Prioritizing Cybersecurity Awareness Training in the Wake of Phishing Attacks

Security teams are faced with constant worries of protecting the organization against cyber-attacks, and with the increasing threat of phishing, it’s a never-ending game. According to a recent government survey, 39% of businesses and more than a quarter of charities (26%) have suffered cybersecurity breaches or attacks in the last 12 months. Besides, Verizon’s recent data breach report revealed that 36% of breaches involved phishing, 11% more than last year. Phishing attacks won’t be going away anytime soon. 

Phishing: The basics

Phishing is a type of fraud where ‘bait’ – often in the form of an urgent request for information from a seemingly trustworthy source – is emailed or texted to users. Phishing attacks can involve tricking a user into clicking on suspicious links, which redirect to a fraudulent, yet convincing-looking, website, e.g., imitating a bank or a retailer or even downloading a malicious attachment. The fake site captures any personal or confidential data entered, which the cybercriminal then uses to hack into real accounts, e.g., the bank account or online retail account. While phishing emails may not catch everyone out, as it’s usually mass mail, all it needs is one or two people to fall for the trick for the attack to be successful.

Several types of phishing scams exist. Spear phishing, for example, targets specific individuals, especially inside an organization – ideal targets could be senior directors who have access to confidential information. With many employees using social media for personal or work purposes, this is another avenue where phishing scams aim to infiltrate organizations – by sharing malicious links via status updates or private messages. 

With phishing scams becoming increasingly sophisticated, it’s clear that one click on a fraudulent link could make an organization susceptible to a cyber-attack. So why take the risk? Organizations need to understand that protecting their infrastructure against cyber-attacks does not only lie with security teams, but it also lies with every employee within the business – that means supporting all staff with cybersecurity awareness training. Hence, they know what to look out for. Here are some reasons why organizations need to prioritize cybersecurity awareness training.

Educate Employees or Face the Cost

With the number of phishing attacks increasing throughout the pandemic, the threat to organizations is real. In the UK alone, cybercrime has cost businesses £87m (between 2015-2020). Accidentally sharing confidential information or opening organizations to a vulnerability by falling for phishing scams can have significant implications for organizations. This isn’t just concerning cost but a loss of critical data, regulatory fines, disruption to business and an impact on the company’s reputation. 

"With the number of phishing attacks increasing throughout the pandemic, the threat to organizations is real"

Educating employees with cybersecurity awareness training can increase awareness of the issue, e.g., learning how to spot a phishing email and understanding how social engineering attacks work. This can help employees recognize the difference between a genuine or fraudulent email or text – by looking out for key characteristics such as the actual email address of the sender, reviewing the content of the email, checking spelling and grammatical mistakes to spotting suspicious links by hovering over links with a cursor. With cybercriminals using advanced manoeuvres to deceive their targets, employees who are the first line of defense – at the receiving end of the phishing scams – must defend the organization and maintain the integrity of the organization’s infrastructure.

Maintaining Data Security Compliance 

Employees have a part to ensure security compliance regulations are being met and adhered to, depending on where an organization operates – involving local regulatory standards such as the UK’s Data Protection Act, GDPR, or even the CCPA. In addition, cybersecurity awareness training teaches employees the implications of how clicking on a malicious link could lead to a cyber-criminal launching a ransomware attack and the importance of their actions. For example, suppose cyber-criminals gained access to the IT system through a phishing attack. In that case, they could expose critical information, such as employee or customer personal identifiable information (PII), developing into a significant data breach.

Maintaining data security compliance further reveals an organization’s commitment to observing best practices in cybersecurity. Customers also want to do business with companies they can trust, so compliance is necessary here. 

Test and Review That the Training Is Effective

Discover if cybersecurity awareness training is effective by regularly testing employees with phishing simulation emails. This will help distinguish any skills gaps in the organisation, so security teams can carry out any follow-up training with those who have failed the test. Employees must not be pre-warned of any phishing tests coming their way because that could skew the results. It’s vital to catch them off-guard to discover which employees forget the training. Hence, it can be refreshed and targeted at specific individuals at regular intervals. 

Prioritizing cybersecurity awareness training is key to improving the cyber resilience of employees and reducing the likelihood of the organization suffering from a breach. Strengthening employees’ knowledge in cybersecurity is not just pure business sense, but it should be a mandatory compliance exercise for organizations of all sizes, including SMBs. 

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