A recent Clutch report revealed that while more than half of companies have adopted cyber security policies, an alarming number of employees are unaware they exist. This piece talks about why cyber security awareness and education programs are non-negotiable for companies who want to ward of data breaches. The blog will also offer examples of the kinds of dangerous mistakes that can take place when employee awareness is lacking, from falling for a phishing email to accidentally emailing confidential info.

If you had to picture your company’s cyber security, what would that image be?

Chances are it’s not Martin from Sales.

While the image of cyber security for many is the anonymous hooded criminal who lurks and attacks from behind his computer screen, your company’s employees are actually your company’s largest area of security liability.

A recent survey from Clutch demonstrates that employees lack awareness of their company’s IT services and cyber security on a variety of levels. These include:

  • Whether their company has a cyber security policy
  • Number of security threats to their companies
  • How prepared their companies are to handle cyber security issues

Given these circumstances, businesses need to focus on shoring up their internal security.

To encourage cyber security awareness and strengthen your company’s cyber security, you need to invest in employee training, particularly through on boarding programs and consistent testing.

This article outlines how to encourage cyber security awareness among your employees to proactively contribute to, rather than threaten, your business’ cyber security by providing 4 steps on how to implement effective training and education programs.

Employees Lack Cyber Security Understanding

Employees currently exhibit a deadly combination with respect to their company’s cyber security: they lack awareness of their company’s policy and don’t know the cyber security threats they face.

On top of that, employees indicate a false sense of confidence as to their company’s level of preparedness for IT security issues.

Findings from Clutch’s survey fully illustrate the uneven knowledge employees have about their company’s cyber security:

  • Nearly half (46%) of entry-level employees are unaware whether their company has a policy.
  • 63% of employees are uncertain whether their company will experience more IT security threats over the next year.
  • 56% of employees feel their company is prepared to address IT security threats.

To illustrate using a hypothetical scenario, according to this data, if your employee were to encounter a spammy ad on a webpage, he/she would both not know how to handle it, but would be confident your company has systems in place, so wouldn’t view the ad as particularly dangerous. This is bad.

To be fair, the fact that entry-level employees lack cyber security awareness does not doom companies to security breaches. Ignorance does not necessitate harm.

However, ignorance is certainly not a good cyber defense strategy.

Use these four steps to help grow the security conscience of your employee base and create a real and effective cyber perimeter.

Step 1: Introduce Cyber Security Policy During Employee On boarding

Strong cyber security starts with your employees recognizing your company’s IT cyber security policy.

To ensure that your employees proactively contribute to your company’s cyber security, you need to introduce your policy, and all that it entails, to every employee upon their on boarding with the company.

On boarding programs establish cyber security as a core business process for your new employees, especially when it is introduced along with other standard business functions and processes like company attire and how to contact HR.

Beyond emphasizing it as an important business process, introducing cyber security policy to your employees upon their on boarding also provides a base knowledge about security best practices.

Most cyber security policies outline security software requirements, password parameters, and general security warning signs to be aware of or report if encountered.

With basic knowledge provided by introducing a policy, your employees will be more cognizant of their company security programs or understand the reasoning behind why they need to create a different password every six months.

Step 2: Teach and Communicate Policy Compliance

You need to go beyond simply introducing your company policy. A policy is only truly effective if it is followed. Cyber security policy compliance determines the effectiveness of your company’s cyber security.

For example, your company policy may warn about phishing emails as highly dangerous scams. However, without instruction about how to identify and respond to phishing scams, your policy is simply words.

To instill the parameters of your cyber security policy with your employees, I suggest using  practical education.

By that, I mean legitimately practice cyber security with your employees to ensure that they follow cyber security best practices.

For example, conducting regular test phishing scams with your employees exposes them to the format of phishing emails and teaches them to approach unfamiliar emails with suspicion.

Step 3: Use Creativity to Engage Employees with Cyber Security Policy

Consistently engaging your employees and driving participation for your cyber security requires creativity.

Valuable practical security exercises, like email phishing tests, can actually cause harm if not handled or implemented correctly. For example, using fake security scams to single out individual employees for their security shortcomings or for remedial trainings can hurt morale.

To balance the utility of practical cyber security training with authentic employee engagement, your company should experiment with gamifying, or incentivizing, your cyber security.

Gamifying your cyber security entails adding a competitive or alternative motive for engaging with cyber security training or compliance. Providing rewards and accolades engages makes it much more likely your employees will actively try to identify a phishing scam or complete a non-required cyber security seminar or training.

Credit to your company store, a small gift card, or even PTO hours all serve as incredible incentives that you can attach to cyber security training and compliance sessions to motivate your employees to actively participate.

Step 4: Design an Incident Response Plan

The final part of your employee security training program is a response incidence plan, or a formal plan of action for what to do when your company suffers a cyber security breach.

While having a policy and well-trained employee base is effective for preventing cyber attacks, sometimes the criminal will simply outsmart your system.

In the case that you suffer a cyber attack, you need to have a response plan in place to mitigate any additional damage.

Think of incident response as a fire drill: the best way to respond to a fire alarm is not to incite chaos. Instead, it is to act calmly and go through the routines you have been previously taught: find your exit, go outside.

Incident response for cyber security needs to follow the same logic. When your company suffers a cyber attack, your company needs to have a multi-faceted, predetermined response plan.

This plan outlines what is expected of your employees during a cyber attack, and preferably breaks down by function or area of business.

For example, logging into your account for a last-ditch effort to save your data, while well-intentioned, can be fatal. A lot of times, the best thing you can do is to shut down any potentially affect systems, despite the risk of losing short-term files.

If your employees are able to treat a cyber breach like a serious drill, your company can prevent additional damage that is often caused by the chaos that accompanies a cyber attack.

Focus on Your Employees to Strengthen Cyber Security

Your employees are your most significant security vulnerability.

However, if your company invests in creative awareness, education, and training, your employees can actually contribute to your company’s cyber security.

Use the four steps outlined in this article to help guide your company to making your employees part of your cyber security solution. Click below to learn more about Teramind.

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Editor’s Note: The writer’s opinions expressed in this guest article are those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of IT Security Central and Teramind Co.