Biases in Perceptions of Information Security Threats

Biases in Perceptions of Information Security Threats

Cognitive biases are an inescapable part of human nature. These biases predisposition us to think a certain way; it affects our behaviors, judgments, and decisions. These biases often arise when we confront uncertainty.

These biases impact us in how we perceive security risks. In this regard, there are two significant cognitive biases: optimism and fatalism.

How Does Optimism Bias Affect IT Security?

You can also think of optimism bias as overconfidence. Optimism bias guides people to believe that they are somehow less likely to experience an adverse event, even if there's no evidence to support this belief. This bias leaves users and organizations much more vulnerable to attack.

Unfortunately, this optimism bias doesn't go away just because they know about it. Another variation of optimization bias rears its ugly head when you tell someone of their optimism bias: comparative optimism bias. This bias keeps us thinking that we are still less likely than others to experience an adverse event.

What Is Fatalism, and How Does This Hurt Our IT Security Efforts?

Fatalism isn't the excess of rational thought; instead, it's the idea that nothing you do will affect the outcome or have any power to prevent a negative event. A fatalistic thinker believes that only external forces have control over the outcome, which they feel is inevitable.

If you have workers with this thinking, they will feel they can't do anything to stop a phishing attack or another kind of breach. Everything is "hackable" when given enough time and resources. As a result, they fail to invest any real effort in taking steps to protect the network.

How Do We Reduce or Eliminate Risks that These Biases Pose?

Both optimism and fatalism stem from misinterpreting risk and can lead to similar outcomes. Both biases open you up to unnecessary vulnerabilities and cost your business in terms of money and reputation.

Forcing our brains to think rationally is a skill that must be learned and practiced. With cybersecurity, we need to look only at the facts in front of us and make logical fact-based decisions. Using pure rationality will be vital in preventing the damage that would otherwise be done through cyberattacks.

To help your workers combat perception bias, ask them about any risks or other problems they might face while working remotely, and help them solve those issues. This act keeps the reality of facing a real threat in your optimistic workers' minds, and the fatalists now feel more empowered to combat and shut down the inevitable danger.


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