Teach a Man to Phish?

Let me first preface this blog by saying I mean ‘man’ in its broadest sapiens sense. Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about cybersecurity. Cyber-criminals have always exploited human weakness to successfully execute cyber-attacks. Ask any vendor what the weakest link in the chain was 15 years ago and they’d offer the human up for sacrifice. Fast forward to 2019 and the answer is likely to be the same. So why is it then, when cybercrime techniques continue to become more sophisticated, and the payouts more and more lucrative, that the industry still relying on education as the key to organizational defense?

Most companies hold cybersecurity training (and even primary schools are teaching four- and five-year-olds how to stay safe online) as an essential part of the HR induction, or to comply with internal business process policies, and/or staff development. This has been the case for more than a decade, with 95% of information security professionals stating they train end users to identify and avoid phishing attacks. In fact, of the organizations who evaluate the risk that individual end users pose to overall security postures, three-quarters rely on security training awareness performance to gauge that risk.

To Teach or Not to Teach

So, for many businesses today, it’s about teaching someone to phish in order to be aware of these threats and therefore not fall victim to a phishing attack. However, can anti-phishing be taught, and if so, should it be? Education and awareness have, and always will have, a role to play in any cybersecurity strategy, but with the inherent vulnerabilities in the human element of security, education should be considered as a measure that fortifies, rather than replaces, technology-powered cybersecurity solutions. Employees should form a supportive line of defense within a strategy that positions technology at the helm.

Too Cool for School

Companies who rely on education and awareness alone put themselves and their employees at greater risk of attack and under greater time and resource strain. An education-based approach is complex to maintain. It needs to be a part of the onboarding process, but it also needs to be repeated at regular intervals, while taking into account employee turnover, leave and competing business priorities. It more often than not applies a one-size-fits-all approach to education, rather than accounting for those employees who may be more receptive to classroom-based learning versus those who respond to participatory learning such as online courses or attack simulation. It’s a resource intensive and often costly means of implementing security protocols. It also tends towards blaming rather than empowering employees, by putting the responsibility of spotting clever phishing emails onto staff when it could be more effectively and efficiently shouldered by an automated technology solution.

That’ll Teach You

In contrast, an anti-phishing solution underpinned by technology does not rely on regular reinforcement, excessive resources or accountability for accountability’s sake. Of course, it does require some technical understanding, some resources to implement and a place within a broader organizational cybersecurity strategy. However, its main benefits are its reliability, its automation and its efficiency. A technology-based solution is built to spot vulnerabilities more quickly and with more accuracy, analyses and report more efficiently, and can even be leveraged to educate and build awareness with employees as it protects. A technology-based solution should be data-driven, contextual and adaptable, and available to all organizations.

The key to building an effective cybersecurity defense among employees is to sufficiently arm users with the information and tools necessary to effectively defend against attacks, rather than continuing to pursue protocols and policies which are unreliable and ineffective. With an endpoint threat protection solution, greater visibility over the network’s threat landscape, and a strong and regular employee education program, businesses can best mitigate against the threat of phishing, the vector used to launch 91% of today’s cyber-attacks.

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