It doesn’t matter how impenetrable your security infrastructure is if you haven’t also taken steps to safeguard the human element. Hackers understand this. It’s why social engineering attacks remain the most common -- and most frequently successful -- vector in the enterprise.
Because no matter how well-protected a sensitive asset happens to be, it’s almost always vulnerable to an insider threat.
Unfortunately, a run of the mill training program isn’t enough to address this threat. You cannot simply distribute teaching materials and expect everyone to get on board with your cybersecurity strategy. You need to give them a reason to care.
Otherwise they won’t. Your users will inevitably choose convenience over security every time, even if it puts your business at risk.
To change that, you need to dedicate yourself to promoting a culture of cybersecurity. And the first step in that process is promoting organization-wide cyber-awareness. Show your staff why cybersecurity is important not just to your business, but to them.
How to Promote Employee Cyber Awareness
Here’s where to start.
Gain Executive Buy-In
As with any organization-wide initiative, a successful awareness program begins at the top. I don’t doubt that your business’s IT leadership understands the importance of awareness training and education. But that alone isn’t enough.
For this to work, everyone needs to be on board. Your entire C-suite needs to understand and embrace your cybersecurity efforts. The good news is that achieving this buy-in need not be difficult or complicated.
You simply need to explain to them, in their language, why cybersecurity matters. Why prizing data privacy and a strong security posture is a smart business decision. How a little bit of inconvenience in the short-term can lead to huge long-term gains.
The most important thing is that you work with them and endeavor to answer any questions they may have. The more knowledge you can offer them, the better.
Make Cybersecurity Everyone’s Role
Your next step is to involve the entire organization in your awareness efforts. The days when cybersecurity was solely the bailiwick of the IT department are well behind us. Everyone from human resources to legal to finance to marketing has their part to play in promoting better cyber-awareness.
Moreover, every department has specific needs that must be met, and needs that are often unknowingly trampled upon by IT. By gaining departmental support for cyber-awareness, you can then work with them to adjust and rework your security in a way that works for them, making it that much likelier people will follow best practices. More importantly, you can ensure your awareness efforts reach more people, and that it does so in a way that will resonate with them.
Understand the Threats Your Business Faces
I will be blunt. An awareness program is doomed to fail if you yourself are not aware of your business’s cybersecurity ecosystem. You need to understand not only what assets you’re trying to protect, but the threats you need to protect those assets from.
While every organization’s threat landscape is slightly different, there are common threads. Most businesses will have to deal with social engineering attacks such as spear phishing emails, malicious social media links, and more traditional phishing attacks. Similarly, ransomware and malware are both extremely common regardless of industry and vertical.
These threats aside, you need to think long and hard about other weaknesses a criminal might exploit.
- Could your business be targeted by a supply chain attack?
- Are you especially vulnerable to web spam?
- How closely do you monitor your network, and how well-organized are your sensitive assets?
This knowledge is core to your awareness efforts -- after all, you can’t really educate your staff if you don’t fully understand everything yourself.
Quick question. What causes the vast majority of data breaches? It’s not black hats, nor is it advanced malware or ransomware.
It’s carelessness. Someone accidentally clicking on a phishing email, falling for a social engineering scam, or downloading something they shouldn’t. While malicious insiders certainly do represent a threat to your business, mistakes made by otherwise well-meaning employees are the greatest risk you’ll ever face.
Armed with the knowledge of your organization’s unique risk profile and threat landscape, you can set to work teaching employees on how to avoid the threats they may encounter with good digital hygiene practices.
I’d advise combining your training efforts with mindfulness training. Teach them to be more conscientious, cautious, aware, and present. Not only will this help them be better at avoiding digital threats, but it also has the potential to help them in both their personal life and professional life.
Your awareness training should emphasize that everyone’s role is important where cybersecurity is concerned. That everyone can and should take ownership when it comes to protecting their data -- both professional and personal. Yet the sense of pride such ownership fosters will only take you so far.
To bridge the gap, you’ll probably also want to offer incentives of some kind for people. Reward people for successfully completing training modules. Turn cybersecurity into a sort of game, complete with achievements and leaderboards.
In short, make it both entertaining and rewarding.
Remember That Cyber Awareness Is a Journey
Last but certainly not least, it’s important to bear in mind that like cybersecurity itself, cyber awareness is not a project you can simply mark as ‘finished’ and forget about.
Just as your organization’s security posture is constantly changing and evolving, so too must your awareness efforts. The moment you step back and think your job is done is the moment your awareness program has well and truly failed.
Revisit it frequently in search of improvements. Look for blind spots, bottlenecks, and weaknesses in your processes and policies. Look for changes in the market that demand a new approach.
Because at the end of the day, cyber awareness is as much for you as it is for everyone else.
Matthew Davis writes for Future Hosting, a leading provider of VPS hosting. He focuses on data news, cybersecurity, and web development topics. You can usually find his hiding behind a computer screen, searching for the next breaking news in the tech industry.