Every organization dreams of how they’d like to implement cybersecurity successfully. In dreams, the execution is perfect: requirements would be met or exceeded, employees would be fully educated on security risks, and data would never be threatened by renegade phishing scams or careless user errors. But in reality, faced with time and resource constraints, it can be difficult for busy organizations to do more than just check the “high importance” boxes (like creating a data breach response plan and solid networking practices). Especially since today’s ever-changing security needs are hard to keep up with as it is.
This struggle to maintain and surmount cybersecurity needs is exactly why businesses should find time to implement a security awareness program.. It’s important to inspire awareness, responsibility, and empowerment in an entire organization.
The Importance of Security Awareness Programs
Why spend so much time on employee education? To start, it’s one way to empower employees and give them a reason to care about cybersecurity at work. Security should be a part of employee job responsibilities from the moment they start their first day of work. But more importantly, it should be part of their responsibilities in everyday life—not just when they’re on the clock.
Modern cybersecurity risks and scams can catch even savvy internet users unawares. One of the highest risks for most employees is phishing, especially as techniques have become more sophisticated. One cybersecurity consultant, Kathryn Anderson, started using an email phishing tool saying, “Based on the type of security events we were seeing and the questions I received, it was clear that the opportunity at our company and our highest risk area was phishing emails for employees.” The results were worth it: “What was super cool about the anti-phishing program I created was that it actually empowered our employees. Security became part of their job responsibilities and not just something that a bunch of nerds in the back were working on to keep them safe.”
“Security became part of their job responsibilities and not just something that a bunch of nerds in the back were working on to keep them safe.”
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Fake phishing emails sent internally can encourage coworker-to-coworker discussion focused on security. Anderson noticed that employees started discussing security even outside of training, as well as asking how they could help protect company data during their daily routine and discussing their role in the overall success of the company. It was a huge, and exciting, change from the initial belief that only IT and security were expected to be proactive in keeping data safe.
Holistic Cybersecurity: The Overlap of Work and Home
It’s also important to follow the same rules at home. As remote and hybrid work has gained traction, scammers have shifted their focus to distributed networks and security, and it’s important to remember that employees are holistic beings, not just people who exist from 9 to 5. Knowing that cybersecurity tools and strategies can also keep your family and your personal information safe is a great way to move towards better cybersecurity within and outside of the office.
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The call for organizations to cultivate a vested interest in employee safety is not new. Brad Beatty, Lead Security Engineer at Enterprise Holdings, says “I had a vested interest in the success of those around me and the company I worked for because I was treated like family. I propose that by empowering employees … those employees will arise to the occasion and not only become your strongest business asset, but your strongest cyber security defense.”
Likewise, Darran Rolls, CTO and CISO at SailPoint, also wrote about employee empowerment: “[Cybersecurity pitfalls don’t] stop with employees. Friends and family are also targets. Because of this, it’s important that employees emphasize the importance of cybersecurity awareness with those closest to them and follow best practices outside of the workplace.”
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By investing in employees’ personal lives through time and effort spent on cybersecurity training, employees tend to practice good security ethics elsewhere. Anderson found this ultimately helped lessen the opportunity for user error, both inside and outside the workplace.
“There’s a lot of synergies between security and personal security. It’s an opportunity for people in my field to reach out and have conversations with everyday people they encounter,” Anderson said.
Are you focused on building a cybersecurity culture for your employees? If not, now is the time. The resources you’ll expend to create a strong security awareness program for your organization will be more than worth the good that follows.