Business losses due to cybercrime are mounting. In 2016 alone, some 4,149 reported breaches gave hackers and criminals access to more than 4.2 billion records, according to a 2016 report by Risk Based Security. An independent study by Cybersecurity Ventures predicted that, based on current trends, the total cost of cybercrime and data breaches will reach approximately $6 trillion by the year 2021. And the latest Equifax hacking has pushed that up a notch.
Even these numbers understate the problem; the studies in question look only at reported data breaches. The vast majority go undetected or unreported, revealing an important point about cybersecurity for organizations: The challenges in this area are not just technical ones, but personnel ones. That’s why today’s environment necessitates that sustainable cybersecurity programs go well beyond downloading “anti” software and monitoring networks and systems.
An Example of People Issues in Cybersecurity: Spear Phishing
Many employees are now familiar with the phenomenon. Spear phishing is specific kind of phishing attack where the phishers pose as trustworthy individuals. The attackers use email spoofing to mask unfamiliar email addresses with those of a coworker or manager to get an employee to divulge important information, make a money transfer, or open an attachment with a piece of malware.
This type of scam is becoming increasingly prevalent. It is estimated that over 400 businesses are targeted by business email compromise (BEC) scams every day, with small- and medium-sized businesses the most targeted. Estimates from the FBI place the value of money lost to BEC scams over the past three years at $3 billion, with more than 22,000 businesses falling victim worldwide.
Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, estimates that a full 95% of all attacks on enterprise networks are the result of successful spear-phishing campaigns—that is, somebody in the organization receives an email and either clicks on a link or opens a file that compromises security.
Spear phishing has important lessons for organizations hoping to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the security of their data and their personnel. Even if an organization performs periodic risk assessments and creates and documents the most airtight IT policies, all it takes is one person clicking one rogue attachment to infect an entire network with ransomware.
Changing How We Prepare: Security Awareness Training
Historically, most businesses have been content with basic technology defenses: Updating firewalls, using centralized anti-virus and anti-spam software, regularly patching servers and workstations, and so on.
These make for a solid foundation, but that foundation alone is insufficient because those measures do not fully account for human error; a complete security program requires ongoing training and awareness—and should include a Security Awareness Training Program as a key component. Such a training program should include three elements:
1. Annual training. It is important to teach your employees about current security trends and scams. A short course on the spear-phishing scam discussed here is a great example. You’ll want to emphasize that your team needs to be aware of these scams and vigilant against them, and to always confirm that emails with sensitive requests are legitimate before responding.
Other good areas for ongoing training include creating strong passwords, how to identify a sketchy website, what to do if you suspect your machine has been infected, and similar issues.
Your IT team should be able to help you put together the content for these sessions. If you don’t already have policy documents to codify what you’re teaching, seize the opportunity.
2. Monthly refreshers. Once-a-year training will not be enough to make those lessons stick. In addition to annual training, send monthly updates with one or two helpful tips to review that training and make people aware of new and upcoming threats. Not only will this reinforce and expand on your training, it helps keep cybersecurity top-of-mind.
3. Random tests. Given what’s at stake, one cannot simply assume that the organization is prepared when it comes to cybersecurity. There need to be objective, testable ways to tell.
Some companies have had great success with phishing simulators, like KnowBe4, that will send out fake scams and see whether or not your team falls for them. If they do, they’ll be required to complete a related training activity.
These “tests” not only reveal your vulnerability, but are a safe way to really drive home the threat that these scams pose. The results also can help inform those annual training sessions and monthly refreshers.
Cybersecurity threats are occurring more often, and doing more damage, as hackers and con artists become more sophisticated in their methods. Modern-day scams, such as the recent variants of spear phishing, teach us that security issues are not just technical problems, but problems in the way organizations prepare their people. A complete cybersecurity governance program goes well beyond the basics and builds processes and training modules around both technology updates and timely security issues. If your company uses an outside IT resource, it would be wise to ask them about these aspects of cybersecurity, too.