What’s Your Biggest Security Risk? Your Employees

Thomas Reid once said, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” The same is true for cybersecurity, where breaches are often the result of employee actions.

Criminals have stepped up their attacks on employees as new cybersecurity technologies have eliminated other vulnerabilities. From spear phishing emails to malware attachments, social engineering attacks bypass conventional security measures and persuade employees to give up sensitive data or provide access to a network. A combination of technology and employee training is required to avoid these problems.

Let’s take a look at why employees are your biggest cybersecurity threat and how you can mitigate that threat with a combination of education and supporting software.

Employee negligence has become a leading cause of data breaches — employees are your biggest weakness.

Why Employees Are Risky

Employee negligence is the primary cause of data breaches, according to Shred-it, outpacing other forms of cyber attacks by a wide margin. According to the cybersecurity firm’s survey of 1,000 business owners, 47 percent said that human error was responsible for a data breach in their organization, which was higher than any other cause.

With the average data breach costing $3.6 million to clean up, according to a separate Ponemon Institute study, these human errors could be enough to wipe out many small businesses. Data breaches also have an adverse effect on a company’s long-term brand reputation and employee productivity in the event of downtime.

Many employees don’t think about their risky behaviors at work. For instance, more than a quarter of employees surveyed by Shred-it admitted that they’ve left their computer unlocked and unattended at work. Others sign on to public Wi-Fi networks without the proper security precautions or reply to emails without double-checking the true sender.

These problems are amplified in environments where sensitive data requires special handling to avoid fines and penalties. For example, healthcare data protected by HIPAA or financial data may require extra security precautions that go above and beyond the cybersecurity measures that employees are accustomed to taking at home.

How to Train Employees

Many companies have cybersecurity training policies and procedures in place, but they’re not frequent or prevalent enough to provide lasting protection from these threats. Rather than a single comprehensive workshop each year, consider smaller and more frequent exercises that specifically address high-risk behaviors throughout the year.

Download our free Sample Employee Cybersecurity Handbook to see how to implement the right training policies in your workplace.

Some of the most important topics to cover include:

  • Email safety: Most employee threats come from email communications, so it’s imperative that employees can accurately identify phishing attempts and report any suspicious behavior to the right people.

  • Remote work: Remote workers often use insecure networks at hotels or cafes that are susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks. In addition to using VPNs, they should be familiar with common network security precautions.

  • Vendor management: Vendors are a common source of data breaches. When working with vendors, employees should be taught to only provide the necessary levels of permissions, as well as deactivate accounts that are no longer used.

In addition to regular training on these topics, you may want to consider introducing random exercises to test compliance. For example, you may send out a fake phishing email that contains a link that records the respondents. You could then assess the number of employees that responded to the threat as well as provide training to those that made the error.

Finally, it’s important to write down and enforce company policies rather than just preach about cybersecurity best practices. For example, you may have a clean desk rule whereby employees must log off of their devices and lock away any sensitive paperwork. Everyone should also feel comfortable reporting potential issues to the right people.

Add Tools to Support Training

Software plays a critical role in enforcing company policies and building good habits. While the best software in the world won’t prevent all cyber threats, they can dramatically cut down on the number of threats that reach employees in order to proactively prevent data breaches. It’s necessary to use both software and training for maximum security.

Don’t forget to download our free Sample Employee Cybersecurity Handbook to see how to implement the right training policies in your workplace.

Some important technologies to consider include:

  • Password managers: Password managers help employees adhere to best practices, such as using strong passwords and different passwords for different accounts. They can also avoid challenges with sharing passwords with colleagues, such as the use of a shared ‘password spreadsheet’ that’s all-too-common.

  • Network protection: Active network protection blocks dangerous emails and websites before employees can access them. These measures can significantly cut down on a wide range of phishing and malware threats before they reach employees, while simultaneously blocking other forms of cyber attacks, such as DDoS attacks.

  • Secure backup: There are many different sources of data loss, ranging from ransomware to accidental deletion. Automatic and secure backups can help prevent data loss by ensuring that past data can be restored while encrypting the backups reduces the fallout from any stolen accounts.

Jungle Disk provides a full cybersecurity suite that’s designed for small businesses with between two and 250 employees. With a simple monthly subscription, small businesses can quickly access active network protection, secure data backups, password management and other technologies in one place for a single fee.

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The Bottom Line

Most people think hackers gain access to computer systems and networks by brute-forcing passwords or scanning for vulnerable ports. In reality, most criminals target employees with simple — but effective — social engineering attacks. All it takes is a single weak link to exposure an entire network and cause an expensive data breach.

The best solution to these problems is a combination of effective employee training and software solutions. Employee training should be frequent and focused on key topics, while software should help enforce positive cybersecurity habits.

Sign up for Jungle Disk to access affordable cybersecurity solutions designed specifically for small businesses.

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