Employees, Vendors — Your Top Cyber Vulnerabilities

Employees and vendors top a company’s list of cyber vulnerabilities. Here’s what to do about it.
Employees and vendors top a company’s list of cyber vulnerabilities. Here’s what to do about it.

Ironically, most companies look to address the vulnerabilities of their technology by investing in more technology to stave off infiltrators. Yet, breaches often occur by way of employees or external suppliers who inadvertently open the very doors you’ve invested heavily in sealing shut. Just ask Target, Equifax, Macy’s or any number of recently infiltrated companies.

The good news? Our recent Cyber Risk Forum covered steps companies can take to help guard against employee cyber negligence and inadequately protected suppliers.

Creating a Cyber-Savvy Culture

Despite the fact that employees account for whopping 58 percent of cyber breaches, few companies devote their cybersecurity resources to education and training, Anthony Dagostino, head of global cyber risk at Willis Towers Watson, told Cyber Risk Forum participants.

Awareness of the issue is growing, and many companies have moved from less effective methods, such as click-through quizzes, to hacking simulation. Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement. “Phish attack simulations will get you from a 40 percent to 9 percent click rate, which is great, but you’ll still have one out of every 10 employees potentially opening that [door],” said Dagostino.


Attend the 2019 Cyber Risk Forum in San Francisco, headlined by SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson Jr. Register here.


 

But new, even more effective ways of approaching employee education are emerging—many of them simpler and more cost effective than technological fixes. “This doesn’t have to involve cutting edge AI,” said Dagostino, who suggested CEOs to start by breaking down silos. “It can be as simple as having your CISO sync with your chief human resources officer to define cybersecurity goals and objectives in employee responsibilities that they will be measured against, just as you do with metrics like sales goals or customer service goals.”

Some companies find microlearning—replacing the standard 30 minutes of annual cybersecurity training with cybersecurity tips disseminated daily or weekly—can have a higher impact. And tailoring educational content and platforms by generation may also boost effectiveness.

At a broad organizational level, strong employee engagement may prove a company’s ultimate secret weapon against cyber infiltrators. Willis Towers Watson analyzed the results of employee engagement surveys at a broad pool of companies against those at companies that experienced a serious cyber incident and discovered a significant correlation, reported Dagostino. “At the end of the day, when employees don’t feel overworked and stressed, when they feel they have a voice in their organization—their companies are less likely to have some kind of incident,” he said. “We’ve already embraced the fact that higher engagement increases the bottom line, but now we are realizing that certain areas of engagement correlate to less probability of having a material cyber breach.”

Securing Your Business Partners

As many CEOs find out the hard way, a company is only as secure as the weakest link in its supply chain. That’s why it’s critical that companies “gain a comprehensive understanding of their vendors’ security posture to protect their business and customers,” Stephen Boyer, co-founder and CTO of BitSight Technologies told CEOs.

Often, the first step is triaging vendors by degree of risk. “Companies must make sure they have insight into the risk posture of all vendors they do business with, but prioritize incident response and follow-up with those that are most critical,” says Boyer. “This ensures resources are allocated most efficiently to reduce risk.”

While companies often rely on questionnaires and surveys to assess vendor risk, those methods tend to be costly and time consuming. Automated and scalable assessments that are conducted on a continual basis are a more effective approach, says Boyer. “Organizations need to be able to monitor new security issues and gaps present with third parties in order to react more quickly and reduce the risk of breach, compromise, or disruption,” he noted. “Security ratings can help IT professionals gain a real-time understanding of the risks they are being exposed to. Being able to look at these ratings on a daily basis can help with monitoring and protecting the data living outside of a company’s own network the same way they monitor and protect internal data.”

Read more: The New Rules Of Cybersecurity

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