Why Do Employees Break Cybersecurity Rules?

Employees Break Cybersecurity RulesRansomware is the number one cybersecurity threat to businesses of all sizes, and the metrics show that ransomware attacks continue to increase quarter after quarter. Cybersecurity has received mainstream headline attention with the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack last year along with a number of other high-profile attacks on everything from city governments to the world’s largest meat producer. Business leaders are focusing and spending more on cybersecurity, and with the war in Ukraine, the US government is communicating directly with industries that control American infrastructure about cybersecurity.

With all of this new focus on cybersecurity, why do employees continue to break the rules, and open businesses up to attack? A new study by the National Science Foundation digs into this question.

The study followed 330 remote employees in a wide variety of industries and focused on adherence to cybersecurity policies, and stress levels of the employee. The study found that over a two-week work period 67% of employees reported they violated company cybersecurity policies at least once. The percentage averages about once in every 20 job tasks.

When asked why the employee did not follow cybersecurity policies the overwhelming three responses were, “to better accomplish tasks for my job,” “to get something I needed,” and “to help others get their work done.” Only 3% of responses reported malicious or retaliatory intent.

The employees reported they were more likely to knowingly violate cybersecurity protocols when they were stressed. The stresses cited were family, job security, and the stress of the cybersecurity protocol itself.

Cybersecurity training normally assumes the employee is either not aware of a protocol or is not following the protocol because of malicious intent. The study shows there is in fact a middle ground between these assumptions. Employees are more likely to understand the protocol, but purposefully do not follow it for productivity reasons or to help another employee.

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Posted by Charles Wright