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The Human Firewall: 5 Tips for Optimal Network Security

Posted by Christopher Parisi on Jun 23, 2017 10:00:00 AM

One of the most important network defenses is the human firewall. Just as network firewalls need to have firmware updates, auditing of rules, and testing, the human firewall is no different. Left in a static state, the human firewall will become outdated and vulnerable to phishing and social engineering attacks. In many ways, it’s the first line of defense in cyber operations.

A human firewall is someone or a group of employees using the network that can be a direct point of attack to corporate data. It’s the duty of the human firewall to recognize suspicious emails, phone calls asking for IT-related information, or suspicious activity in the work environment. Here are five tips to help keep your customers’ human firewall in top performance.

  1. Firmware Updates: In the case of the human firewall, firmware updates come in the form of training. Regular training in the latest phishing attack threats, social engineering, and testing on these subjects is key. Using a firm that can test the human firewall using simulated phishing emails and bogus phone calls is a great way for your customers to gauge the effectiveness if their trainings.
  1. Auditing Access Control: Just as Access Control Lists (ACL) can control the devices or IP addresses that can access network resources, employee access needs to be audited on a regular basis for access control. Employee roles and responsibilities often change. Access to particular data assets may no longer be necessary but an employee still has access. This opens up the opportunity for data security issues. By using least permission practices, employees will only have access to information vital to their job function.
  1. Physical Security: In a secure environment, network security appliances are locked away in secure cabinets and behind closed doors with limited access. The human firewall needs to be physically secure as well. In conjunction with training, employees must be aware of the physical assets that are under their control, especially when those assets have corporate data on them. The most vulnerable of these is any mobile device that’s used for corporate as well as personal use. The human firewall needs to lock items away when not being used. Password complexity and secure screen locks need to be strictly enforced. Even with security solutions installed on a physical asset, hackers can circumvent these measures by physical manipulation of mobile components if the asset is lost or stolen.
  1. Fault Tolerance: In a business environment, the failure of a single component can cause outages that cost thousands or millions of dollars in lost revenue. High Availability Redundancy is a key strategy in the network environment. Having instant failover in the event of an outage keeps the network operational and the difficulty invisible to the user. With the human firewall, the same theory applies. Cross training of employees and job rotation helps keep human firewall weaknesses to a minimum in the face of employee absence, attrition, and disaster remediation. By having human firewall components that can fill in a gap at a critical moment, the workplace environment is less prone to weak spots.
  1. Reboot and Refresh: By doing routine power cycling of network appliances, equipment is refreshed and runs more efficiently. Caches of memory are cleared, updates that may have required restarts are put into effect, and boot up scans can help detect and repair storage errors. Reboot and refresh is also important for the human firewall and can also show areas of concern. Employees should have a good work/life balance and should be encouraged to unplug and take their vacations unhindered by the office. Your customers need to be watchful of the employee that cannot, or will not take vacation days. This is sometimes an indication that there’s some type of fraud or security issue being executed. Job rotation also helps in reboot and refresh and fraud detection by allowing unique insights into a job or routine. Irregularities often become apparent when others are following another’s work procedure.

Tech Data offers a variety of educational and training products and services designed to help strengthen the human firewall. To learn more about this first line of defense, contact our Security Product Specialists at 800-237-8931, ext. 73246 or securityservices@techdata.com.


SANS Institute InfoSec Reading Room, “Human Being Firewall” https://www.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/firewalls/human-firewall-32998


Tags: Security Tips, Human Firewall, Network Security