Employees: a company’s greatest asset or risk
Employees are at the heart of every business and can be a company’s greatest asset or its biggest threat when it comes to securing sensitive data and information.
Lack of employee cyber security education and awareness, along with human error or careless behavior have been the cause of many major security breaches. Workers can unknowingly aid hackers by giving out sensitive passwords, losing back-up information or devices, inadvertently releasing sensitive information, or falling for phishing schemes.
With employees representing a top security risk factor within organizations, it is no surprise that employee education and training is an important aspect in strengthening a company’s security posture. Any workplace cybersecurity strategy should incorporate efforts to educate workers about basic cybersecurity do’s and don’ts to avoid employees becoming inadvertent actors.
Inadvertent actors or insiders do not mean to harm to the organization but may unwittingly grant access to outside attackers by doing something they shouldn’t do, such as contravening IT security policy/procedures. Cybercriminals sophisticated and are known to use psychology and human behavior, or “social engineering schemes”, to take advantage of people and influence, trick and exploit them into taking actions that ultimately lead to security breaches.
Educate Your Employees as a Proactive Security Measure
The key to better security is a well-educated workforce. A proactive, ongoing approach to educating your entire workforce about cyber security threats and counter-measures can turn your employees into your top defenders.
Employees should fully understand the risks and consequences, as well as their roles and responsibilities when it comes to protecting the organization from cyber threats and attacks.
Teach Basic Security Hygiene Practices
While not everyone can be (or wants to be) a cybersecurity expert, all employees should understand basic security hygiene practices. This includes password selection and use, user access rights, installing updates, learning how to recognize and detect potential threats, such as phishing email.
Conduct Appropriate Training and Awareness Programs
Continuous cybersecurity training for employees at all levels of the organizations should be specific to each person’s job. Training and awareness should be conducted at a level appropriate to the employee’s role, responsibilities and risk profile, and training should be supported with realistic and enforceable policies that evolve with the threat landscape.
Make Cybersecurity Training Part of the Onboarding Process
Onboarding is the perfect opportunity to set the foundations of good habits and cybersecurity best practice by introducing new employees to IT security policies, guidelines and procedures. Introducing cyber awareness education during the onboarding process sets expectations of new users as to their roles and responsibilities in protecting the company while giving the message that your organization is committed to taking cybersecurity seriously.
Create a Security-Focused Culture
Build a culture of cooperation, not just compliance. Focus on creating a security-focused culture that runs throughout the entire organization where everyone shares the responsibility for security and understands the importance of their role in protecting against the risks of cyber-attacks and consequences.
Enable a culture of “safe browsing” and encourage staff to be on the lookout for, and to report, suspicious links and attachments, even if they turn out to be false alarms. Staff should be rewarded for being security-focused rather than punished or fearful that they may have done the wrong thing.
Regularly Update and Communicate Security Policies
Employees should be aware of the company security processes and protocols and be well versed on the measures they can take to personally protect the organization.
IT security policies should contain a clearly documented remediation and response plan in addition to covering all possible sources of attack, including the latest threats. As such, these policies need to be updated and communicated regularly.
It’s no good having policies and cybersecurity safety guidelines if employees are not aware of or dismiss them. To be effective, staff need to know, understand and abide by company rules and guidelines in place for use of email, internet browsing, social networks and mobile and laptop devices. Clearly communicate why security policies and guidelines exist, the potential impact of a security breach on the business, from financial losses or fines, to damaged customer trust, and potential job losses.
Make Education Engaging and Relevant
Make education and awareness training engaging and relevant to staff. Conduct regular sessions with employees to explore different types of cyberattacks, scenarios, and social engineering exploits to help employees better understand and recognize any potential attacks.
Reference interesting and up-to-date news about recent breaches and share topics related to cyberattacks and defense strategies. Get employees involved by introducing a fun and social aspect to raising awareness, such as through a “lunch and learn” format.
Emphasize that cybersecurity is relevant not just in the workplace but equally important at home when it comes to personal security.
Have a Response Plan
Staff should know exactly what steps to take in the event of a suspected breach. They should have a contact person to report suspicious emails, calls or unusual activity, or a lost device to. If an attack or breach does occur, internal communication should be swift to limit the impact of the attack.
An external public relation strategy should also be in place in the event of a breach, so teams are prepared to respond to questions and reassure concerned customers, partners or investors.
Test Employee Knowledge
Cyber awareness education should be followed up by evaluations of employees and systems to find out how vulnerable your organization is to attack and to understand how robust a company’s security posture may be.
Testing employee cybersecurity knowledge can be done through an online survey or by simulating attacks. For example, the security team could send out fake phishing emails to all employees to see how many people click on it and such a test can be a useful educational tool.
Employees are Key to Good Security Posture
Don’t take on the risk of inadvertent insider breaches. Invest in your people and help them understand cyber risk and best practices. While education cannot stop willful or malicious insider threats and does not guarantee you will eliminate all insider breaches, it can greatly reduce the likelihood of a breach caused by human error.
A well-educated workforce is the key to strengthening an organization’s overall security posture. Enterprises should leverage staff training, education and cybersecurity best practices to boost their cybersecurity efforts.
Understanding the essentials of cyber security and having a basic knowledge of what to look out for can empower users to be vigilant and better prepared to protect themselves and the organization from potential threats and attacks.