It's no secret that cybersecurity is essential in today's world. With the ever-growing threat of cyber attacks, it's more important than ever to understand the psychology behind cybersecurity. Psychologists have long understood that people are the weakest link in any security system. No matter how strong the locks on your doors or the encryption on your computer, all it takes is one person with the motivation and opportunity to break them.
Cybersecurity is about understanding how people think and behave and using that knowledge to design systems that are more secure. It’s about making it harder for the bad guys to succeed by making it easier for the good guys.
Most of the time, when we talk about cybersecurity, we’re really talking about information security. That’s because the vast majority of cybersecurity threats are aimed at stealing, destroying, or manipulating data. However, cybersecurity is about more than just data. It’s also about protecting systems and networks from attack. And it’s about protecting people from being harmed by cyber attacks. In other words, cybersecurity is about protecting people, networks, and data from cyberattacks.
“Ransomware is more about manipulating vulnerabilities in human psychology than the adversary’s technological sophistication.”James Scott
There are many psychological principles that can be used to improve cybersecurity. For example, social engineering is a form of attack that exploits human gullibility and curiosity. By understanding how these attacks work, we can design systems that are more resistant to them. Likewise, we can use principles of persuasion and motivation to encourage people to use strong passwords, update their software, and take other security precautions.
There are three key psychological principles that underpin cybersecurity:
- The Principle of Least Effort
This principle states that people are more likely to take the path of least resistance when it comes to decision-making. People are creatures of habit and will take the path of least resistance whenever possible. Cybercriminals understand this principle and take advantage of it.
In the context of cybersecurity, this means that people are more likely to click on phishing links and fall for other common traps set by cybercriminals. Another example of the principle of least effort is weak passwords. Many people choose weak passwords because they are easy to remember. However, these passwords are also easy for cybercriminals to guess. In fact, many cybercriminals use automated tools that can try thousands of different passwords until they find the right one.
The principle of least effort is an important concept in cybersecurity because it highlights the importance of cybersecurity awareness training. If users understand the principle, they can be more vigilant about the decisions they make online.
- The Principle of Social Proof
This principle of social proof states that people are more likely to do something if they see others doing it. This means that people are more likely to trust websites and emails that look legitimate, even if they're not. This is why phishing emails often look like they come from legitimate businesses or organizations. The criminals behind the phishing attempt to use social proof to make their email look more trustworthy.
They may also use social proof to make their fake website look more legitimate. For example, they may include fake reviews or testimonials on their website. It's important to remember that just because something looks legitimate, doesn't mean it is. Be sure to check the sender's email address and website URL to be sure they match up. If something looks off, it probably is.
- The Reciprocity Principle
The reciprocity principle states that people are more likely to do something for someone if that person has done something for them first. This means that if a website or email offers something for free, people are more likely to trust it.
Of course, just because something is free doesn't mean it's trustworthy. Be sure to check the sender's email address and website URL to be sure they match up. If something looks off, it probably is.
- The Authority Principle
We have likely witnessed the application of this principle in our everyday lives, which states that people are more likely to obey someone in a position of authority. In the context of cybersecurity, this means that people are more likely to follow the instructions of a cybercriminal if they believe that the criminal is an expert or someone higher up in their organisation. CEO fraud, for instance, is a form of phishing attack in which the attacker sends the victim a phishing email pretending to be the CEO or another high-ranking official of the company.
- The Scarcity Principle
The principle of scarcity is based on the idea that people are more likely to do something if they think it's rare or in limited supply.
To make your emails look more scarce, use language that emphasizes the limited nature of your offer. For example, you might say "limited time only" or "while supplies last." You can also use images that convey a sense of scarcity, such as a clock counting down or a product that's almost sold out.
While it may be difficult to combat these tendencies, it’s important to make the effort. Organisations need to educate employees to take time to analyze what they’re being asked to do, and if they’re unsure, it’s better to ask a supervisor than to gamble on whether their actions are putting themselves or the company at risk.
By understanding these psychological factors, we can better understand why people fall victim to cyberattacks and take steps to protect ourselves and our businesses. This is the reason we say cybersecurity is psychological. It’s not just about the technology; it’s about the people using it. Ultimately, cybersecurity is about people.