When you think of hackers at work, you probably think of cybercriminals creating complex programs that can penetrate a network’s defenses and steal data or place a virus on a computer. Although these do exist, they don’t usually work without a little bit of unsuspecting help—typically from the victim of the attack.
Surprisingly, the biggest threat to cybersecurity lies not in technology – but in the human mind. Ransomware, viruses, and other malicious tactics cybercriminals use often depend on a victim clicking a link or attachment in an email, using an easy-to-guess password, or giving out personal information unwittingly.
Humans are – and always will be – the weakest link in cyber defense. As a result, using psychology to thwart hackers can actually be extremely effective. Organizations already use psychology for marketing with impressive results. Let’s take a look at how it can be used to fight the growing problem of cybercrime at organizations all over the world.
The Connection Between Psychology and Cybersecurity
The connection between psychology and cybersecurity is nothing new. Twenty years ago, in 1999, researchers determined that designers needed to take the psychology of the human mind into account when creating security systems. People don’t fall for scams or make security mistakes because they’re stupid, but because they’re overwhelmed, confused, or simply don’t know any better.
Unlike computers, for instance, humans can’t usually remember a large number of complex passwords (although they often underestimate their own ability to do so!), which forces them to take shortcuts like using the same overly-simple password for several sites, and not changing their passwords frequently—or at all. This isn’t necessarily our fault. In modern society, we have to keep track of a truly staggering number of passwords.
As cybersecurity develops to stay ahead of criminals, new technology will have to assist today’s users in maintaining security across a large number of platforms and devices, from website to smart home systems, to vehicles with web-based controls. Public and private organizations, which tend to shelter a large amount of sensitive data, are at especially high risk from personnel-related vulnerabilities.
How Hackers Use Psychology
Unfortunately, clever hackers know to manipulate their victims using psychological tricks. It’s a lot easier for cybercriminals to get past the defenses of a human than it is to manipulate a purely logical computer security system. And if they’re hacking into a large organization, it only takes one weak link. In fact, over 552 million identities were stolen during cyberattacks in 2013.
One of the most common and effective strategies that hackers use to gain access to valuable information is known as “phishing.” The cybercriminal pretends to be an organization or person that their victim is likely to trust, using logos, familiar names, and confusing language that gets people to act quickly, often by clicking on a link that leads to malicious webpage.
Many users don’t scan the address bar for abnormalities and may think they are visiting a legitimate website. They then give out passwords, social security numbers, or other crucial information without even questioning why they are being asked for the information.
Another psychological trick that cybercriminals use is sending spam emails and text messages telling the user that they have won something or inherited money from a relative. They may then use other tactics to get the user to wire money, pretending that these are fees or taxes for claiming the prize. Although most people know that these scams exist, many still fall victim to them each year.
Psyber Security – Yes. It’s a Thing
So what can be done about the psychological tricks that cybercriminals use to steal data, money, and even identities? At this point, we have to stop thinking about cybersecurity and start thinking about psyber security. Yes, it’s a thing, and it’s been gaining ground as the true vulnerabilities of cybersecurity technology are revealed.
Researchers are interested in learning more about how to “deceive the deceiver.” Since malware from just one malicious link can infect an organization’s entire network until it’s discovered, often months later, cybersecurity experts need to figure out how to thwart and confuse hackers without relying on better training and education alone for employees and consumers.
In the growing field of psyber security, these experts are using the same psychological tricks that hackers use to instead stop attacks in their tracks. Using this model, the system would trick hackers into thinking they’ve compromised a network when they haven’t. Since attacks originate from humans, it’s crucial to look at security from this lens.
You Can Help Solve the Problem
Want to truly make a difference in millions of lives? Now’s a great time to get into the field of cybersecurity. As we become more reliant on technology, we need smart and innovative people protecting our devices and networks from those who would do us harm. Our future depends on it.