Counter cybersecurity threats with a human-machine dual strategy

High tech + human touch = IT success.


Earlier this year, the 3.5-hour outage at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) raised a lot of eyebrows in the IT community. Opinions about the cause of this outage, including my own, came out of the woodwork despite official statements claiming "technical issues" following a software update. I have to ask: Would the NYSE really perform a software update on a production system first thing Wednesday morning?

While I can't rule out a hack on the NYSE, the situation sparks another discussion: Was human error to blame?

If this was a technical glitch due to a software update, then it's clear a human error was made somewhere down the line. What businesses don't understand is that even a small mistake in router code can cause a colossal issue like this. More importantly, human error leaves any size organization vulnerable, and it's hard to plan when the vulnerability isn't apparent.

In response to catastrophes caused by human error, many IT processes have become automated. In our own data center, we've automated everything from temperature to security to reporting, so our time can be used as efficiently as possible and we can avoid mistakes. 

But not all processes can be automated. Machines lack at least two features humans have: intuition and experience. For example, during a data center walk-through inspection, the senses of sight, smell, and hearing are critically important. Sure, we have tools to help us troubleshoot problems like security glitches or overheating, but humans can see and connect the dots on things computers can't.

In a recent Bloomberg Business interview , Garrett Schubert of EMC was asked about the attacks his security operations center faces everyday. Since EMC is a big target, the SOC gets to know their hackers by analyzing their patterns. The author of the article, Michael Riley, describes it like this:

"Hackers have personalities that show up in the tactics they use—their digital habits, if you will. It's like playing a high-stakes game of chess with an opponent sitting a continent away.”

The ability to identify those hackers' patterns enables EMC to address and neutralize threats more effectively. Connecting the dots between hacker behavior, their identity, and their likely next move would not be possible without human intuition.

Balancing humans and machines in order to get the best of both

The reality is that we can remove human error with automated IT processes, but we'll never be able to remove human interaction. Human intuition is as important a tool in the IT arsenal as malware or security measures. However, as businesses, we must also be strategic about the resources we allocate to everyday tasks. 

My advice? Automate as many IT processes as possible: temperature setting, reporting, security alerts, and more, but include a human touch point or fail-safe in each of those processes. Think about where most issues could or do happen in your business and incorporate human review processes into those areas.

IT processes help your business avoid errors, but human intuition can counter threats to which your machines are blind.

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