When businesses consider their cybersecurity, some of the first things that come to mind are technical defences, like firewalls and antivirus software. While technical controls are important, no cyber security strategy is complete without addressing the greatest security risk most organisations face: their end users!
Yes, it may seem an unpalatable thought, but statistically your end users pose a greater threat to your data and systems than any other individual risk factor. In fact, a recent report by the World Economic Forum, found human error to be a factor in 95% of cyber security incidents.
It stands to reason then, that if a cybercriminal can circumvent technical security measures by manipulating and deceiving end users, they will. This is illustrated by the prevalence of phishing attacks, the most common cyber threat facing UK businesses by far, with 4 out of 5 businesses reporting a phishing attack in the past year according to the government’s cyber security breaches survey 2023. Cybersecurity awareness should form a cornerstone of your business’s cyber risk management strategy, providing your staff with the skills and knowledge they need to protect your digital assets, and act in the best interests of your business and those you serve.
Armco IT – Cyber Secure IT Services, Support and Solutions for North Yorkshire Businesses
Based in Malton, North Yorkshire, Armco IT provides proactive IT support and management services to businesses across York, North, and East Yorkshire. We’re committed to helping our clients reinforce their cyber defences, in order to secure their data assets and achieve compliance. From data backup to network security, security training to access management, our security services equip businesses with the controls, policies and practices they need to mitigate the digital risks of our modern age.
In this article, we want to explain why security awareness is such a vital component in any security framework, and provide guidance on the cyber threats and other considerations a well-conceived security training programme should cover.
Why Has Cybersecurity Awareness Become More Important?
Cybersecurity awareness has always been important, but recent developments have made its role within the context of digital threat management even more pivotal. Here are some reasons you should prioritise awareness and training as part of your broader cybersecurity strategy:
Cybersecurity Threats are Becoming more Numerous and Sophisticated
Threats like phishing and ransomware are becoming more advanced, targeted, and effective, as organised criminality and cyber attacks-as-a-service continue to proliferate in the cybercrime sphere. Criminals are appearing more credible and persuasive than ever before, necessitating greater focus on employee education.
Cyber Security Tools are Improving, End Users remain a Point of Vulnerability
As cyber security tools continue to develop and improve, criminals with low-level technical ability have turned their attention to end users with poor threat awareness. Threat actors use psychological manipulation, deception and coercion to dupe individuals into divulging sensitive information, granting access to critical systems, or executing illicit payments.
Remote Work Presents New Challenges, and New Opportunities for Online Criminals
The shift towards remote work has broadened the attack surface available to attackers, and created greater need for dynamic and proactive cyber security that prioritises end user risk. Employees must know how to operate securely in the remote work environment, understand how to handle data securely on mobile devices, and become aware of the unique risks and threats that can arise when working outside the confines of the office network.
Strengthened Data Privacy Regulations
Data protection and privacy regulations have been introduced or bolstered in recent years across many industries and jurisdictions around the world, and this trend looks set to continue into the future. In the UK, the Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR represent the mainstay of these regulations, with penalties for non-compliance, reputational damage, and legal repercussions facing businesses that fail to fulfil their regulatory obligations. Compliance with these regulations relies largely on organisational security measures, such as staff observing company security policies, diligent data classification and handling, and ensuring that devices are securely maintained and configured. Security awareness training can therefore play a leading role in ensuring employees understand their compliance responsibilities.
The Rise of Advanced Persistent Threats
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are targeted and tenacious cyber attacks characterised by committed, long-term campaign against an organisation during which the attacker will maintain unauthorised access to a network in order to spy on activity or steal sensitive information. APTs have risen exponentially over the last decade, and continue to grow at an alarming rate, driving greater need for awareness campaigns that educate staff on the signs of ATPs, and how to respond to them.
Risk Awareness – Prioritise Risks by Understanding Threat Origins
One of the challenges in developing a cyber awareness training programme can be knowing which digital risks to prioritise, especially given the diversity of the modern threat landscape. You also need to risk-grade the workloads in your business, and afford greater attention to activities that involve sensitive data types and critical digital systems.
Understanding common threat origins can help you focus training resources on the areas an attack is most likely to surface, thus equipping your staff with the skills they need to mitigate risk effectively. Ensure your awareness programme covers the following bases:
Educate staff on the dangers of social engineering attacks, including phishing, smishing, vishing, business email compromise, and spear phishing. Draw attention to the manipulative tactics used by social engineering scammers, such as fear or intimidation, as well as the techniques the scammers use to impersonate authority figures, colleagues, and trusted organisations. Consider using training resources that provide phishing simulation exercises, as these can be a great way to test learning outcomes, and expose staff to the tactics deployed in real-world social engineering scams.
Malware and Viruses
Ensure your security awareness programme comprehensively covers the risks posed by malware and viruses. Expose staff to malware terminology, by providing material on common malware types, their characteristics, and the risks they pose to your IT system. Inform staff of the most common malware delivery mechanism, such as phishing emails, drive-by-downloads, rogue websites, and corrupted removable devices. Emphasise the importance of only downloading software from legitimate, trusted sources, and stress the importance of safe browsing practices, such as ensuring sites feature an HTTPS connection.
Your security awareness programme should thoroughly address the risks posed by poor password security, and provide guidance on how employees can establish strong passwords and make use of secure authentication methods available to them, such as multi-factor authentication. Highlight the importance of using long, complex, and unique passwords for each account, advise against passwords that contain words or phrases connected to the user or your business, and provide guidance on the use of password managers that aligns with your company policy. Outline the risks posed by dangerous practices, such as sharing passwords, writing passwords down, and using the same password across multiple accounts.
Wireless Security Risks
Foster awareness of the security risks posed by connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks, including a lack of encrypted connection and the potential for malicious interception, eavesdropping, and Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. Urge caution when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks and educate on the risks of Wi-Fi spoofing. Outline the risks associated with the use of personal hotspots, and the importance of securing them with strong password protections.
Device Security Risks
Your cyber security awareness programme should ensure employees understand their responsibilities in terms of securing their work devices, and adopting best practices to mitigate security vulnerabilities. Draw attention to the unique and varied security risks associated with various device types, including computers, smartphones, tablets, and IoT devices. Promote the use of strong authentication practices, encourage or enforce the use of device encryption, educate on the importance of keeping device software updated, and provide guidance on configuring devices securely. You should also outline your policy on reporting devices as lost or stolen to ensure that security measures, such as remote device wiping, can be swiftly implemented.
The topics covered in relation to device security risks will vary depending on whether your business operates a bring-your-own-device policy (BYOD), or issues company-owned and controlled devices.
The content of your security awareness training will depend largely on the nature of your IT system and the risks associated with your business’s data handling activities. The above list is by no means exhaustive. Other topics your training may wish to cover include:
- Physical Security
- Data Classification, Privacy and Protection
- Secure Web Browsing
- Cloud Security
- Incident Reporting
- Insider Threats
If you’re looking to branch into cyber security awareness training for the first time, seek advice and guidance from your IT service provider. They may offer resources and training programmes than can be easily adapted to the needs of your business. Discuss your requirements with them, and consider a phased implementation that exposes staff to foundational concepts, before transitioning to more advanced subjects. Use training courses and resources that feature test materials or attack simulations, as these will help you track learning progress over time and spot opportunities for improvement.
Armco IT – IT Services, Support and Solutions for North and East Yorkshire Businesses
Based in Malton, we provide proactive IT support and services throughout Yorkshire, covering York, North, and East Yorkshire. With a proven track record across various sectors like manufacturing, design, professional medical services, and insurance, we excel in delivering impactful IT solutions. Our focus is on maintaining, optimizing, and securing your digital infrastructure, allowing you to prioritize your business’s growth and success. Reach out to our team today to initiate our collaboration.
Interested in enhancing your security posture? Contact us now for a complimentary half-hour cyber security awareness training session. Gain valuable insights to safeguard your invaluable digital assets effectively.