How confident are you in keeping your business and customers safe from cyber threats? Now is an excellent time to brush up on the best practices for you and your employees. By promoting cybersecurity awareness in your workplace, you can protect your most valuable data—and your hard-earned reputation.
What is cyber security awareness?
Cybersecurity awareness refers to both a mindset and a set of practices oriented toward recognizing potential threats and assessing the security risks of your computer system.
Cybersecurity awareness starts by recognizing that security threats aren't limited to big companies. Between 2021 and 2022, global cyberattacks increased by 38%, with some organizations receiving over 2,000 cyberattacks each week.
Regardless of the size of your organization, cybersecurity awareness training can improve your resilience to these attacks and protect you against data breaches and other security incidents.
What is cyber security awareness training?
During October, business owners take time to offer cybersecurity awareness training to their employees. Cybersecurity training is designed with multiple interrelated goals in mind, including:
- Educating employees on potential threats
- Reminding employees of the company's security procedures
- Updating businesses on the latest security threats
- Evaluating the company's readiness to respond to cybersecurity incidents
Even small businesses can use security awareness training to promote more robust online safety and protect the company and its customers from threats.
Cyber security awareness topics
Cybersecurity education promotes understanding various topics, often changing to adapt to new online risks. Cybersecurity awareness programs might focus on issues like the following.
Company email is one of the most vulnerable areas of any organization, often serving as a gateway for phishing scams, malware, and business email compromise (BEC). Employees must understand these risks to avoid suspicious links and attachments or accidentally divulging sensitive data over the internet.
Employees may have lengthy lists of usernames and passwords associated with their email accounts or company software. The more accounts you use, the harder it can be for employees to juggle their personal and company accounts and passwords.
Cybersecurity training can encourage employees to choose passphrases better suited for protecting company data. Passphrases are several words put together that make sense to the user (and are therefore easier to remember), but are much harder to guess. For example, IS1tNextt0Jo3andM@ry.
Employers might also institute policies that prevent employees from using their work passwords outside the company network to avoid data breaches or identity theft. The danger of reusing work passwords for personal accounts is that if the password is compromised in the personal account, threat actors will likely try the stolen passwords to get into company apps and resources.
Social engineering attacks
Social engineering attacks attempt to manipulate victims into revealing sensitive information or financial data. Distributing personally identifiable information can give identity thieves access to your accounts even without you realizing it.
Phishing emails are by far the most common form of social engineering scam. In a phishing email scam, cybercriminals contact the victim and impersonate a trusted source, often disguising their email address to resemble a utility provider, customer, or other individual or business.
The goal is to convince victims to reveal sensitive information that the scammer could use to steal their identity or money. Employees must be educated on recognizing these scams to avoid disclosing confidential information via email.
However, phishing attacks are no longer restricted to email—cyber threats can come through voice calls, social media, text messaging, and any other platform you use when interacting online. Voice calls have recently grown in prevailance and are often more harmful because people are often less cautious or hesitate to verify the caller.
Malware and ransomware
"Malware" is a broad term encompassing all programs that disrupt a computer system. Some forms of malware are meant to harvest data. Ransomware is specifically intended to encrypt a victim's files and then force them to pay a ransom to get them back.
Cybersecurity awareness training enables employees to recognize the source of these threats, avoid suspicious websites through which viruses or other forms of malware might be transmitted, and to report anything suspicious.
Physical security and removable storage
Cybersecurity awareness training doesn't stop with digital safety protocols. Companies should also train employees in physical security to prevent tailgating and to protect company laptops or mobile storage devices (e.g., USB drives).
Cybersecurity training can help employees understand how to protect company devices when working away from the office, a topic particularly relevant now that companies are pivoting to remote or hybrid workplaces.
These days, the average business handles large quantities of sensitive data. Therefore, any security training program should contain a basic set of best practices for handling, sharing, storing, and even disposing of sensitive information about your business and its customers.
While this subject may touch on many of the topics listed above, it will place specific importance on protecting company and customer data from security incidents.
Security incident response protocols
Employees should also know what to do when a suspected data breach occurs. When possible, have an IT or Security person identify the source of the breach and take measures to regain control of your electronic systems before the organization incurs further damage.
Furthermore, managers should comply with established regulations in the event of a breach, which might entail contacting any customers whose data has been affected.
The importance of cyber security awareness training for employees
Why should you pursue cybersecurity awareness? Important data can be lost or stolen due to outside threats. Some of the key benefits of cyber security awareness training include:
- Equipping employees to recognize external cybersecurity threats
- Reducing the risk of human error when employees handle sensitive data
- Promoting a clear understanding of online security protocols
- Fostering a security culture where everyone takes ownership of maintaining safety
- Adapting to changes in the cybersecurity landscape to respond to new or evolving threats
While cybersecurity awareness training can significantly reduce the human element contributing to online vulnerability, it can also extend many practical benefits.
The financial impact of cyberattacks
Even a small security breach can result in substantial costs. According to data collected by CSO Online, the average cost of a cyberattack has increased by 20% since 2022. For larger companies (those with 1,000 to 5,000 employees), a single security breach costs an average of $4.87 million.
While the impact may be less for smaller companies, small business owners generally need more resources to absorb this risk, which makes cyber awareness all the more important.
The monetary cost is just one strand of the impact of cybersecurity awareness. Cyber security incidents can also jeopardize your reputation, which can be much harder to make whole again.
Your existing customers may struggle to trust your company, fearing their information may end up on the dark web. For the same reason, it can be challenging to attract new customers when they're aware of a past cybersecurity incident. Training may be time-consuming, but protecting your brand from lasting reputational harm is critical.
Cyber security awareness tips
Knowledge is power. You and your employees can stay safe online by learning the following cybersecurity best practices. These tips apply directly to business, but they're habits anyone on the internet should adopt.
1. Keep your software up to date
The first step toward combating cybercrime is ensuring that all software is up to date, known as patching. This includes the programs you use to manage your operations and the operating systems that run them (Windows, iOS, etc.).
Updating your core software reduces the threat of viruses and malware. It gives you access to security features that alert you to suspicious websites and activity.
2. Use multi-factor authentication
Employees should exercise good password hygiene, which involves setting strong passphrases, as doing so can help decrease the risks of identity theft. For an added layer of protection, use multi-factor authentication to protect against threats such as phishing for your most sensitive accounts.
Multi-factor authentication includes something you know, like a password; something you have, like a hardware device you insert into your laptop; and something you are, like identifying yourself through facial recognition.
3. Learn to identify suspicious emails and websites
Many cyberattacks originate through employee activity, such as clicking email attachments or visiting malicious websites. This further highlights the need for adequate training to ensure your team members learn to recognize common email scams.
It's important that you and your employees refrain from visiting websites that lack proper security credentials. Many web browsers will alert you to suspicious activity or unsecured pages. Always steer clear of sites that ask you to download something to view their content, which is a red flag that they could be seeking to infect you with malware or ransomware.
4. Install the latest antivirus software
Only connect to the internet with the protection of an antivirus software provider. It's also important to keep this software up to date, as the latest versions will be the most capable of preventing viruses or malware from invading your system.
It's essential to remember that while antivirus software should be your first line of defense, it isn't 100% effective. Your employees will still need cybersecurity awareness training to avoid email phishing scams or other habits and prevent harmless clicks from infecting your system with harmful software.
5. Limit access to sensitive information
Your company data is a valuable asset, both for you and for unscrupulous cybercriminals. You can take steps to protect this data simply by classifying your data—and limiting the number of people who have access to the most sensitive information.
For example, you must restrict access to specific customer or client details to only those who need to know. Access permissions should be reviewed frequently and adjusted if needed.
This also applies to physical media, laptops, and mobile devices. Take steps to lock your devices when you leave your workstation to limit access to your computer system. Keep track of company property when working outside the office to prevent a breach due to theft or negligence.
6. Conduct regular cyber security awareness training
Security professionals recommend that organizations pursue cyber awareness training regularly (at least annually). Making security a top priority will ensure that your employees stay current on the best practices for protecting themselves and your company.
Information security awareness programs can include formal training sessions. However, you can also promote information security through executive videos, webinars, and other pertinent reminders. By stressing the importance of online safety, your entire team will be encouraged to take greater ownership.
7. Remember that information security is a neverending process
One of the most critical cybersecurity tips is to remember that it's an ongoing process, not a one-time event. You'll need to refine your strategy regularly to protect against evolving forms of cybercrime and bring any new hires up to speed on company policies and best practices for information technology.
That means offering regular security awareness training opportunities and educating yourself on the best tips for maintaining your security. By using training to expand your knowledge and that of your staff, you'll be able to navigate the increasingly turbulent digital landscape confidently.
BILL: Designed with your privacy and security in mind
BILL understands the importance of data security for any organization. Our products offer advanced security features and controls, including multi-factor authentication such as biometric identification. Even healthcare companies can use BILL, thanks to safeguards that ensure HIPAA compliance.
Want to learn more? Visit BILL's security page to learn how we can reduce the risk for your business and your valued customers.
When is Cybersecurity Awareness Month?
Cybersecurity Awareness Month is held annually in October. The month is designed to raise awareness of online security for both individuals and organizations.
Many organizations dedicate October to additional security awareness training programs or other cyber-awareness events to help employees understand the need to protect themselves against external threats.
Who created Cybersecurity Awareness Month?
Cybersecurity Awareness Month was launched in 2004 as a collaborative effort between the National Cyber Security Division within the Department of Homeland Security and a nonprofit organization known as the National Cyber Security Alliance.
The month was officially ratified in 2004 when President George W. Bush and Congress jointly declared that October would be formally devoted to promoting cybersecurity awareness.