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human attack surface

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Human attack surface is the totality of all exploitable security holes within an organization that are created through the activities and vulnerabilities of personnel. Elements of an organization's human attack surface include negligence, errors, illness, death, insider threat and susceptibility to social engineering.

Social engineering is such a pervasive and serious threat to enterprise security that it is often considered as an attack surface on its own. The social engineering attack surface includes a wide variety of techniques including phishing, baiting with malware-infested media and simple actions like following an authorized individual through a door into a secure area. To protect an organization from social engineering, employees should be trained to recognize the common tactics used and urged to be suspicious of any activities that could be attempted exploits. Penetration testing should be conducted regularly to simulate social engineering attacks and detect any areas in which employees remain vulnterable.

Employee negligence and error require similar vigilance. Efforts to prevent errors include ensuring that employees are adequately trained for their tasks and that they have the resources available to perform at an acceptable level. Overwork and occupational stress can lead to burnout and increases in both errors and negligence. To guard against them, excessive work hours should be avoided whenever possible and work-life balance should be promoted and fostered through workplace initiatives.

Illness and deaths of employees can leave an organization vulnerable if those individuals possess unique skills and knowledge. To mitigate the impact, an organization should have programs in place for such individuals to mentor other employees.

Although insider threats are decidedly less common than other elements of the human attack surface, any incidents can cause significant damage. Protection against insider threats includes familiar security measures: multiple spyware scanning programs, anti-virus programs, firewalls, and a rigorous data backup and archiving routine. In addition, it’s important to ensure proper oversight of employees and stringent controls on privileges.

This was last updated in April 2017

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