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Employees Are a Security Risk at Your Vendor's Organization

5 min read
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As we’ve seen over the past several years, cyberattacks are on the rise and pose serious threats to organizations of all sizes and industries. Knowing this, it’s important to prioritize information security to ensure the safety of your customers’ confidential information, your organization’s sensitive data, and your reputation. Successful cyberattacks, from third-party data breaches to phishing campaigns, can lead to detrimental consequences for your organization including a tarnished reputation, legal action, fines, and operational issues.

Human error is often a leading cause for successful cyberattacks. So, while it’s important to identify gaps in your own and your vendors’ information security policies, it’s also crucial to promote cybersecurity awareness. By training your employees and your vendors on the best ways to identify a cyberattack, your staff and your vendors’ staff can become a critical line of defense against malicious actors. 

Learn more about why human error is a contributor to information security risk and best practices to mitigate this. 

Human Error Is a Vulnerability and Data Breach Contributor 

According to recent study conducted for Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report,  human error is a contributing factor for 82% of data breaches. These errors occur when employees (from within your organization or your vendors’) lack the proper training, concentration, information, and awareness necessary to proceed with caution and act according to cybersecurity best practices. 

Some of those errors include: 

  • Logging into networks run on unsecure or public networks
  • Failing to utilize VPNs  
  • Employing weak passwords
  • Not initiating software updates when prompted
  • Accessing email attachments or clicking unsubstantiated links
  • Becoming too relaxed when sending or receiving sensitive data files

To make it all a little more cumbersome, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in remote work. Of course, there are benefits to remote work, such as decreasing business disruptions, reduced overhead costs, and improving work/life balance for employees by reducing commute times, but it also introduced new risks and increased exposure to cyber threats. In many cases, staff members gained access to privileged networks and information on their personal devices, and, in turn, employees at your organization and many of your vendors’ organizations are using their personal phones for constant access to email and sensitive information. These rapid changes have exposed many organizations to risks that threaten their data privacy. 

Hackers are aware of this vulnerability and have continued to target both organizations and vendors and infiltrate private networks by taking advantage of human error.

employees are vendor security risk

Hackers Use Social Engineering as a Weapon

By now, most of us have heard horror stories of how hackers have gained access to personal data and an organization’s private networks, and we certainly hope that won’t be us one day. However, avoiding a data breach is only becoming more challenging as hackers are savvy at diversifying their methods and continue to develop new and sophisticated strategies for targeting and tricking their victims through social engineering. 

They’re trying to catch us when our inhibitions are down – when we’re stressed or distracted –and they use artificial, emotional language that causes us to respond without thinking. These attacks vary widely. Some examples are:

  1. An unsolicited email requesting that you verify your bank information
  2. A friend request on a social media website 
  3. An email that appears to be from a contact with an attachment that contains a virus

A curious or distracted person may let their guard down and click a link which will then give the hacker access, and hackers use any opening they can to gain access. This is why social engineering is one of their greatest weapons. They target victims during periods of stress, fatigue, and confusion, when people are at their most vulnerable.

For these reasons, your employees and your vendors’ employees can be the weakest link in your security through human error, so it’s essential to take steps to educate employees and raise cybersecurity awareness.  

Best Practices to Mitigate Information Security Risks Caused by Human Error

When it comes to securing your organization’s information and assessing your vendor’s information security practices, you can’t be too careful. However, unlike patching software and implementing new controls, mitigating risks associated with human error is an ongoing process. 

Here are several best practices that you and your vendors can use to begin managing the human factor of your organization’s security:

  • Educate employees on an ongoing basis. Both your organization and your vendors’ organizations may want to consider regular training in cybersecurity best practices and highlight the ways that hackers capitalize on human error. This training should educate employees on how to identify these methods, how to report them internally, and how to prevent them from infecting the company’s system. 
  • Implement simulations and cybersecurity testing. Simulations will test how effective your cybersecurity awareness training is in teaching your employees and vendors how to identify and report suspicious activity. Be sure to utilize real life examples to show how hackers exploit companies, how common these attempts are, and how to detect and respond to suspected attacks. 
  • Employ dedicated information security teams, programs, or specialists to manage internal and third-party security risks. The experts should lead training sessions and organize protocols for identifying and responding to incidents. Be sure to include relevant stakeholders in these training sessions, including your vendor owners and those responsible for your vendor’s information security. 
  • Assess your vendors’ cybersecurity awareness training. Data breaches aren’t limited to only your organization and can be caused by vulnerabilities in your vendor’s cybersecurity practices. Ensure that your vendors are training their employees on cybersecurity best practices as well. Also, ensure they have a process in place to verify that their vendors are, too. Remember that your vendors should meet your standards and have an acceptable risk posture, or your data may become compromised. 

It’s your responsibility to protect your organizations and customer’s data from malicious actors. Be sure to do your part by addressing any weaknesses that could leave your sensitive data vulnerable to an attack, including the possibility of an employee becoming your weakest link. Likewise, be sure to assess your vendors’ cybersecurity training and awareness to ensure that they understand the ways human error can be weaponized and how to mitigate the risks. 

Vigilance and awareness are key, so trust your instincts and stay aware of any suspicious activity. By exercising caution and assessing how well your vendors train their employees to identify and report suspicious activity, you’ll take a critical step towards strengthening your organization’s defenses against hackers. 

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