Security awareness programs are a comprehensive strategy used by security professionals to prevent and mitigate user risk. On a broad level, these programs help users understand their role in preventing and combatting security and data breaches. And these programs are more critical than ever before. Over the last eighteen months, the pandemic has brought on many organizational, production, and operational changes to companies on a scale never seen before. The rapid shift to remote environments allowed many cyber attackers to identify and exploit unforeseen and unaddressed vulnerabilities.
Addressing Growing Threats
And technologies that became crucial in facilitating new methods of working also became new targets, such as cloud platforms. These cloud-based applications are essential for many modern work functions, including collaboration, file-sharing, and communications. However, these platforms, as well as other network tools, are not impervious to cyber attacks. Cybercriminals can gain access to passwords or use social engineering strategies to access sensitive data and systems. Once access is gained, the cybercriminal can disrupt business in multiple ways. These methods include everything from listening to or viewing secure communications to holding data hostage in a ransomware attack.
And while you may think that only large companies or organizations would be an appealing attack target, that is a misnomer. Cyber attacks are growing in both frequency and severity across businesses of all sizes, including small businesses. Nearly half (47%) of small businesses experienced a cyber attack within the last year, with the average cost for small businesses ranging from $34,000 to $200,000 per incident.
So, while you may not think your computer or company is vulnerable, it is. Hackers may want to gain access for a variety of reasons, including:
- To hide programs that launch attacks on computers and servers
- To generate large volumes of unwanted network traffic, which slows down the entire corporate network.
- To distribute illegal software or media files.
- To scan for personal information and send it to a third party for purposes of identity theft.
- To log all of your keystrokes and obtain user names and passwords for all accounts.
As you can see, the threat is very real, no matter how small your company may be. Every organization is at risk of experiencing a breach, and very few are financially prepared to weather the fallout from a data breach. They are costly in terms of the direct and immediate financial costs incurred right after a cyber attack. But they also have greater costs to your business because data breaches are also associated with long-term damage to a company’s reputation.
The Role of Security Awareness Programs
Security awareness programs are one of the most essential strategies to keep your company’s data and systems safe – yet they are easy to overlook. But these programs understand that computer and network security is not just an IT problem. The 90/10 rule tells us that 10% of security safeguards are technical, while 90% rely on the user to adhere to sound computing practices.
And there is data to back this figure up. A recent report on 2020 trends showed that approximately 88% of all data breaches are caused by an employee mistake. This trend may have worsened due to the pandemic when phishing schemes became more sophisticated and remote workers being more distracted when working from home. Security awareness programs are often the key to protecting systems and data.
These programs focus on security training for employees and other uses. This focus can include regular phishing and hacking awareness training. And in many instances, it contains quizzing and follow-up training to ensure that employees understand new and emerging threats and continue to be vigilant against suspected threats.
Whether employee actions are intentional or unintentional, the result is that there are often frequent opportunities for employees to provide sensitive data to hackers. Security awareness programs can provide a crucial reminder on how to store devices and limit access, preventing the risk of compromised data.
Employees working from home must also become familiar with home network security measures, even if they only work from remote locations part of the time. Home internet routers may introduce another vulnerable access point for hackers to exploit. But enabling strong passwords and additional networking security devices can reduce this threat.
The bottom line is that security awareness programs work. When training leads to changed employee behavior, the risk of a cybersecurity breach can be reduced by between 45% and 70%. In addition, this type of training reduces the risk of cyber attacks for the employer and reduces the risk of personal information being shared by the employee. It is a win-win scenario.
Great security awareness programs generally have repeated pieces of training periodically to refresh users on standard practices to thwart an attack. They also recognize the need to evolve due to changing organizational threats.
But generally speaking, strong security awareness programs include:
- Best practices for creating strong passwords or implementation of multi-factor authentication.
- Frequently changing passwords and limiting the use of recycled passwords.
- Employee education on securing device access and appropriate use of devices (work devices for work only and personal devices for personal use only).
- Steps to ensuring that software remains updated.
- The use of encryption and VPNs to establish and maintain secure connections.
- Recognizing the signs of phishing, such as spelling and grammatical emails, emails claiming urgency, requests for funds, and identifying suspicious links and email addresses.
The modern work environment is marked by a flexible and fluid organizational structure that can respond quickly to the changing needs of customers and the market. But that often requires being extra vigilant in ensuring proper precautions are put in place and that everyone understands best practices to protect the network, devices, systems, and platforms.
To learn more about the benefits of a security awareness program and user education and training options, contact Sagacent Technologies today. Sagacent Technologies is comprised of a team of managed IT professionals to serve the San Jose region.