Your people, the first and last line of defence

Issue 6 2021 Cyber Security

The human element should never be underestimated in cybersecurity planning, especially in the new normal of remote working and employees find themselves using work machines to navigate the web, download entertainment and host other content. A simple ‘innocent’ click can open a loophole for cybercriminals to access the whole organisation’s network system.


Lukas van der Merwe.

Specialist sales executive: security for Gijima, Lukas van der Merwe, cautions that “people are both the first and last line of defence in cybersecurity and overall business resilience.”

Van der Merwe says humans play a crucial role in both preventing breaches and responding to them, but that the volume and velocity of cyber-attacks have gone beyond the capability of humans to manage without the help of automation and artificial intelligence.

“Most breaches still occur due to some form of human error. Nine out of 10 times the malware will get into the network through an email or link. The risks posed by workers themselves has increased amid the move to remote working: the latest IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report indicates that the average total cost of a data breach has increased by almost 15% to R46 million, the highest ever recorded and that costs are even higher when remote working is presumed to be a factor in causing the breach,” he says.

What is Zero Trust?

In line with the NIST Framework, training and awareness programmes remain important, more so when you have a distributed workforce. “But training and awareness may not be enough: a Zero Trust framework is also necessary to mitigate the risk of human error and malicious activity on the part of employees,” says Van der Merwe.

But what is Zero Trust? “It’s simple, this is a cybersecurity framework that moves from the premise that every user, every device and every channel is considered vulnerable and therefore access to all enterprise data is tightly controlled and monitored, which is particularly important in a remote or hybrid workforce with an expanded risk profile,” explains Van der Merwe. “So, humans also play a critical role in detecting and responding to attacks, however, they cannot manage these without automation and AI – particularly in the current distributed environment.”

Companies studied that had adopted a Zero Trust security approach in the 2021 IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report were revealed to be better positioned to deal with data breaches. Forty-eight percent of organisations were revealed to be at a mature Zero Trust level – operating on the assumption that user identities or the network itself may already be compromised and relying instead on AI and analytics to continuously validate connections between users, data and resources.

This was shown to be increasingly important as remote working was on the rise due to the pandemic. The report revealed the impact of remote work adoption, which increased the time taken to identify and contain data breaches. On average, it now takes 184 days to identify a data breach and 53 days to contain it. At organisations with a greater than 50% remote work adoption, the average time to identify the breach rises to 214 on average. Faster incident response times were associated with substantially lower costs, with a cost savings of just over 15% if a breach was contained in less than 200 days.

Outmanoeuvre cyber threats

“It has become nearly impossible for human analysts to investigate events within the time frame needed to prevent damage. Local organisations might record thousands of events per second. This is where security information event management (SIEM) becomes important, to identify patterns of behaviour that indicates potential malicious activity and create alerts. Where a security analyst could take hours to days to conclusively investigate a single event, AI could conclude the investigation in seconds and use the information to continually improve threat hunting. With the use of intelligent security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) solutions, incident response is enhanced and response time is accelerated.” In a nutshell, supported by AI, cyber security teams can outmanoeuvre even advanced cyber threats.

Van der Merwe believes that human intervention also drives the culture of security throughout the organisation, “for example, at Gijima we recommended an approach to cyber resilience that includes ‘leading from the top’, with board responsibility and top-level sponsorship of all cybersecurity initiatives and practices. There should also be a board member accountable for ensuring the security of the organisation, such as a chief information risk officer (CIRO), or chief information security officer (CISO). This builds up business resilience from strategy level not when the fire has ignited,” he concludes.

Gijima’s Advanced Cyber Defence security capabilities puts world class, next-generation cognitive security technologies from IBM and cyber security experts within reach of even smaller to mid-sized South African enterprises.


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