PGH Networks

How Human Error Contributes to Cybersecurity Weakness

Stress is an inevitable part of our lives, and it is especially true when it comes to work. In the workplace, stress can come from many sources, such as high workloads, tight deadlines, difficult coworkers, or personal issues. Unfortunately, stress can also contribute to human error at work. In this blog post, we will explore how stress contributes to human error and cybersecurity risks and what you can do to mitigate this problem.

Stress and Cognitive Functioning

When we experience stress, our brain releases cortisol, a hormone that triggers the “fight or flight” response. This response is useful in situations that require quick action, such as running from danger. However, it is not helpful in situations that require complex cognitive processing, such as decision-making or problem-solving.

Research has shown that chronic stress can impair our cognitive functioning, including memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities. This impairment can lead to mistakes, errors, and poor decision-making.

Human error is one of the leading causes of data breaches caused by clicking on malicious links, sending work emails to the wrong individual, or to the wrong external party. Hackers prey on this vulnerability.

Stress and Attentional Tunneling

One of the most significant effects of stress on cognitive functioning is attentional tunneling. When we experience stress, our attention narrows, and we become hyper-focused on the source of stress. This hyper-focus can lead to a neglect of other important information, such as instructions, safety procedures, or warnings.

In a workplace setting, attentional tunneling can be particularly dangerous, especially when it comes to cybersecurity practices. A stressed-out employee may not notice the malicious email address of a sender, portraying to be their manager, requesting confidential information to be disclosed.  Thus, inadvertently providing sensitive information to the cybercriminal.

Stress and Decision-making

Stress can also impair our decision-making abilities. Under stress, we tend to rely on heuristics or mental shortcuts to make decisions quickly. While heuristics can be helpful in some situations, they can also lead to errors and biases.

For example, a stressed-out manager might make a hasty decision based on incomplete information, or a stressed-out worker might skip security procedures to save time.

Mitigating the Impact of Stress on Human Error

There are a few steps that you can take to help mitigate the impact of stress on human-error.

  • Create a Pre-Work Ritual that doesn’t leave room for the scrambling to get out the door, or gulping down coffee in lieu of a healthy breakfast. Starting your day off on the right foot will allow you to walk into work calmly, and not stressed.
  • Get Clear Expectation for Your Day – Having clear and realistic expectations for your workday is necessary not only to help mitigate stress, but also to be successful at your job overall.
  • Avoid or Reduce Conflict – Interpersonal conflict can wear you down quickly, emotionally and physically, and create a work environment that you do not want to be part of.
  • Be Organized – When organized, it is less stressful if you find yourself in a rush. Also being organized means there will be less clutter, allowing you to operate smoothly.
  • Create Your Comfort Zone – Your work zone should be a place of comfort for you; from your desk layout to your chair position.
  • Stop Multitasking, Start Chunking – Multitasking is a great skill to master, however, it is not beneficial in all situations. ‘Chunking’ is a time management strategy that allows you to schedule chunks of time to focus on a specific task while minimizing interruptions.
  • Exercise: Talk a walk at lunch. Not only is it physically beneficial to get up and move around, but emotional as well. Getting some steps in with fresh air helps blow off steam and clear your mind.
  • Be Your Own Cheerleader – Remembering to congratulate yourself for your hard work and efforts allows you to loosen the reins of perfectionism.
  • Jam Out On The Way Home – Listen to a song that you find relaxing not only caps off your work day on a good note, but also eases you into your evening.


Stress is a significant contributor to human error at work. By understanding the effects of stress on cognitive functioning, attention, and decision-making, employees can take steps to mitigate its impact. By providing taking control of the day, employees can reduce the risk of human error caused by stress and lessen the risk of a cyberattack.