In an era marked by increased digital dependence and relentless cyber attacks, the significance of cultivating a cybersecurity-conscious culture in the workplace cannot be overstated. The awareness of cyber risks is the key factor influencing an organization's resilience to the most prominent type of attack — social engineering. As security measures become more sophisticated, hackers more often target people as the weakest link.
This places cybersecurity culture at the forefront of workplace security procedures, including practices, threat awareness, and effective preparations to counter various risks. In this article, we'll share our insights into the role that a human factor plays in information security and awareness.
Why is cybersecurity awareness important?
Cybersecurity awareness has become crucial with the rise of cyber threats like phishing attacks, social engineering attacks, and data breaches. These threats disrupt business operations and can lead to the loss or theft of sensitive data, causing significant financial and reputational damage. Yet, more employees working remotely created an advantageous environment for various security threats.
The significance of cybersecurity awareness is exemplified by the Reddit incident that took place in early 2023. During this breach, the company fell victim to an advanced phishing attack, leading to the exposure of sensitive internal documents and source code.
However, there was a positive aspect to this story. A vigilant employee who clicked on the malicious link swiftly recognized the ongoing attack and promptly alerted the internal security team. Thanks to their quick response, the cybercriminal's access was limited, enabling the containment of the damage and safeguarding of the files, avoiding a full-scale data breach.
Main ways how employees put companies at risk
Employees can unintentionally expose companies to cyber threats in various ways. To make the challenge even bigger, bad actors often use psychological tactics, authority (CEO fraud), time pressure, and curiosity to trick employees.
This often happens due to a lack of knowledge, carelessness, or even malicious intent in some cases. Here are the most common ways this can happen:
Employees may unknowingly open phishing emails and click on malicious links that infect their computers with malware or ransomware. These attacks often disguise themselves as emails from reputable sources. This is one of criminals' most commonly used tactics to steal sensitive information.
Weak or reused passwords
Employees within an organization may use weak or reuse the same password for multiple accounts. This practice makes hackers' work much easier because all that's needed is to try the identical combination on different websites to see if it works. If it does — a hacker can easily take over user's digital identity, leading to data breaches and information spills. Strong passwords and two-factor authentication enforcement can help organizations to avoid such threats.
Unauthorized device usage
Employees working remotely may use personal or unsecured devices to access company data. As businesses are increasingly adopting hybrid work and bring-your-own-device models, employees are less tied to their company-issued devices. However, when their devices lack proper security measures, this creates plenty of opportunities to mishandle sensitive data, including inappropriate sharing, insecure storage, or improper disposal. This creates a precedent for a huge variety of security threats.
Not updating software
Outdated software is very likely to have security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. If employees fail to install updates and patches on their devices, it can put the entire network at risk. While enforcing these updates is possible for company-managed devices, it's much more difficult to control devices that employees use personally.
Physical security breaches
In addition to digital breaches, physical security is also crucial. If employees leave devices unlocked or unattended or lose devices containing sensitive information, it can lead to data breaches. This issue is even more prevalent as more employees work remotely or in a hybrid environment — dividing time between the office and other places. Shoulder surfing is a technique hackers use to obtain confidential data by physically viewing the device screen and keypads.
How to create a culture of cybersecurity in the workplace?
Despite the availability of sophisticated security systems, human error often remains the weakest link. This makes a robust culture of cybersecurity cultivation a necessity. Here are some tips on how to achieve this:
1. Foster awareness
To adopt good cybersecurity practices, employees must first be acquainted with them. Cybersecurity awareness programs can help demystify cybersecurity and how it can affect the organization and its employees personally. Regular security training sessions should include real-life case studies of cyber-attacks and their consequences, along with clear, concise explanations of terms like phishing, malware, and ransomware.
2. Incorporate cybersecurity into onboarding
Cybersecurity training should not be an afterthought, but it should be integrated into the employee onboarding process. The sooner an employee becomes familiar with cybersecurity norms, the better. New hires are often targets for cybercriminals because of their elevated access permissions and limited knowledge of the company's cybersecurity best practices. Early inclusion of cybersecurity training in the initial stages will help safeguard both an employee and the company (as well as remote workers).
3. Establish clear cybersecurity policies
A clear, accessible, and detailed cybersecurity policy should be at the top of any organization's IT strategy list. These policies should cover password management, the use of personal devices, reporting suspicious activity, data sharing and storage, and more. Make sure that all employees are aware of these policies and know where to find them if they have doubts or questions. As the main document for the cybersecurity approach, this allows comprehensive reorganization and even enforcement of best cybersecurity practices.
4. Promote a culture of openness
Employees should be encouraged to report suspicious activity without the fear of blame. A culture focused on punishment rather than problem-solving can make people hide their errors and could escalate into significant security breaches. However, an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable sharing concerns or admitting mistakes allows for quicker threat mitigation. It serves as a valuable learning experience for everyone involved.
5. Make cybersecurity everyone's responsibility
A solid cybersecurity strategy is only possible with each employee understanding their role in preventing cyber threats. In the end, cybersecurity isn't solely the IT department's job. Each employee has a vital role in maintaining the security of the company's data. Driving this point home can help build a mindset where everyone feels accountable for the organization's cybersecurity.
6. Involve leadership
Like any other company-wide organizational initiative, a culture of cybersecurity has to be led from the top. The leadership team should endorse the cybersecurity program and actively participate in its implementation. This sends a clear message to all employees that cybersecurity is a priority and should be taken seriously at all levels of the organization.
7. Regular training and updates
The cyber threat landscape never stops evolving. The same knowledge that was relevant last year might be useless now. For this reason, it's important to ensure that employees are aware of the latest threats and prevention measures and train them regularly. Cyber security awareness training for your employees should cover new types of threats, updates in cybersecurity policies, and reinforcement of fundamental security practices. Regular security drills also help to keep employees alert and prepared for potential threats.
8. Use technology to establish digital obstacles
Implementing security tools and software to automate and enforce security policies helps to prevent or restrict certain employee actions that may pose security risks. Multi-factor authentication, IAM, virtual private networks, regular automatic updates, and firewalls are just some of the tools that can help bolster cybersecurity. With these features, organizations can enhance their Zero Trust cybersecurity posture and protect sensitive data and resources from unauthorized access or misuse.
Individual roles of cybersecurity culture creation
Creating a culture of cybersecurity is a shared responsibility. This means that everyone, from top executives to individual remote employees, has a role to play. Once cybersecurity awareness is established in the workplace, it's crucial to comprehend distinct responsibilities assigned to each person and ensure they are adequately prepared to fulfill their roles effectively.
Roles in the boardroom
Based on a study by Tanium & Nasdaq, only 10% of board members believed they received consistent updates on cybersecurity threats to their business. While a board can be concerned about a myriad of risks, it's crucial to discern the correct roles of a board in overseeing cybersecurity risk:
Prioritizing: Instruct management to give cybersecurity the attention it deserves and establish an attitude for the entire organization.
Assessing: Demand that the organization conducts an official evaluation of cybersecurity threats, employs external specialists and complies with instructions from an established risk-assessment structure.
Monitoring: Set the expectation for the board to receive regular updates on managing cybersecurity risks.
Roles of executives
Executive management is central when setting the course for an organization's cybersecurity operations. Their starting aims should include treating cybersecurity as a key area, designing a cybersecurity plan of action, and allocating suitable resources (personnel and budget). Following this, they should persistently supervise, train, and modify their efforts to sustain best practices. Their responsibilities should encompass:
Organizing: Assign responsible individuals for organizing cybersecurity operations and security integration within everyday procedures.
Communicating: Advocate for the organization's cybersecurity initiatives. When employees observe that executive management has prioritized cybersecurity, it naturally becomes a priority for everyone.
Preparing: Cybersecurity risk management schemes are incomplete without contingency plans to respond to an incident or breach in your environment. Creating an incident response team is necessary, which might include a third-party forensic accountant.
Roles of staff members
Every individual in an organization has a part to play in mitigating risks associated with phishing emails, spyware, ransomware, and other threats to the company’s critical information assets. Key methods for curbing social engineering and employee-related threats comprise:
Training: Participate in all staff training sessions on using company equipment and resources appropriately.
Awareness: Provide regular updates about cybercrime trends. Stronger awareness increases caution and lessens various risks.
Confirmation: Exercise caution before opening attachments or clicking on email links, especially those originating from unknown sources.
Each person in an organization plays a vital role in the cybersecurity risk management plan. The most effective of them considers defining the appropriate responsibilities and duties for every employee for small businesses and corporate entities alike.
How can we help protect your employees?
Cybersecurity threats follow your employees everywhere. A culture of cybersecurity can dramatically improve an organization's resilience against various attack types, but it's not enough. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks, file sharing, and phishing are real risks, and technological solutions combined with well-trained staff is the only cure.
This is why we’ve teamed up with our friends at SoSafe, one of the leading cybersecurity awareness training providers. With behavioral science and enterprise focus in their DNA, SoSafe creates automated and engaging cyber security awareness training programs and phishing simulations at scale. Effectively handle your human risk with minimal involvement.
NordLayer can make internet access security easier, protecting sensitive information in transit, mitigating cyber threats, ensuring regulatory compliance and business operations continuity. By blocking access to malicious websites and controlling entry to specific content categories, NordLayer allows global business exploration and guarantees the confidentiality of users' and resources' true location. Learn more about our client experience to understand how we tailor our services to meet your needs.
As cyber threats evolve, so must our risk management strategies. Contact NordLayer to reinforce your security protection.