money transfer.

The effectiveness of this attack method has made it extremely popular with cyber criminals, as is indicated by an 80% increase in the number of BEC attacks in the second quarter of 2018 compared with the first quarter, according to a recent report by email management firm Mimecast.

The Barracuda study reveals that in 46.9% of the cases studied, the objective was to trick employees into transferring business money into accounts controlled by the attackers, while in 40.1% of the cases, the aim was to trick them into clicking on a malicious link.

According to Barracuda, email is the top threat vector facing organisations due to the growing number of email-related threats, which include ransomware, banking trojans, phishing, social engineering, information-stealing malware and spam, as well as BEC attacks.

Not surprisingly, the analysis shows that CEO email accounts are the most commonly impersonated (42.95%), followed by other C-level account holders (4.5%), including the CFO (2.2%), and people in the HR and finance departments (2.2%).

CFOs are among the top recipients of BEC emails, representing 16.9% of recipients in the attacks studied, on a par with the finance and HR departments in general and compared with 10.2% received by other C-level execs.

However, the analysis shows that most recipients of BEC emails are in more junior roles, with 53.7% holding roles outside the C-level, underlining the need for regular, ongoing user awareness training.

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Ransomware up nearly 2,000% in two years as cyber mafia hit business

Cyber attacks on businesses in 2017 grew in frequency, sophistication and malice – a report on the new age of organised cyber crime finds.

Cyber attacks on businesses in 2017 grew in frequency, sophistication and malice - a report on the new age of organised cyber crime finds.

The new generation of cyber criminals increasingly resembles traditional mafia organisations, requiring a new approach to dealing with it, according to a report by security firm Malwarebytes.

Cyber criminals have the same professional organisation as mafia gangs of the 1930s, but they also share a willingness to intimidate and paralyse victims, the report shows.

Malwarebytes’ analysis also shows that, in spite of acknowledging the severe reputational and financial risks of cyber crime, many business leaders greatly underestimate their vulnerability to such attacks.

The report calls for businesses and consumers to fight back by acting as “vigilantes” through greater collective awareness, knowledge sharing and proactive defenses. This includes a shift from shaming businesses that have been hacked to engaging with them and working together to fix the problem.

Businesses must also heighten their awareness of cyber crime, and take a realistic view towards the likelihood of attack.

The vast impacts of these attacks, the report said, mean that cyber crime must be elevated from a tech issue to a business-critical consideration.

Malwarebytes’ data demonstrates the urgent need for such a shift in approach by highlighting the capacity of these fast-maturing gangs to inflict greater damage on businesses.

The new cyber mafia, the report said, is accelerating the volume of attacks, with the average monthly volume of attacks in 2017, up 23% compared with 2016. In the UK, the report said 28% of businesses had experienced a “serious” cyber attack in the past 12 months.

Ransomware attacks detected by Malwarebytes show that the number of attacks in 2017 from January to October was 62% greater than the total for 2016.

In addition, detections are up 1,989% since 2015, reaching hundreds of thousands of detections in September 2017, compared with fewer than 16,000 in September 2015. In 2017, ransomware detections rose from 90,351 in January to 333,871 in October.

“The new mafia, identified by our report, is characterised by the emergence of four distinct groups of cyber criminals: traditional gangs, state-sponsored attackers, ideological hackers and hackers-for-hire,” said Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of Malwarebytes.

Malwarebytes argues that the growth of cyber crime and a lack of clarity over how best to police it is damaging victim confidence, with those affected by cyber crime often too embarrassed to speak out.

This is true for consumers and businesses alike, the report said, and can have dangerous ramifications as firms bury their heads in the sand instead of working to reduce future incidents.

The report suggests that the answer lies in engaging and educating the C-suite so that CEOs are as likely as IT departments to recognise the signs of an attack and be able to respond appropriately.

“CEOs will soon have little choice but to elevate cyber crime from a technology issue to a business-critical consideration,” he said.

“Rather than sit back and minimise the blow from cyber crime, individuals and businesses must take the same actions that previous generations of vigilantes once did against the fearsome syndicates of their day: fight back,” the report said.

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Defence minister opens £3m cyber security centre in

UK minister for defence procurement has opened a new cyber security centre aimed at boosting UK cyber defence capability and skills.

UK minister for defence procurement has opened a new cyber security centre aimed at boosting UK cyber defence capability and skills.

The Cyber Works centre, which employs 90 people, will enable Lockheed Martin to work more closely with UK partners to share knowledge and best practice, undertake research and develop new cyber defence capabilities.

In February 2017, Lockheed Martin announced that it would support the UK government’s CyberFirst scheme to inspire and support young people considering roles in cyber security.

The Cyber Works centre is designed to deliver cyber capabilities to UK government as well as support the development of skills and careers in cyber security and intelligence.

Harriett Baldwin, UK minister for defence procurement, said that with its £1.9 billion National Cyber Security Strategy, the country is a world leader in the field.

“The opening of today’s cutting-edge centre is a great example of how partnerships with industry are at the heart of that strategy,” she said. “Together, we are developing solutions to national security risks.”

A key part of the Cyber Security Strategy is partnerships with industry, with £10 million being invested in a new Cyber Innovation Fund to give startups the boost and partners they need

Baldwin said the UK is already leading Nato in its support for offensive and defensive operations in the fight against Islamic State (IS) and complex cyber threats. “This centre will further boost the UK’s cyber capabilities,” she said.

Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest aerospace and defence company and a longstanding leader in the fields of cyber security and intelligence.

The company pioneered the development of the cyber kill chain, an analysis method for cyber network defence that has been broadly adopted across industries and sectors.

Lockheed Martin is also a top provider of capabilities to defence and intelligence communities around the world and operates facilities to defend its own networks across 70 countries.

As well as investing in the new facility, Lockheed Martin plans to take part in the National Cyber Security Centre’s £6.5 million CyberInvest scheme to support cutting-edge cyber security research in the UK.

With National Offensive Cyber Planning allowing the UK to integrate cyber into all of its military operations, defence plays a key role in the country’s cyber security strategy, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Offensive cyber is being routinely used in the war against IS, not only in Iraq but also in the campaign to liberate Raqqa and other towns on the Euphrates, the MoD said.

In defence, the MoD said the £800m Innovation Initiative has already boosted investment in UK research and business, with multimillion-pound competitions to develop artificial intelligence and automated systems.

In January next year, the ministry will open a dedicated state-of-the-art Defence Cyber School at Shrivenham, bringing together all military joint cyber training into one place.

The MoD also has a key role to play in contributing to a culture of resilience, which is why the Defence Cyber Partnership Programme was set up to ensure its industrial partners protect themselves and meet robust cyber security standards, the ministry said.

 

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UK firms still relying on perimeter defences for cyber security

Despite the increasing number of data breaches, many companies are still relying on perimeter defences and are underinvesting in technologies to keep data safe.

Despite the increasing number of data breaches, many companies are still relying on perimeter defences and are underinvesting in technologies to keep data safe.

Some 96% of UK businesses feel as though their network perimeter security is effective at keeping unauthorised users out of their network, according to the fourth-annual Gemalto Data Security Confidence Index.

The global ransomware attack in May 2017 affected more than 200,000 computers in over 150 countries, including in the UK where the NHS was forced to restrict operations and turn away patients.

Across the 10 global regions surveyed, 94% of the more than 1,000 IT professionals said perimeter security is effective, but only 35% said they were extremely confident their data would be secure if perimeter defences were breached.

However, the survey also revealed that 46% of UK businesses are only protecting their customers’ data with passwords, and when considering their latest data breaches, 75% of the data stolen from businesses on average was not encrypted, with 11% of businesses not encrypting any of their data.

“As a security professional, it feels like I’ve been saying forever that basic perimeter security measures are no longer enough,” said Joe Pindar, director of data protection product strategy at Gemalto.

“So it’s worrying to see the UK is continuing to place ultimate faith in these systems, without thinking about what attackers actually want – their data,” he said.

Without a switch in mentality, and starting to protect the data at its source with robust encryption and two-factor authentication, the UK is like one of the three little pigs.

“Unfortunately, the one sitting in the straw house – not realising that when the time comes, passwords and perimeter security alone will not stand up to attackers,” he said.

The Gemalto report notes that many businesses are continuing to prioritise perimeter security without realising it is largely ineffective against sophisticated cyber attacks.

According to the research findings, 76% of global respondents said their organisation had increased investment in perimeter security technologies such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention, antivirus, content filtering, and anomaly detection to protect against external attackers.

Despite this investment, 68% believe unauthorised users could access their network, rendering their perimeter security ineffective.

These findings suggest a lack of confidence in the solutions used, especially when over a quarter (28%) of organisations polled have suffered perimeter security breaches in the past 12 months. The reality of the situation worsens when considering that, on average, only 8% of data breached was encrypted.

Businesses’ confidence is further undermined by over half of respondents (55%) not knowing where their sensitive data is stored. In addition, over a third of businesses do not encrypt valuable information such as payment (32%) or customer (35%) data.

According to the Gemalto report, this means that, should the data be stolen, a hacker would have full access to this information, and could use it for crimes including identify theft, financial fraud or ransomware.

“It is clear there is a divide between organisations’ perceptions of the effectiveness of perimeter security and the reality,” said Jason Hart, vice-president and chief technology officer for data protection at Gemalto.

“By believing that their data is already secure, businesses are failing to prioritise the measures necessary to protect their data, which is a company’s most valuable asset,” he said, adding that it is important to focus on protecting this resource. “Otherwise, reality will inevitably bite those that fail to do so.”

 

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Major cyber incidents accelerating, says NCSC

The UK is seeing an acceleration in major cyber security incidents, according to the country’s cyber security protection agency.

The UK is seeing an acceleration in major cyber security incidents, according to the country’s cyber security protection agency

In the eight months since inception, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has recorded 480 major cyber incidents requiring its attention.

However, there has been big rise in these types of incidents in the past few months, in part due to an improved ability to spot them and a greater willingness to report them, according to John Noble, director of incident management at the NCSC.

“This increase in major attacks is mainly being driven by the fact that cyber attack tools are becoming more readily available, in combination with a growing willingness to use them,” he told The Cyber Security Summit in London.

Although the WannaCry ransomware attacks in May 2017 came very close, Noble said there had been no C1-level national cyber security incidents to date.

The majority of the major incidents the NCSC has dealt with were C3-level attacks, typically confined to single organisations. These account for 451 incidents to date.

The remaining 29 major incidents were C2-level attacks, significant attacks that typically require a cross-government response.

Across these nearly 500 incidents, Noble said there were five common themes or lessons to be learned.

1. There is still a need for organisations to get the basics right

“We are still seeing organisations that are not getting the basics right, like software security patching, antivirus updating and putting in basic protections and controls for system administrators, who are typically big targets for attackers to steal their credentials,” said Noble.

2. Failure to get the balance right between usability and security

“In the vast majority of incidents we see, victim organisations have got this balance wrong, leaning too far in the direction of convenience and usability leading to things like logging being turned off to optimise performance,” said Noble.

“The decision-making around where to strike that balance is typically confused because of the complexity of the enterprises being defended, and because of a lack of understanding about what they are trying to prevent and which data really matters,” he said.

3. Legacy systems and equipment

The existence of legacy systems and equipment in the enterprise presents opportunities to attackers, said Noble. “Often, when we investigate incidents, we find it is in the legacy systems that the compromise has begun,” he said.

4. Outsourcing

“In early 2017, we reported on a major compromise of managed service providers, which provide a tremendous opportunity for bad actors,” said Noble, alluding to Operation Cloud Hopper that was uncovered in April.

“MSPs enable attackers to obtain security credentials in one country, traverse across their network, and then compromise a company or series of companies in another country, and exfiltrate the data through a third country,” he said.

In response, Noble said the NCSC had published a list of questions organisations should ask their MSPs in terms of security.

“Similarly, organisations need to understand the security implications of their supply chains, who they are connecting up to, and what risks are involved,” he said.

5. Mergers and acquisitions

In mergers and acquisition, cyber security is often overlooked in the due diligence process, said Noble. “As a result, the cyber risk is not understood and not addressed effectively,” he said.

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Key lessons from Petya cyber security ransomware attack

The recent Petya cyber security attack does not follow other recent attacks.

The recent Petya cyber security attack does not follow other recent attacks.

Security researchers are struggling to reach consensus on whether the ransomware responsible for the latest global attacks is a new version of Petya or not, and even whether it was true ransomware, but what they have learned so far could help guide security strategies.

Those in support of retaining the Petya name point out that it essentially behaves in exactly the same way because it is designed to:

Encrypt files on disk without changing the file extension.
Forcibly reboot the machine upon infection.
Encrypt the Master Boot Record on affected machines.
Present a fake CHKDSK screen as a cover for the encryption process.
Present a near-identical ransom demand screen after completing its activities.

According to the latest update on the malware, Kaspersky Lab says code analysis has revealed it is technically impossible to decrypt victims’ disks.

To decrypt a victim’s disk threat actors need the installation ID, and in previous versions of “similar” ransomware like Petya/Mischa/GoldenEye, this installation ID contained the information necessary for key recovery, researchers at the security firm said.

However, they found the new malware – which they have dubbed ExPetr – does not have any such recovery mechanism, which means the threat actor could not extract the necessary information needed for decryption.

In short, victims could not recover their data even if they paid the ransom, the researchers said, which again calls into question the motive behind the malware.

This discovery not only further endorses the security community’s earlier advice not to pay the ransom, but also raises further questions about the true purpose of the malware and is likely to fuel further speculation that it may have been intended purely as a means to cause disruption on to mask some other malicious activity.

This view is supported by the latest statement from the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) that while managing the impact to the UK of the incident, the NCSC’s experts have found evidence that questions initial judgements that the intention was to collect a ransom. “We are investigating with the NCA and industry whether the intent was to disrupt rather than for any financial gain,” the NCSC said.

Whatever the true purpose, analysis of the malware has confirmed some of the lessons learned from WannaCry and added others which organisations should consider in order to improve their cyber defence capabilities against future threats.

The key lessons from the cyber security attack that have emerged so far are:

1. Having the latest versions of software and ensuring they are patched up to date will go a long way in reducing organisations’ vulnerability to cyber attack.

2. Malware is increasingly using legitimate tools for malicious activity to go undetected. In the case of ExPetr, two common Windows administrative tools, Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line (WMIC) and PsExec were used.

3. Malware is hijacking software updating mechanisms to spread malware, and is likely to use this technique increasingly in future.

4. An appropriate and well-tested backup and recovery plan for critical systems and data will go a long way to mitigating the effects of ransomware and other malware attacks, regardless of its particular characteristics.

5. Malware is abusing security tools to discover usernames and passwords, which means organisations should ensure they have appropriate systems and procedures in place to prevent credential abuse.

ExPetr uses the publically available Mimikatz tool to obtain credentials of all Windows users in plaintext, including local administrators and domain users to spread itself on local networks. You can find more details at: https://github.com/gentilkiwi/mimikatz

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Europe faces shortage of 350,000 cyber security professionals by 2022

European companies are expected to go on the world’s biggest cyber security hiring spree in the next 12 months, driving demand for cyber talent that will far outstrip supply, a report has revealed

European companies are expected to go on the world’s biggest cyber security hiring spree in the next 12 months, driving demand for cyber talent that will far outstrip supply, a report has revealed

Nearly 40% of European firms want to grow their cyber security teams by at least 15% in the next year, according to the latest report based on the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study.

The study, commissioned by information security certification body (ISC)2, is based on a survey of 19,000 cyber security professionals around the world, including nearly 3,700 respondents in Europe.

Although European organisations have the most ambitious hiring targets in the world, two thirds say they currently have too few cyber security professionals.

Europe faces a projected skills gap of 350,000 workers by 2022, according to the report, which calls for employers to do more to embrace newcomers and a changing workforce.

The study revealed that 92% of hiring managers admit they prioritise previous cyber security experience when choosing candidates, and that most recruitment comes from their own professional networks.

Hiring managers also admitted that they are relying on their social and professional networks (48%), followed closely by their organisation’s HR department (47%), as their primary source of recruitment.

Globally, the report shows that strong recruitment targets, a shortage of talent, and disincentives to invest in training are contributing to the skills shortage, with 70% of employers around the world looking to increase the size of their cyber security staff this year.

The demand is set against a broad range of security concerns that continue to develop at pace, the report said, with the threat of data exposure clearly identified as the top security concern among professionals around the world.

Concern over data exposure is linked to new regulations aimed at enhancing data protection around the world, including Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The deadline for compliance with the GDPR is 25 May 2018. After that date, organisations found in breach of the regulation faces fines of up to €20m or 4% of global turnover, whichever is greater.

The report describes a revolving door of scarce, highly paid workers with an unemployment rate of just 1% in Europe.

Organisations are struggling to retain their staff, with 21% of the global workforce saying they have left their jobs in the past year, and facing high salary costs, with 33% of the workforce in Europe in particular making more than £78,000 ($100,000) a year.

“The combination of virtually non-existent unemployment, a shortage of workers, the expectation of high salaries, and high staff turnover that only increases among younger generations creates both a disincentive to invest in training and development and a conundrum for prospective employers of how to hire and retain talent in such an environment,” the report says.

The report recommends that organisations adapt their approach to recruitment and draw from a broader pool of talent. This is backed by findings that show workers with non-computing-related backgrounds account for nearly one-fifth of the current workforce in Europe and that they hold positions at every level of practice, with 63% at manager level or above.

The report also highlights a mismatch between the skills recruiters are looking for and workers’ priorities for developing a successful career, suggesting skillsets may not be keeping pace with requirements.

Currently, the top two skills workers are prioritising include cloud computing and security (60%) and risk assessment and management (41%), while employers prioritise looking for communication (66%) and analytical skills (59%). Only 25% and 20% of workers are prioritising communication and analytical skills, respectively.

Other recommendations include:

Looking beyond social and professional networks as the main channel of recruitment to open doors for new, younger and more diverse talent.
Accepting the need to invest in development and training because more talent is needed to stem the high levels of movement on job markets.
Better communication of current employer requirements because workers prioritise different skills for their professional development than what employers look for in the workforce.

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Top UK firms’ websites violate key GDPR principle

Over one third of all the public web pages of leading UK companies that collect personal information violate a key principle of new European data protection

Over one third of all the public web pages of leading UK companies that collect personal information violate a key principle of new European data protection

With just a year to go before the deadline to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), many UK firms’ websites are capturing personal data insecurely, a study shows.

More controls are needed because most data capture forms found on websites fall within the scope of the GDPR, according to new research by digital threat management firm RiskIQ.

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The EU regulation requires that provisions should be in place to ensure that personally identifiable information (PII) is captured and processed securely.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner has provided guidance that, in the case of data loss where encryption software has not been used to protect the data, regulatory action may be pursued.

The study revealed that 34% of web pages of FT30 firms that collect PII are doing so insecurely, 29% are not using encryption, 3.5% are using vulnerable encryptions algorithms, and 1.5% have expired security certificates.

While the insecure collection of PII is a violation of the GDPR, the study said the loss of personal data, profit and reputation resulting from the use of insecure forms is a legitimate concern for consumers and shareholders.

In addition to personal claim liability, Article 83 provides guidance on fines for GDPR faults, which start at €10m or 2% of global annual turnover for the preceding financial year, whichever is greater – or even double, depending on the infraction.

This applies to all companies actively engaging with European citizens, regardless of whether the firms have a physical presence in Europe.

The GDPR also requires companies to state clearly at the point of capture how they will use an individual’s data. Permission to use their data must be explicit and demonstrated through an action such as ticking a box – a significant departure from the “opt out” process most organisations currently have in place.

The challenge for large, global organisations is the sheer volume and complexity of websites and web applications that need to be accounted for, not only for security purposes, but also for regulatory compliance, such as the GDPR.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham called on businesses to see the benefits of sound data protection and act now to prepare for what she called “the biggest change to data protection law for a generation”.

However, 24% of companies polled in the UK and US expect to miss the GDPR compliance deadline and 30.6% said they had no timetable for being GDPR compliant, according to security firm Guidance Software.

Almost 18% said they were in the moderate planning stages and 11% said they were only in the initial stages of implementing processes to ensure compliance.

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People can be strongest link in cyber security, says NCSC

People are often seen as the weakest link when it comes to cyber security, but that must change, says the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

People are often seen as the weakest link when it comes to cyber security, but that must change, says the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

Information security has traditionally been led by technology and, as a result, the role and value of people has been overlooked. That is the view of Emma W, people-centred security team lead at the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.

From a hacker perspective, many organisations are still leaving the front door open and the windows unlocked. Failure to protect and handle data correctly can also result in punitive actions for companies participating in the digital economy. Wake up and get the knowledge to get protected.

The perception of people as the weakest link is unfair and a natural consequence of a technology-led security culture.

“We have not always had people working in cyber security with a deep understanding of human behaviour or the input of psychologists, social scientists and the like to tell us why people behave the way they do.

“As a result, organisations tend to treat users as people who should do as they are told, but they don’t always, and often the reason is because they can’t.

“However, these reasons are often not recognised, and instead users are seen as either being unco-operative or stupid, but this is not true and is a perception that we have to turn around,” she said.

An example of where end-users are typically blamed for failures is around passwords, but many organisations have unreasonable expectations.

Most people find it challenging to remember multiple passwords, especially when organisations insist on long and complex passwords that must be changed regularly.

Instead of being critical of employees who fail to adhere to unreasonable password policies, organisations need to have a more sophisticated understanding of how humans can be a security asset, she said.

“They need to understand that if humans appear to be poor at security, it is because they are being required to do things that are difficult or impractical to do.”

The NCSC believes this indicates a need to reshape the relationship between the IT security team in an organisation and users of the IT systems.

While some information security professionals understand that their role is to support and enable the business, Emma W said less progress has been made in understanding how to relate to end-users.

Users still commonly see security as policing role, she said, and do not feel confident enough or too afraid to talk to security teams about the challenges they have and where they feel the need to bend or even flout security rules in order to get their jobs done, for fear of being sanctioned in some way.

“This is the relationship we need to reshape, and a critical part of that is enabling two-way communication between security teams and the rest of the organisation, rather than users’ current common perception that security just sits in its own silo and tells everybody else what they need to do,” she said.

“In reality, security professionals don’t have all the answers and users have a contribution to make in supplying some of the answers. Security professionals need to start listening to what users are trying to do and understand that they can be the strongest, not the weakest link in security.”

End-users should be viewed as a positive asset who have information that security professionals do not have about how the business runs and how it needs to run, rather than be seen as a liability that has to be managed, said Emma W.

“Security professionals need to review how they gather information about security, so they can get the right support to discover the real problems facing their business and fix them,” she said.

Security professionals also need to understand that occasional security awareness training and a poster-based awareness campaign are no substitute for meaningful two-way communication that enables them to know what people need from security and how security can help to support the business.

“It is about security teams finding out what is really going on in an organisation, and why people are not doing the things the security team want them to do – and it is probably not because people are weak, stupid or deliberately trying to sabotage security efforts,” said Emma W.

“Mostly people are well-intentioned and know what they are supposed to be doing, but they are trying to get a work task done and the organisation is not giving them the right way to do it,” she said, with the result that the task may be getting done, but not in the most secure manner possible.

Where employees feel they cannot work within the system or that they are running the risk of being punished for things beyond their control, they will look for alternative ways of working and that is what gives rise to shadow IT and real work processes being driven underground, she said.

For this reason, the NCSC is championing the view that people are potentially organisations’ strongest link when it comes to cyber security and are encouraging organisations to move towards generating positive, collaborative solutions that give users a chance to show that they are the greatest assets in security, as much as they are in business.

Users are typically blamed for failings around passwords, but this is mainly because most people find it difficult to follow company policies on passwords.