Three Ways to Leverage Emotional Intelligence and Minimize Cyber Risk Through Human Vulnerability

Working through the cloud and on virtual networks brings specific vulnerabilities, such as cyber attacks—more due to human error than working through the cloud itself. For example, in the UK alone, human error caused 90% of cyber data breaches in 2019, according to a CybSafe analysis of data from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). A new report from Kaspersky Lab has revealed that security incidents in public cloud infrastructure are more likely to occur as a result of a customer’s employees rather than by actions carried out by cloud providers.

What is the correlation between emotional intelligence and cybersecurity?

Twitter’s most significant and recent cyber attacks show the vulnerability of human vulnerabilities, as stated in their latest update:

“This attack relied on a significant and concerted attempt to mislead certain employees and exploit human vulnerabilities to gain access to our internal systems.”

According to a Tessian report, 43% of US and UK employees have made mistakes resulting in cybersecurity repercussions for themselves or their company. 47% of employees cited distraction as a top reason for falling for a phishing scam. This was closely followed by the fact that the email looked legitimate (43%), with 41% saying the phishing email looked like it came from a senior executive or a well-known brand. Clicking on a malicious link, 58% of employees admitted to sending a work email to the wrong person, with 17% of those emails going to the wrong external party.

The main reason cited for misdirected emails was fatigue (43%), closely followed by distraction (41%). With 57% of respondents saying they are more distracted when working from home, the sudden shift to remote working could make businesses more vulnerable to security incidents caused by human error.

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to (a) recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions; and (b) recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. Human error increases, and vulnerability to cyberattack increases.

We now work in a new digital space that is filled with vulnerabilities. Cyber hackers are getting more sophisticated each day using emotional manipulation techniques when people are still facing high levels of chronic stress exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. These three simple steps can help you mitigate the risk of emotional manipulation through human vulnerabilities.

Emotional Awareness 

Emotional awareness is recognizing and understanding one’s own emotions. It includes the ability to differentiate between subtleties in one’s own emotions while understanding the cause of these emotions and their impact on one’s thoughts and actions and those of others. Developing this emotional intelligence skill is critical for increasing personal resilience and mental alertness to become resilient against social engineering attacks and not fall for the sophisticated emotional manipulation techniques of cyber hackers.

Problem Solving & Decision Making 

Your emotions may influence the way you solve problems and cloud your judgment. We process information through the limbic part of the brain first, where all of our feelings are regulated. During times of stress, pressure, and crisis the amygdala – the brain’s almond-shaped part – is activated. The amygdala part controls emotions of fear, anger, sadness, and aggression. Past experiences are memories in our minds associated with specific emotions. You can learn to decide or defer depending on your emotional state. Disassociating yourself from the situation by using different perspectives can help you reduce your negative emotions and learn to decide or defer to ensure the best optimal outcome.


Optimism is an indicator of one’s positive attitude and outlook on life. It involves remaining hopeful and resilient, despite occasional setbacks. During a cyber attack, the survival mode of the human mind is activated. Stay focused on the next right step without using words that make an elephant out of a fly. Focus only on your locus of control, speak words of empowerment, and shift to expect positive outcomes. This will also help reframe cyber in a different light as it often triggers feelings of fear and uncertainty because it has mainly been portrayed as a technical Black Swan.

The author, Nadja El Fertasi, is the CEO and founder of Thrive with EQ. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.