Why Business Cybersecurity Starts With Employee Education

When we hear the words “cyber crime”, our minds tend to conjure up images straight out of a James Bond film. We picture teams of faceless, enigmatic hackers; masked, black-clad figures destroying firewalls and assaulting online networks from an underground Siberian bunker.

In actuality, though, cyber crime is far less romantic – and starts much closer to home than you’d think. What’s more, cyber criminals don’t always go for your business’s firewalls, or your network. Often, they go for targets that are more fallible, more vulnerable; more human.

Targets like your employees.

As an example, 88% of data breaches, according to Stanford Research, are the result of human error. That could be clicking on a dodgy-looking link, setting a weak password, or simply forgetting to delete an important document from a device. However this slip-up happens, though, the reputational and financial consequences for your organization can be severe.

Below, we’ll provide some tips for arming your employees against the internet’s top threats through using the best form of defense – information. But first, let’s answer the question– why does business cybersecurity start with employee education?

Humans are Your First – and Sometimes Only – Line of Defense

That’s right – with certain types of attack, your employees are your starring, and sometimes your solitary, safeguard against cyber threats: namely, the threat of social engineering.

Social engineering is a form of cyber fraud in which criminals exploit aspects of human psychology to trick, manipulate, or pressure victims into taking an action.

That could be divulging sensitive information, inviting the fraudster into private networks, or giving them access to infect their computer or network with harmful malware, such as ransomware. (That last one is a particularly damaging threat: in one survey of security professionals, almost two-thirds (62%) pointed to ransomware as their C-suite’s chief data security concern in 2023, up from less than half (44%) in 2022.

In these types of schemes, the Big Bad Cyber Crime Wolf doesn’t need to blow your business’s house down with a brute force or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. They can simply put on grandma’s glasses, flash that sharp, pearly smile, and trick their way inside. For that reason, social engineering attacks are both highly effective and shockingly prevalent, with 98% of cyber attacks relying on some form of social engineering.

That’s not to say your business shouldn’t invest in cybersecurity systems. It absolutely should.

All that technical infrastructure –  antivirus software, VPNs, firewalls, encryption, access controls, incident response plans – is absolutely vital. We’re simply saying that, when it comes to business cybersecurity, employee education should always come first. So with that cleared up, here are three tips for educating your employees around some of 2024’s top cybersecurity threats to your business.

1. Educate your Employees on Phishing, and Run Regular Simulations

One of the best cybersecurity strategies your business can adopt is to educate your employees around the perils of phishing. These schemes – in which fraudsters mask fraudulent links within legitimate-looking emails or SMS messages to harvest data, steal money, or plant malicious software in your organization’s network – were the most common type of cybercrime in the US in 2022, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report.

And, by and large, it’s businesses paying the price. In 2023, 94% of organizations experienced a phishing attack, with an even more overwhelming majority of that group – 96% – attesting to phishing’s negative impacts on their business and brand.

What’s more, research has found that phishing was implicated in over a third (36%) of data breaches (and 91% of all cyber attacks in general). Meaning it’s a particularly pervasive threat.

So to educate your employees around phishing detection, try:

Implementing regular training programs and interactive workshops to cover what phishing is, and how to spot a phishing email or SMS. Include real-life phishing examples from your own organization, if possible.
Running simulated phishing exercises: sending fake phishing emails to your team to test their ability to recognize and report phishing attempts.
Keeping your employees up to data around the latest phishing trends and techniques.

2. Emphasize the Importance of Creating Strong, Unique Passwords

Four in ten Americans (38%) reported having at least one password compromised in 2023. And, fuelled by AI – which, these days, can guess a 12-digit password in just 25 seconds – this number is growing. (There were, for example, two-thirds, or 65%, more passwords compromised in 2022 compared to 2020.)

It’s a problem for businesses, too, with weak passwords contributing to four in five (81%) of data breaches. Fortunately, though. it’s also an issue your organization can mitigate against with the right employee education.

This includes:

Developing and communicating clear, concise password policies: laying out the requirements around length, complexity, and the inclusion of special characters.
Using password managers: tools to generate and store passwords, and avoid your employees having to keep theirs stowed in an Excel spreadsheet. (Not a good idea!)
Remind your employees to regularly update their passwords, and promote the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) for an extra layer of security.

3. Encourage Remote-Working and Data-Privacy Best Practices

With remote work now the norm and employees working from a selection of tablets, smartphones, and computers, fresh threats to data security are emerging; especially if all those devices are wired into your organization’s central network.

To protect your employees’ devices (and, by proxy, your business’s information), try:

Educating your employees around remote working best practices, and instilling the importance of maintaining data privacy, handling, and secure disposal standards.
Installing antivirus software onto each device. This will prevent malware (such as viruses, worms, trojans, and ransomware) from infecting your employees’ work smartphones and computers – which could compromise your business’s wider network.
Encouraging the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – particularly if your employees may be tapping into public wifi networks when working remotely. These encrypt your employees’ internet traffic, making it inaccessible to prying eyes.

Cybersecurity, Employee Education, and the Human Touch

We live in an era where, thanks to the internet’s myriad threats, cybersecurity is more important than ever. Yet we also occupy a time in which cybersecurity – fuelled by the evolution of ever-smarter, ever-faster AI – is moving further into the realm of artificial intelligence. In the midst of that, it’s easy to forget about the human side of things, too.

But to do so would be a grave misstep. Because humans are your business’s primary (and for some threats, exclusive) bulwark against cyber crime.

So don’t let those humans – your employees – go it alone.

Equip your team with everything they need to understand, identify, and blow the whistle on attempted cyber crime – including phishing, password hacking, and device targeting – before it can sink its claws into your business. They’ll go forward feeling trusted, knowledgeable, and empowered in their roles; you’ll sleep soundly knowing that your business’s first defense against cybersecurity threats is a robust one.

It’s a win win!

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