Experts Warn ‘Human Error’ Remains the Main Challenge for Cyber-Security Worldwide

3 March 2019

The 7th edition of GISEC ends with business deals struck and audiences captivated by jaw-dropping live-hacks

DUBAI – Among the more than 200 talks, briefing sessions and live hacking demos that were given by the world’s foremost cyber security experts and business leaders, one reoccurring theme stood out: human error remains one of the largest obstacles to cyber security.

As GISEC – the largest cyber security event in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – draws to a close, leading experts have warned that human error continues to play a significant role in cyber security and online crime, requiring a strategic approach to educate users and employees to prevent companies and individuals from falling victim to cyber-crime.

Jamie Woodruff live hacks a nuclear power-plant, credit cards and car keys

Jamie Woodruff, the Ethical Hacker who famously hacked Kim Kardashian, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter – and who headlined GISEC’s first-ever Dark Stage – not only shone a light on the many hidden ways businesses may be susceptible to hackers, but re-emphasised how humans are so often at the heart of both on and offline crime.

“People are much more susceptible through social engineering to attacks than they are in person”, he said. “Vulnerabilities of businesses exist a lot of the time through their employees, and social engineering allows us to observe and learn their patterns, allowing entry into the company” – a technique that can have dire consequences for the company, he maintains.

Providing an apt example, one of Woodruffs anecdotes included one of his ethical hacking projects in which he gained access to the server rooms of a London-based banking institution. To do so, the expert hacker had to intercept phone conversations and CCTV cameras. Observing the bank and its employees for a whole month, he gained entry by dressing up as a pizza delivery driver. With unrestricted access to the IT infrastructure, said Woodruff, the consequences for the bank and its customers could have been disastrous.

At the climax to his seminar, Woodruff left his audience in disbelieve as he live-hacked the CCTV camera of a nuclear plant. He also obtained the two-year payment history of ten volunteers that took to the stage with their contactless credit cards – data he compromised within seconds – and showed how children toys, car keys and smart watches are all open to attack.

Experts agree that the human factor remains a key obstacle for cyber security

Re-emphasising Woodruff’s point on human error, Ankush Johar, Investor at HumanFirewall and a cyber-security authority, used his appearance at GISEC to highlight how many types of attacks occur in the world. He said: “There are over 20,000 types of attacks. Given those large numbers, training employees to successfully identify those remains a huge challenge and leaves us prone to human error. One of the keys is to alter the psychology of employees and make them suspicious by nature.”

Earlier in the week, US-hacker Kevin Mitnick – who landed himself on the FBI’s Most Wanted list after hacking more than 40 major corporations and now is a trusted security consultant to Fortune 500 companies and governments worldwide – warned on the same topic that “when teaching staff about security, companies need something relevant, entertaining and informative – not a boring book that they won’t read.”

He added: “You need to educate, train and inoculate your users. The hacker is always going to go after the weakest link, and social engineering is the easiest way in and easiest attack your enemies will use today.”

Emile Abou Saleh, Regional Director, Middle East & Africa at Proofpoint – who showcased their people-centric solutions at GISEC – said, “As cyber-criminals take advantage of the human factor to execute their campaigns, companies need to ensure they deploy effective security awareness training to educate employees for best-practices, as well as establish a people-centric strategy to defend against threat actors’ unwavering focus on compromising end-users.”

A cyber security marketplace with business deals being struck, networks being built

Inaugurated on Monday by Her Excellency Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai and opened by Dr Marwan Alzarouni, Director of Information Services Department at Dubai Electronic Security Center, the annual cybersecurity event attracted visitors from close to 100 countries, displaying a diverse range of cyber security solutions and global networks being built.

“The latest edition of GISEC has once more laid bare some of the vulnerabilities of our current infrastructure and provided true insights – as well as wake-up calls – for businesses, government and individuals to be more vigilant in both their on- and offline interactions. Having facilitated this important dialogue by gathering the world’s leading cyber security experts, we hope that 2019’s GISEC will allow all who took part to look forward to a safer online presence going forward,” said Trixie LohMirmand, Senior Vice President, Events & Exhibitions Management, Dubai World Trade Centre.

GISEC ran from 1-3 April at Dubai World Trade Centre and was a co-located event to IoTX and Future Blockchain Summit.