An organization can instill as many safeguards and protocols as they want. However, there is still a variable that is hard to account for when it comes to application security – humans.
At Security Journey, we help organizations protect their applications through comprehensive education and secure coding training.
In this article, we'll dive into how human risk can threaten your application security and how you can manage human risk in your organization.
What is Human Risk?
Human risk is the potential threat posed by human behavior to an organization. This can include the actions and behaviors of employees, contractors, partners, customers, and other stakeholders with access to the organization's systems, data, and information.
Examples of human risks include:
- Insider Threats: Employees or contractors with access to sensitive information who intentionally or unintentionally misuse or disclose it.
- Social Engineering Attacks: Cybercriminals who use tactics such as phishing to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information.
- Negligence or Human Error: Accidental mistakes or oversights by employees or contractors lead to security incidents.
- Third-party Risks: Risks associated with third-party vendors, contractors, or suppliers who have access to an organization's systems or data.
For example, an employee who falls victim to a phishing scam could inadvertently provide an attacker with access to the organization's network, including its applications. Similarly, a developer who fails to follow secure coding practices could introduce vulnerabilities into an application that attackers could exploit.
Managing Human Risk For Application Security
Human risk management is the process of identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks related to human behavior within an organization. By implementing effective human risk management practices, organizations can reduce the likelihood of these types of incidents and improve the overall security of their applications.
Taking the two examples of human risk above, let's look at how an organization could mitigate human risks:
An employee who falls victim to a phishing scam could inadvertently provide an attacker with access to the organization's network, including its applications. Your email provider could have spam filters turned on, but there will always be phishing emails that make it through to employees. One way to manage this human risk is by providing regular training for all employees in the company that includes what phishing emails look like and what to do when you receive a phishing email.
A developer who fails to follow secure coding practices could introduce vulnerabilities into an application that attackers could exploit. Code scanning tools could be a great way to help prevent vulnerabilities from being pushed out. Still, ultimately, to manage this human risk, your organization should consider comprehensive, secure coding training requirements paired with code review practices before anything is pushed live.
6 Steps to Manage Human Risk
Many organizations overlook the role of human behavior in application security. Here are some steps you can take to manage human risk:
Conduct Security Awareness Training Across The Organization
One of the most effective ways to manage human risk in application security is to provide security awareness training to employees and contractors. This training should cover topics such as:
- Password hygiene
- Phishing prevention
- Secure coding practices
Organizations can reduce the risk of social engineering attacks, unintentional data disclosure, and other human-related security incidents by educating employees on these topics.
Administer Continuous AppSec Education For SDLC
While basic security awareness training will suffice for employees outside the SDLC, developers, and the SDLC, need a deeper level of education to understand how to recognize vulnerabilities in practice.
Continuous education that goes beyond simply 'raising awareness' is vital to making sure developers avoid becoming non-malicious insider threats. This programmatic education starts with building foundations for coding securely, e.g., issues like hashing and buffer overflow prevention. But it also needs to address the gaps in knowledge and the most common mistakes developers make.
The technical and human aspects must be equally balanced from the start. This type of education needs to focus on 'shifting left' – creating a security-first mindset that ensures secure code is considered as early as possible in the development process.
Implement Access Controls
Another critical strategy for managing human risk in application security is to implement access controls. For example, organizations should limit access to sensitive data and systems only to employees who need it to perform their job functions.
This can include measures such as:
- Role-based access control
- Two-factor authentication
- Least privilege access
Conduct Background Checks
Organizations should also conduct background checks on employees and contractors who have access to sensitive data and systems. This can help identify red flags, such as criminal histories, which may indicate an increased risk of insider threats or malicious intent.
Monitor User Behavior
Organizations should monitor user behavior for signs of unusual or suspicious activity.
This can include:
- Reviewing access logs
- Monitoring network traffic
- Conducting regular security audits
By monitoring user behavior, organizations can quickly identify and respond to potential security incidents before they escalate.
Develop Incident Response Plans
Organizations should develop incident response plans to mitigate the impact of any security incidents that do occur.
This should include clear procedures for:
- Reporting incidents
- Containing the damage
- Recovering from the incident
Organizations can minimize the impact of security by having a well-developed incident response plan.
Are You Ready To Manage Your Human Risk?
Evaluating your security program and working on internal improvements can be a big undertaking. Having a secure coding training partner is vital to improving your team's awareness and education regarding application security.