Why employees who self-report are the key to cybersecurity – Verizon

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The “human element,” which in cybersecurity refers to actions like human error and privilege misuse, has proven to be one of the biggest causes of cybersecurity breaches over the last several years. Last year was no different. According to the 2024 Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), more than two thirds of breaches (68%) involved a non-malicious human element. Examples include clicking on a malicious link, or mistakenly sharing login credentials with a threat actor.

Security teams and IT professionals have long known about the human element’s role. And every year, the human element has factored in the majority of security incidents and full breaches. Industry reports, like our own DBIR, speak to its persistent threat. But while the human element remains a major source of breaches, not all hope is lost. We’re beginning to see a shift in reporting practices, with more individuals reporting incidents and phishing attempts as organizations have created a stronger culture of both shared responsibility and removing the shame from falling victim to tricks.

According to this year’s DBIR, twenty percent of users identified and reported phishing in simulation engagement, and 11% of users who clicked on the phishing email also reported it. While the DBIR annually warns of the human element, the fact that employees are more willing and more adept at identifying security incidents, even when they’ve made a mistake, suggests a change in corporate culture. It also indicates a greater general awareness of security scenarios. This can be attributed to awareness, training, and a function of more accountable leadership.

And it isn’t just junior level employees, organizations can no longer afford to sustain a culture where C-level execs are excused from abiding by organizational security standards, or exclusively rely on their CISOs to promote good cybersecurity practices. It’s already been shown that an organization that prioritizes cybersecurity across the c-suite benefits tremendously. And as we see in this year’s report, while there’s still a high rate of breaches caused by the human element, employees are learning and improving, and we’re confident that leadership is key to continue this growth.

Many human element-related breaches are preventable. Awareness and training are powerful tools to counteract these kinds of breaches, as are technology solutions like multi factor authentication. While training and new technologies won’t eliminate the human element altogether, accountable leadership and an educated workforce bodes well for the ongoing security of any organization.

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