Digital dependency prompts businesses to strengthen their technological defenses. Learn how security awareness training helps reduce cybersecurity risks.
Despite the increasing effectiveness of cyber security tools, businesses worldwide remain vulnerable to the growing number of cyberattacks. The complicated business and technology landscape is not the only reason for this. While organizations are paying particular attention to strengthening their technological defenses, the human aspect of security is often overlooked. After all, technical security solutions are effective if humans utilize them properly. Given the increasing number of cybersecurity threats, businesses should play a proactive role in protecting their systems. At the same time, employees play their part in protecting their organizations and their customers from security threats. To assure proper utilization of technological solutions and educate employees on possible cybersecurity threats, businesses should conduct regular security awareness training.
Whether your organization uses strong passwords, firewalls, or multiple anti-malware programs, the human factor still remains one of the most significant weaknesses in any cybersecurity system. To understand the actual scale of the situation, just consider that 85% of all data breaches involved human errors, as Verizon DBIR 2021 report suggests. Sure enough, humans are not robots and often make mistakes while cybercriminals exploit this human vulnerability.
One of the most notable situations supporting the above thesis is the hack of Sequoia Capital in February 2021. Sequoia is one of the most known venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, dealing with energy, enterprise, financial, healthcare, mobile, and internet startups. The hack targeted investors’ sensitive information and led to substantial financial and reputational losses for the company. How could such an advanced firm with more than $38 billion in assets fail to strengthen its technological defenses? It’s not hard to guess that the answer is “the human factor” – one of Sequoia’s employees fell victim to a phishing attack.
Thus, in a security context, the human error means an employee’s unintentional action, or lack of action (both could have occurred in the Sequoia’s case), leading to a security incident or data breach. In other words, Sequoia’s employee unintentionally clicked on a link in a phishing email, launched a malicious program, and did not take necessary actions to minimize the effect of the incident. The list of factors that may exploit human vulnerabilities generally not only includes phishing emails and malware but also email misdelivery, poor password hygiene, lack of situational awareness, access misuse, etc.
Why do people make mistakes? Theoretically, there are two common types of human errors – skill-based and decision-based. Skill-based errors are possible when performing even the easiest and most familiar tasks. The possibility of these errors is rarely reducible. Decision-based errors, in contrast, occur when employees make faulty decisions due to the lack of the necessary level of knowledge, lack of information about the specific circumstance, or not even realizing that they are deciding on their inaction. Decision-based errors may and should be minimized by practical security awareness training.
Security awareness training is broadly defined as an education program that teaches employees about various cybersecurity risks, threats, and possible vulnerabilities while promoting best practices and spreading a security awareness culture. In practice, security awareness helps minimize cybersecurity risks, thus preventing the loss of sensitive data, revenues, and brand reputation. An effective program addresses employees’ information security mistakes when performing their everyday business tasks.
Cybersecurity awareness training plays a critical role in minimizing the severe cybersecurity threats posed by different cyberattacks, including phishing and social engineering. Key training topics typically include password management, privacy, email security, internet security, and physical and office security.
The core concepts of cybersecurity awareness training aren’t new, but it took years before it has reached employees’ consciousness. One of the important activities for promoting the importance of cybersecurity awareness was the launch of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, which has been carried out every October since 2004. The initiative was intended to help businesses and their employees spread information about cybersecurity, encouraging multiple best practices. The focus and methods of security awareness training have dramatically changed. While in 2004 the security awareness training was driven by the need to meet regulatory requirements, today that focus has shifted to the necessity of rising security awareness culture and managing organizational risk.
Security awareness training practices cover a large number of topics. Among these subject matters, some fundamental topics exist. These include password security, anti-phishing techniques, and social engineering.
Password security. It is critical that all employees understand the importance of password security and are able to create strong passwords. Also, workers should not be writing passwords on post-it notes or sharing them with other employees.
Phishing attacks: Security awareness and training must include practices to help employees detect and immediately report malicious emails. The techniques for resisting phishing we already highlighted in one of our previous posts. Employees should be cautious of emails from unknown sources as they may be used in phishing scams to gain access to systems and sensitive data. With consistent training, employees can dramatically improve their understanding of such attacks.
Social Engineering and Psychological Security. Security awareness should definitely include protecting employees from being manipulated and exploited. Humans are influenced by hyper-targeted ads and phishing attacks every day. These tools are broadly used to manipulate employees accessing other systems or disclosing confidential information to other organizations. People learned to trust and depend on the technologies they use, the brands they buy, and the people they know. Thus, the risk of manipulation through social engineering increases. To guard against such manipulations, employees should be trained to recognize social engineering risks.
As the number and intensity of cybersecurity threats increase, businesses should pay special attention to educating their personnel. And the reasons for forcing this activity are obvious.
First, properly executed awareness training contributes to your organization’s security culture. A healthy security culture should start with security awareness and training on all levels – from top to bottom. At the same time, accepting the idea of eliminating all risks from cyberattacks is an impossible mission. Instead, it is more realistic to reduce those risks. Mistakes are inevitable, and do not be surprised when some of your employees would click on a phishing email test. Such cases would significantly reduce when you set goals and encourage your employees to track their progress.
Second, a nice by-product of security awareness is compliance. Most reputable compliance programs require including a security awareness program in their framework. HIPAA, PCI DSS, ISO/IEC 27001, and GDPR are the compliance regulations that already require security awareness training, and this list is not exhaustive. In combination with the high-level security awareness culture, meeting the compliance requirements would create the successful prerequisites for a secure cyberenvironment in your organization.
Third, security awareness training helps reduce downtime in the event of an emergency. One of the causes of downtime for modern business is a cyberattack, including a ransomware attack that may encrypt important files and shut down business functions. Less obvious forms of cyber attack-related are PR issues, employee morale, time to fix, and more. Security-educated employees know how to react to such emergencies, so the downtime becomes not as threatening as it may be.
Finally, security awareness transforms your employees from the biggest weakness to the most valuable asset. Tools and computers cannot be security-aware; they simply perform tasks set by humans. Therefore, it is crucial to treat those who set tasks and can think critically as the most significant asset, not weakness. Employees are the number one in keeping your company going even if they click on phishing emails from time to time. Therefore, educating your employees on cybersecurity has a great impact on the cybersecurity of the whole organization.
Security awareness and training are used to prevent and mitigate human-based vulnerabilities. Multiple awareness and training programs help employees understand their role in combating information security incidents, including breaches, data leaks, etc. Practical security awareness training helps employees understand proper cyber hygiene and the security risks associated with their actions.
For detailed information about security awareness training consult the Planet 9 team. We’ll be happy to assist: