What is a Human Firewall?

human firewall

A Human Firewall refers to individuals who are educated and vigilant about cyber threats.

A Human Firewall describes people who follow best practices to prevent an attack and report any possible breaches or suspicious activity.

The monetary fallout from cyberattacks continues to rise. The damage to brand reputation and the effects on the humans connected to these attacks cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, AI will only make things more difficult for organizations to remain secure and retain their resiliency.

In this context, a Human Firewall emerges as a vital component of cybersecurity.

Simply put, a Human Firewall is one of your best defenses against cyber threats.

With 90% of all cyber crime stemming from human error or behavior, your most important resource (your people) is also your riskiest. Regardless, most organizations spend time and money on the technology and tools to combat cyberattacks (and rightfully so) but overlook one of their most glaring weaknesses: poor security hygiene from their employees.

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What does a good Human Firewall look like?

We’ve given you the Human Firewall definition, but what does a good Human Firewall look like? Let’s take a look at five traits here.

A good Human Firewall is…

  1. Security-Aware: Understanding of the risks and employing techniques to resist cyber threats. Security Awareness Training is one of the most impactful programs you can employ as an organization.
  2. Vigilant: Always on the lookout for unusual activities that may indicate threats. Your in-house IT team can only do so much; with just one out of every three breaches discovered by an organization’s own security team, non-IT staff can be a huge help in identifying any suspicious activity.
  3. Skeptical: Questioning anything abnormal, including requests, links, and attachments. It’s easier said than done these days with the rise of AI-assisted phishing emails, but a well-trained and well-skeptical employee still has the upper hand.
  4. Proactive: Not hesitating to report potential risks. When employees feel safe and rewarded when reporting anything suspicious, they do it, plain and simple.
  5. Resilient: Difficult to deceive with social engineering due to a strong foundation in security knowledge. Resistant of security protocol fatigue (like MFA fatigue).

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Human Firewall Examples

We can recognize the security buzzwords, but what about some examples of a Human Firewall in action?

  1. Email Vigilance: An employee receives an email asking for confidential company information. Recognizing the signs of a phishing attempt, they verify the sender's identity and report the email to the IT department.
  2. Secure Password Practices: A team member advocates for and practices strong, unique password creation, and uses a password manager. They also encourage others to change their passwords regularly.
  3. Handling Sensitive Information: An employee dealing with sensitive data ensures they are not being observed (shoulder surfing) and always locks their computer when leaving their desk.
  4. Reporting Suspicious Activity: A staff member notices unusual activity on the company's network and immediately reports it, preventing a potential breach.
  5. Social Media Discretion: An employee avoids sharing too much professional information on social media that could be used for social engineering attacks.

These real-world examples show how a Human Firewall actively contributes to an organization's cybersecurity, turning every employee into a vigilant guardian against cyber threats.

The Role of Human Centric Security

Human centric security—aka a Human Firewall—focuses on the human element in cybersecurity. It understands that technology alone cannot fully protect against cyber threats and emphasizes the importance of training and empowering employees to act as a vigilant and knowledgeable cybersecurity shield.

By combining security awareness training with the cultivation of key traits in employees, organizations can significantly strengthen their defense against cyber threats. Remember, in the battle against cybercrime, your employees are not just potential victims but can be your strongest allies.

Empowering your workforce to act as a vigilant, knowledgeable Human Firewall is just as important as your organization’s technical firewall. By fostering a culture of security awareness and vigilance, you can turn your most significant risk into one of your most potent defenses against cyber threats. To learn more about building an effective Human Firewall and enhancing your organization's cybersecurity posture, reach out to HBS for expert guidance and solutions.

author avatar
Carly Westpfahl