Top 5 Cyberattacks Caused By Human Error

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Human error has long been recognized as a significant contributing factor in many cybersecurity incidents. From unintentional data leaks to falling victim to phishing scams, human mistakes can lead to severe consequences for organizations. In this article, we will examine the top five real-world cyberattacks caused primarily by human error and explore the lessons that can be learned from these incidents.

  1. Anthem Data Breach (2015)

In 2015, Anthem, one of the largest health insurance providers in the United States, suffered a massive data breach affecting nearly 80 million customers. The breach was traced back to a phishing email received by an Anthem employee, which led to the compromise of their credentials. The attackers gained unauthorized access to sensitive customer data, including names, Social Security numbers, and healthcare information.

Lesson Learned: The Anthem breach highlights the importance of comprehensive employee training and awareness programs to help staff identify and respond to phishing attacks effectively. Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) can also add an extra layer of protection against credential theft.

  1. Sony Pictures Hack (2014)

The Sony Pictures hack in 2014 resulted in the theft and subsequent public release of confidential data, including unreleased films, emails, and employee information. The attackers gained access to Sony’s network through a spear-phishing campaign targeting company employees. The breach had significant financial and reputational consequences for Sony Pictures.

Lesson Learned: This incident demonstrates the critical need for organizations to have robust email security and phishing detection mechanisms in place. Regular cybersecurity training and awareness programs can help employees recognize and avoid falling victim to targeted spear-phishing attacks.

  1. Australian Red Cross Data Leak (2016)

In 2016, the Australian Red Cross experienced a significant data leak when a third-party contractor inadvertently published a backup file containing personal information of over 550,000 blood donors on a publicly accessible server. The exposed data included names, addresses, dates of birth, and other sensitive information.

Lesson Learned: The Australian Red Cross incident serves as a reminder of the importance of proper data handling procedures and the need for thorough vetting and monitoring of third-party contractors. Implementing strict access controls and regularly auditing data management practices can help minimize the risk of accidental data leaks.

  1. WannaCry Ransomware Attack (2017)

The WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 affected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide, causing significant disruptions in various sectors, including healthcare and transportation. The attack was facilitated by the exploitation of a known vulnerability in the Windows operating system, which had been patched by Microsoft months before the attack. Many organizations had failed to apply the security update, leaving their systems vulnerable to the ransomware.

Lesson Learned: The WannaCry incident underscores the importance of timely patch management and the need for organizations to maintain up-to-date software to protect against known vulnerabilities. Regular system updates, vulnerability scanning, and patch management processes can help organizations stay ahead of potential threats.

  1. Capital One Data Breach (2019)

In 2019, Capital One, a major US bank, suffered a data breach affecting over 100 million customers. The breach was caused by a misconfigured firewall, which allowed the attacker to access sensitive customer data, including names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. The misconfiguration was reportedly not identified during routine security audits, leading to the prolonged exposure of customer data.

Lesson Learned: The Capital One breach highlights the importance of regular security audits and vulnerability assessments to identify and remediate potential security weaknesses. Implementing proper security configurations and continuously monitoring systems for changes can help prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data.


Human error continues to play a significant role in many cybersecurity incidents. By learning from real-world breaches and implementing effective cybersecuritystrategies, organizations can better protect themselves from similar incidents. Key takeaways from these breaches include the importance of:

  1. Comprehensive employee training and awareness programs to combat phishing and spear-phishing attacks.
  2. Robust email security and phishing detection mechanisms to safeguard against targeted campaigns.
  3. Proper data handling procedures, strict access controls, and diligent vetting and monitoring of third-party contractors to prevent accidental data leaks.
  4. Timely patch management and system updates to defend against known vulnerabilities.
  5. Regular security audits, pentesting, vulnerability assessments, and continuous monitoring of security configurations to identify and remediate potential weaknesses.

By focusing on these areas and fostering a culture of security awareness, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to cyberattacks caused by human error. Investing in cybersecurity best practices and employee education is essential to minimize the potential consequences of human mistakes in an increasingly digital world.

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