Welcome to part two of not being fooled by criminals during the holidays! In part one, we touched more on some of the apparent risks of technical nature. In part two, we will look at some of the emotional intelligence strategies you can use to protect yourself from social engineering attacks.

Social engineering is a manipulation technique that exploits human error to gain private information, access, or valuables. In cybercrime, these “human hacking” scams tend to lure unsuspecting users into exposing data, spreading malware infections, or giving access to restricted systems. Attacks can happen online, in person, and via other interactions. Social engineering is a problem where quick fixes through technology alone won’t be sufficient.

Before we dive into the five emotional intelligence (EQ) strategies, let’s dissect what emotional intelligence entails and how it relates to building emotional firewalls.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use dynamic information in an effective and meaningful way. Your EQ is not a measure of cognitive Intelligence (like IQ), professional aptitude, vocational interest, or personality preferences (like psychological type/temperament).

Your EQ is concerned with understanding oneself and others, relating to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings to be more successful in dealing with environmental demands. Emotional Intelligence is tactical (immediate functioning), while cognitive Intelligence is strategic (long-term capacity).

How does this relate to building emotional firewalls? 

When applied in the current cyber threat landscape many organizations operate in, emotional intelligence can help people build their emotional firewalls by having several defense lines and reducing the risk of human vulnerabilities. Research has shown that emotions are linked with perceptions and concepts stored in different brain regions, as demonstrated by the world 1% cited neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barett.

These are also called “cognitive biases” that makeup people’s world map. Imagine everyone has filing cabinets with information stored from the past as their blueprint for behaving and responding to their immediate environment. Everyone sees, perceives, and processes information within their world map based on their formative years, past experiences, and cognitive biases. In a nutshell, and without entering the realm of neuroscience, concepts trigger emotions, and emotions drive behavior, e.g., people’s response options.

Emotional Intelligence Loop

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Emotional firewalls can help people exercise their ability to respond instead of reacting to their immediate challenges and cultivate healthier response options, which is the stepping stone for behavioral change. However, it requires exercising empathy, which is easier said than done when faced with high pressure and stressful situations to ensure minimal business disruption and employee productivity and performance loss during the recovery period.

If you would like to dive deeper into this topic, check out the Human Factor EQ guide to help you minimize the pain of cybercrime.

With that introduction, here are five EQ reminders to keep you safe, secure, and resilient during the upcoming holiday season and beyond!

Reminder #1 – Understand your Triggers

Let’s tap into your imagination for a moment. Visualize having two bottles in your hands. In your left hand, you are holding a bottle of soda, and in your right hand, you are holding a bottle of water. Now shake both bottles as intensely as you can, in your imagination that is. When finished, imagine opening up the bottle of soda and feeling the explosion of soda bubbles all over your body and on the ground. Imagine opening up the water bottle and noticing that there is no explosion at all?

The soda bubbles represent your triggers, and when your buttons are pushed too far, you will react based on those triggers. The opposite is also true when you become aware of your triggers, so even if all your buttons are pushed, no one can cause an explosion in that moment.

Reminder #2 – Eliminate temptations

Checking your emails on your phone or computer first thing in the morning sets you up for increased risk of distraction and feeling triggered. When waking up in the morning, your brain switches from delta to theta waves before moving into alpha waves. Another way of saying this is that you are still in the part of your brain that controls 95% of your behaviors and habits when you wake up in the morning. It is the perfect time to prime your mind for your goals and vision, whether for the day or the longer term. When grabbing your mobile devices to check your emails, you interrupt this cycle and increase the risk of distraction. In analogy terms, the way you process information is likely to be more subjective than objective, increasing the chance for you to become a soda bottle instead of remaining a water bottle.

Reminder #3 – Become comfortable with the uncomfortable

Criminals and scammers alike are trained to play into people’s emotions and use language that triggers familiar or unfamiliar emotions. In her book How Emotions are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett, a top 1% cited neuroscientist, provides compelling scientific evidence that we are an architect of our experience. Meaning, our brain constructs our emotions based on our mental model of the world. We view and act based on our thoughts formed through sensory input, through past experiences, and based on our formative years.

Brain IQ and EQ

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So let’s say if someone grew up believing that being nice is a human virtue, you might find it uncomfortable to go against someone’s request to comply without understanding why or the need for compliance. Moreover, when used unethically, it can lead to emotional manipulation to extort information or access login details without much effort.

Reminder #4 – Practice sound judgement

According to the Mariam-Webster dictionary, the meaning of judgement relates to an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought, the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought: the act of judging something or someone or the ability to make good decisions about what should be done. Note the emphasis on careful thought and sound decision-making. Reminder four is closely linked to the previous ones as rational decision-making based on sound judgment is only possible when we are in the state of a clean water bottle. If our mind is cluttered, distracted, and lacks focus, the risk for falling for social engineering holiday scams is higher.

Reminder #5 – Make the unknown, known

This may sound simplistic and easy to do, but you will be surprised by the amount of people who have no idea where and how their data is being collected, stored, and used. There is no need to go into the paranoia mode unless you become practical in reducing the risk of your data being hijacked. Our brain does not like gaps or unknowns. When it cannot predict the future to keep us safe, it goes back into memory mode and puts us in a state of survival model to ensure safety. So it is only normal to feel fear when you don’t know what would happen if someone gets hold of your data. That risk is always there, no matter how many security measures you take.

Yoda Wisdom

“Majorities think their personal data is less secure now, that data collection poses more risks than benefits, and believe it is not possible to go through daily life without being tracked.” Phew Research

However, you can significantly reduce the risk by taking a glass of wine and making a list of all your crown jewels. Your crown jewels are your most important data assets. For example, your Microsoft Premium Subscription, your Automation Software to help you do things faster with less time, your subscriptions that feed your mind with data that trigger positive emotions (think of Netflix, Disney Channel, or Spotify).

Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen to my data stored in these platforms if I get hacked? Then, what practical steps can I take to reduce that risk?

And here is where cyber hygiene comes in to ensure regular updates, using encrypted payment processing tools instead of your credit card information, recognized security software to help you become aware when something dodgy is going on, and more.

If you like this content, don’t forget to subscribe to the Cyber Eagle Podcast, the only place where you will hear a people-centric narrative about building safer cyber security cultures.

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