What Is a Human Firewall and How It Helps in Cybersecurity

Did you know more than 80% of all successful cyberattacks have to do with the human element? That makes people the weakest link in your cyberdefense – unless you build a human firewall to stop that. Few people know what that means, though we all would benefit from acting like one.

A human firewall is a person or group of people who follow cybersecurity best practices, helping to stop threat actors and other cybercriminals. Building a human firewall takes time, training, and tools – but its benefits far outweigh the time and money costs it presents.

Most employees have a hard time not falling for common phishing scams and other attacks – but they only do so out of ignorance. Education is a crucial step in building the perfect human firewall. Learning more about the concept is the first step.

Human Firewall Meaning

A human firewall is a term coined to talk about people who follow cybersecurity best practices. They do so to prevent scams, malware infections, and other attacks. More often than not, a human firewall complements a regular firewall.

Companies must train their employees to act as human firewalls if they want to drastically reduce the chance of a cyberattack, though that’s far from the only thing they have to do.

However, most companies tend to forget about training employees, which is a devastating mistake to make.

Regular Firewall vs. Human Firewall

Most people know a firewall is software designed to protect your network from certain dangers. How it works could vary depending on the one you choose, but the main gist is this: it blocks unwarranted access to stop hackers from doing damage.

A human firewall works similarly. Instead of blocking access (e.g., by closing ports as your firewall would do), they prevent threat actors from gaining access via them.

For example, a human firewall would stop a malware infection from happening because the employees would recognize a suspicious attachment as potentially harmful (instead of clicking on it and infecting their device).

One of the biggest notions in cybersecurity is that humans are the weakest link in a company’s defense – and it’s true! Unfortunately, having updated infrastructure can only do so much when employees click suspicious links and download attachments from people they don’t know.

Building a human firewall is important for that reason. You need your employees to recognize a phishing scam when they get one in their inbox. They must have the training to spot a typo trap when they see one.

However, this type of firewall is not a one-man army but a joint effort to prevent threat actors from succeeding.

Do You Need One Person To Build a Human Firewall?

Everyone needs to be involved in having a successful human firewall. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about those working in the IT department or sales: everyone should play their part unless you want a firewall full of holes that actors can slip through.

In other words, a human firewall is a company-wide effort. In fact, those who are further away from the IT department are the ones who need to focus on their firewall efforts the most – because they are the ones who are the most susceptible to attacks.

Building the Perfect Human Firewall

1. Train Employees

The foundation of any human firewall is training and education. Your employees need to recognize the signs of any possible attack to prevent it from happening.

At the same time, your employees need to know how to use their tools unless you want to suffer catastrophic data loss due to negligence – as 75% of data loss happens due to mistakes.

Training is not a one-and-done process. Hackers innovate all the time, so you must train employees at least once per year (with once per quarter being ideal).

2. Monitor Their Progress

How can you know if your human firewall is working properly? With a regular firewall, you have to check stats and other data the very same software collects for you. Unfortunately, a human firewall doesn’t work that way.

So, what can you do? You have to monitor your employees’ progress to know whether the human firewall is working or not. It’s not difficult to make that happen: see how many mistakes and attacks your company goes through each month and compare it as time goes by.

You don’t have to do so with pen and paper. There’s software available that’ll help you collect and analyze that data.

3. Offer Incentives

Can you blame employees for being careless with their devices? You can – but it’s difficult not to understand why that happens. Most people don’t care about technology except for a couple of apps, so bombarding them with technical information is boring to them.

However, you can turn the tables around by offering incentives: let your employees know there are perks for stopping attacks. You can offer money, prizes, time off, and many other things to improve the chances of your human firewall succeeding.

You shouldn’t punish users for having trouble with cybersecurity at first. Some will take a long time to adapt. However, you shouldn’t forgive catastrophic data breaches because of that.

4. Provide Software

A common misconception is expecting employees to do all the work when it comes to cybersecurity. Threat actors use all kinds of software and hardware to attack your company – so why shouldn’t you do the same to defend it?

Employees should have every tool necessary to prevent breaches, malware infections, scams, and more. At the same time, they shouldn’t rely on them – as both software and hardware are vulnerable to attacks.

Combining the right software and hardware with enough training results in a bulletproof human firewall – as long as you properly pace the process.

5. Don’t Expect Too Much at Once

You should expect your IT department to follow the latest cybersecurity trends – but that’s not the case for people in sales or HR. However, everyone must play their part to make a human firewall work.

How can you reconcile those seemingly-opposing points? It’s simple: let people learn at their own pace (for a while, at least).

At the same time, provide enough information – but don’t overwhelm people. Sure, teach people in sales about the dangers of social media, but don’t expect them to be interested in network protocols.

6. Review and Update Your Firewall Guidelines

Remember, threat actors constantly look for new ways to attack your company, so you can’t sit idle while they do. You have to train your employees at least once a year, update your software and hardware, and review your cybersecurity guidelines.

There’s no need to overhaul your guidelines every three months just for bureaucracy’s sake.

You have to talk to lawyers and security experts to see if anything should be done because of changes in compliance or the cybersecurity landscape – and then take action.

What Does a Human Firewall Prevent?

  • Common Scams. Threat actors are no strangers to scams and social engineering. They’ll find out details about you on social media to crack your password or scam you to get your login credentials. These vulnerabilities and scams are the usual reasons behind a breach, so training employees to detect them is a must.
  • Data Breaches. Did you know the average data breach costs close to $10 million? One breach is enough to bankrupt your business, so you probably understand how important it is to prevent them. Training employees and turning them into part of your firewall is mandatory to make that happen.
  • Malware Infections. We see new malware pop up all the time, meaning everyone is rushing behind hackers to patch vulnerabilities, update antiviruses, and figure out how to prevent the next infection attempt. Having employees understand how to prevent infections and learn the signs of one is key.
  • Other Issues. Breaches, malware, and scams are far from the only issues you need to worry about. For example, one mistake could lead to data loss, which may cost the same as a data breach. How can you stop that? By training your employees!

How Does a Human Firewall Work?

The perfect human firewall prevents issues by knowing about them: they can detect signs of a scam, breach, infection, or anything else – and stop the issue right in its tracks. Doing so requires routine training and having the right tools for the job.

A human firewall doesn’t have a switch you can turn on and off. It’s an operation that never stops. You train employees, so they can use the internet without falling for a trap or being victim to an attack.

Simply put, this type of firewall is another term for following cybersecurity best practices.

HF and WFH

The pandemic led to an increase in people working from home, which, in turn, led to an increase in cyberattacks: we saw a 630% increase in cyberattacks between January and April 2020 alone.

That makes the human firewall an important part of your life if you work from home. People tend to let their guard down when they don’t go to the office because they don’t feel targeted – but that’s far when they should worry the most.

You need to bulletproof your network, especially if you’re taking your work back home. Those who do not work at home still have to think about the importance of having a human firewall in the household.

Household’s Human Firewall

Few people talk about the role of a human firewall in the family home. Threat actors don’t care if they have to target a company or a household to make money, so protecting every network you use is a must.

How can you build a family human firewall? Teach everyone in your family how to follow cybersecurity best practices, do routine antivirus scans, and update software and hardware.

At the same time, keep work and family devices separated: you don’t want a possible infection from either side to spread. Of course, doing so is difficult if you work from home – but far from impossible.

Is a Human Firewall Necessary?

A human firewall is a must-have for all companies, no matter how big or small. Employees can cause devastating trouble, knowingly or otherwise. Training them is necessary to prevent million-dollar losses and other issues.

Small companies must dedicate a portion of their small budget to training their employees. Big companies shouldn’t rely on their big IT budgets to stop threat actors alone. Every department needs to be involved in playing its human firewall part.

Let’s say you spend a lot of money installing the latest software and hardware – only to have someone leak customer data after falling for a phishing scam. Having a human firewall would stop that from happening.

Takeaways

A human firewall is a term people use to talk about employees who follow cybersecurity best practices and make an effort to detect and fend off attacks from threat actors. Those responsible should provide enough training and tools to users, so they can protect their devices and networks by acting as human firewalls.

Herman

Herman McCargo is a Cyber Defense Analyst here at U.S. Cybersecurity. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.