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4 Ways Mid-Marketers can Make Employees their First Line of Defense Against Cyber Attacks

Mid-market companies continue to invest in security technology to reduce their risk of cyber attacks, but research indicates that employees are their biggest vulnerability.

iStock-535194889-compressorWhile a company could have the best security programs in place, it only takes one employee to open a malicious email or link to circumvent the entire system. Scott Krawitz, founder and CEO of People Driven Solutions, said companies need to put a greater emphasis on employee security training. “Employee awareness is key. Companies may spend tens of millions of dollars to secure their systems, but employees must be trained and educated on the risks,” said Krawitz.

Here are 4 ways mid-market firms can help make employees their first line of defense against cyber attacks.

1. Establish a computing use policy. Mid-marketers need to establish a computing use policy that addresses what types of websites employees are allowed to visit and how their company-owned devices are to be used. Human resources expert Susan Heathfield suggests employers go on record to define what employees can do from work. She recommends that the policy address voicemail, email and Internet usage. “Internet use also creates the possibility of contamination to our system via viruses or spyware…Removing such programs from the company network requires IT staff to invest time and attention that is better devoted to making technological progress,” Heathfield said.

“Removing viruses from the company network requires IT staff to invest time and attention that is better devoted to making technological progress.

A computing use policy can help reduce risks by establishing clear guidelines. In many cases, employee actions can put the company at risk. John Moses, Cisco vice president for the U.S. commercial central area, said 80% of employees use software not cleared by IT departments and many of these programs are considered “high-risk.” The Society for Human Resources offers a sample computing use policy that employers can mimic to establish safe computing practices.

2. Teach employees to spot potential cyber attacks. Employers should educate their staff to identify potential cyber threats. “Phishing” scams, which often come in the form of an email, link or website, are used to trick employees into giving up sensitive information. A 2015 survey by McAfee tested 19,000 computer uses and found that only 3% could identify all phishing scams presented.

Employers can increase their staff’s awareness through regular testing at all levels of the organization, including the C-suite. Symantec found that after a year of testing with one company, the percentage of employees who clicked on phishing links fell by 70%.

“One thing we observed was how positively people reacted to the tests,” said Tim Fitzgerald, Symantec chief security officer. “The more testing we did, the more proud they were of their ability to spot phishing attempts.”

3. Hold regular security meetings. In addition to a formal cybersecurity training program, mid-market companies should hold regular security meetings to identity the latest security risks and promote safe computing practices. Steve Struthers, vice president of security solutions at Dyntek, said employees need regular training and education on the matter and need to create a “culture of security.”

“Regular security meetings are useful for educating staff members on new issues. When new issues arise, the entire company should be involved, even if only on an informational basis,” said Struthers.

4. Require strong password protocols. Many organizations still use systems that allow for weak passwords. Effective passwords should be changed every six months and should include a combination of capital letters, lowercase letters, numerals and symbols.

A 2016 survey by the security firm SailPoint, also found that 65 percent of employees admitted to using the same password in multiple locations. It also found that more than a third had shared their passwords with co-workers while almost half said they could continue to access company documents and files after leaving a job. Kari Hanson, vice president of corporate marketing and communications for SailPoint, said that proper password policies and automated on- and off-boarding procedures can help mitigate some of the risks.


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