The human element of cyber risk

If I were to ask 10 people what they thought cyber security actually entails, I am almost certain that most would think of the highly technical coding you see in movies.

Although they would not be entirely wrong, there is so much more to cyber security than just technology. Yes, there are many solutions available that promise to protect your email, network, website, etc. but what about your people?

Employees are your first line of defence

A significant proportion of breaches nowadays result from human error – a weak password, clicked malicious link, or even an opened attachment – all of which stem from a lack of cyber awareness.

Protecting the human element of an organisation is equally as important as having good technical solutions in place. Technology can only ever form part of your security infrastructure; your people are the rest. As long as the human element of your cyber security remains weak, then the probability of an attack or breach remains higher than it should be.

The people in an organisation are, ultimately, the first line of defence against a cyber attack; employees act as a gateway for hackers to infiltrate the network, so making sure everyone is aware of cyber risks and threats should always be a priority.

So, what is cyber awareness?

Cyber awareness is the combined knowledge of cyber risks and the actions that can be taken to prevent those risks from being realised, in order to protect an organisation’s data and information. It is also important that cyber awareness is not limited to one group of employees; every member of an organisation is a potential target, so cyber awareness must be inclusive to provide protection across all areas.

Once cyber awareness is holistically embedded into the culture of an organisation, it can provide a whole host of benefits both on an individual and organisational level. Increased cyber awareness can (and does!) help prevent breaches and attacks as users are more aware of best practices and potential malicious activities like phishing emails.

It can help minimise cyber security risks on an organisational level as users are more vigilant and adopting of an almost zero-trust mentality towards anything that seems out of the ordinary. All of this helps to keep an organisation safe, so that even if the technology fails, your people will still know what to do and how to act.

The future of work driving greater need for personal responsibility

Over the past 2 years, the work environment has changed dramatically. Businesses have been forced to adapt and go remote, thereby changing the workplace dynamic, which, in itself, has brought new challenges and risks. Furthermore, the workplace of the future is continuing to evolve – with hybrid working fast becoming the new norm.

How can we protect our organisation against cyber threats when we may not even be working from the same city, let alone the same office?

These shifts have, as a result, placed greater accountability on individuals to be aware of cyber security risks. On top of that, the added sophistication of attackers and their techniques means that the nature of cyber security risks is constantly evolving.

The main challenge for businesses today is how to manage and reduce risks, particularly when it is now more dispersed, and threats are more advanced.

Cyber awareness training bridges those very gaps between an organisation and its employees, and technology and people. By equipping users with the educational tools, organisations can effectively minimise the human risk aspect of cyber security.

Three best practice tips to cultivate cyber awareness from within

  1. Training

A formal training programme is one of the best ways to improve cyber awareness amongst employees. The training should encompass the known cyber security risks to the organisation as well as more general tips and best practices to maintain a high level of security hygiene. As a minimum requirement, training should be provided to all new starters and refresher training provided annually.  To go one step further, role-based cyber awareness training can provide specific and targeted training for those working in more high-risk roles.

  1. Phishing Simulations

Phishing simulations are fantastic for testing your employees’ vigilance, knowledge of phishing techniques, and what to do when they receive a phishing email. Many organisations that suffer a breach do so because a phishing email was received and clicked, so it is only logical to minimise that risk by running your own campaigns. They also indicate which employees need further training, which again helps to strengthen the organisation’s security posture.

  1. Email Bulletins

The simplest way to increase cyber awareness is through regular email bulletins. Although less efficient than formal training and phishing simulations, email bulletins help keep cyber security at the forefront of people’s minds. They can act as an introduction to cyber awareness or be used to supplement training and phishing simulations.

Cyber security is everyone’s responsibility

Human error has consistently been the weakest link in cyber security. As the technological capabilities of organisations has grown, hackers continue to prey on the one element that often remains unprotected: people.

We live in an age where new challenges are appearing every day for businesses, an age in which cyber security risk has become a growing issue across all industries.

Having an effective cyber awareness programme helps to make cyber security everyone’s responsibility and reduces risks by equipping employees with the ability and knowledge needed to use best practices, identify and report malicious emails and be more vigilant in their actions – whether they are working in the office or remotely.