October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which means now is the time to ensure employees are fully compliant with cybersecurity measures in your business. However, it's not enough to merely distribute handouts and hope workers understand why cybersecurity is crucial.
Instead, it's necessary to come up with actionable strategies not only to emphasize that cybersecurity matters, but also that your employees can take an active role in cybersecurity practices throughout the organization.
1. Help Employees Understand Why It Matters
Many employees don't even have the foundational awareness of what it means to implement cybersecurity strategies and why they should. For example, they likely don't realize the widespread problems that could happen if a person clicks on an infected link and compromises their entire network. So, an excellent initial step to take when discussing cybersecurity with employees is to make the material relevant.
Make it clear to employees how their actions can directly affect the overall company’s cybersecurity. When employees understand that their individual cybersecurity compliance can better the company as a whole, they may be more inclined to avoid risky digital behavior.
For example, a recent study of 500 people found two in five workers clicked on links or attachments they didn't recognize. They probably took those actions without thinking about the possible consequences.
Another survey by Shred-It found more than 25 percent of respondents left their computers unlocked when the devices were unattended at their desks. These examples highlight that employee negligence is a costly and genuine concern for organizations, but it's something they can reduce in meaningful ways.
The goal of early-stage discussions with workers about cybersecurity compliance is to get them to realize how even small, seemingly innocent choices could have far-reaching effects for an organization.
One way to achieve that might be through role-playing scenarios. Then, it could become clearer than ever that little decisions can make significant differences — in both positive and negative ways. When having such conversations, workplace representatives should never take angles that make employees feel blamed for cybersecurity shortcomings though.
Instead of only talking about cybersecurity mistakes, people who educate others about cybersecurity should highlight how it's not as hard as some people may think to take small steps that collectively bolster cybersecurity.
2. Make Cybersecurity Training Part of the Onboarding Process
Making employees care about cybersecurity requires a comprehensive process — and one that can never start too early. That's why it's wise to bring up cybersecurity as an onboarding topic people hear about as new hires.
This strategy facilitates multiple benefits. Firstly, it shows employees cybersecurity is an ingrained part of the company culture, not a mere afterthought. Moreover, it gives them ways to support the organization's cybersecurity efforts from their first day on the job and beyond.
People want to feel valued by their workplaces, and that they're doing something meaningful to help the organization reach its goals. By including cybersecurity in the onboarding process, they learn right away how to contribute and keep the workplace safer for everyone.
3. Take a Top-Down Approach to Cybersecurity
People will likely resist any new or improved cybersecurity tactics if they don't get the impression that the company's most senior leaders don't agree with them as much as the people who are lower on the corporate ladder. So, one essential way to build a strong cybersecurity culture in an organization is to recognize that the leadership must perpetuate it.
Since the company leaders should know what's occurring to strengthen cybersecurity culture, it's best to schedule regular, ongoing meetings with C-suite executives and members of the cybersecurity team. Together, those individuals can bring up matters of concern, celebrate evidence of progress and consider additional ways to get workforces involved with cybersecurity best practices.
4. Check for Understanding and Implementation
Cybersecurity professionals at an organization cannot blindly trust that employees are doing all or most of the things they've learned through applicable training. However, conducting a cybersecurity audit is a fantastic way for organizations to see how secure they are. Then, it's possible to determine if workers are using what they've learned, or if there's still substantial room for improvement.
Many companies, such as those associated with the federal government or receiving funds from a government agency, have to go through audits and prove they have well-defined policies, documents, procedures and processes that show they meet standards and take cybersecurity seriously. However, these inspections are informative for all kinds of organizations because they can establish baselines.
Outside of audits, companies can plan cybersecurity drills that give people opportunities to put their learned skills into action while participating in simulated scenarios. Creating system backups and relying on two-factor authentication are examples of ways to make immediate cybersecurity improvements.
Drills confirm people are doing those things and give participants chances to ask questions about anything that was previously unclear. Enhancing the overall clarity of cybersecurity practices increases the likelihood people will carry them out as well-formed habits. Then, all those individual practices come together and comprise effective plans.
Results published in 2017 about corporate cybersecurity readiness in government organizations found 68 percent of board members hadn't received cybersecurity training about responding to incidents, and 10 percent had no plan for dealing with a breach. Those statistics are significant because, without a plan, organizations cannot hope to deal with unexpected events with the required swiftness.
5. Teach Employees How to Respond to Suspicious Events
Equipping workers to comply with cybersecurity best practices means minimizing the doubts they typically feel when deciding whether to report something that seems amiss. Often, people who notice strange occurrences content themselves by thinking, "surely someone else will report that," but that's not necessarily a valid conclusion.
It's essential for organizations to have user-friendly processes for reporting unusual cybersecurity events accurately and promptly. Additionally, cybersecurity personnel should drive home the point that they'd rather people report things that end up being false alarms than avoid speaking up about something for fear of retaliation or embarrassment.
Having a straightforward, universal system in place reduces the errors and incomplete information-gathering practices that could occur if numerous departments use several methods to notify cybersecurity team members of unusual happenings. Also, if a reporting system is too confusing for the people who use it, they may feel overwhelmed due to a perceived lack of knowledge.
6. Don't Distribute Too Much Information at Once
Most people know the numb feeling they get when sitting through barrages of PowerPoint slides at times when they already believe their brains can't hold more bits of information without exploding.
That's why, regardless of the methods they use to educate employees, the cybersecurity experts within an organization should strive to deliver information in manageable chunks.
They might use short videos to get their points across, or have lunchtime sessions where people receive information while enjoying catered food. In any case, giving small amounts of information continuously is the way to go.
Cybersecurity Readiness Should Be a Constant Process
It's not feasible for cybersecurity professionals to reach a specific point and decide that their employees are sufficiently ready for any cybersecurity threat.
The tips mentioned here are all worthwhile, but only when used as regularly as other workplace processes. For example, employees all likely follow standard procedures when requesting time off or logging their hours each week.
Cybersecurity compliance should be approached in a similar way: everyone should follow good cybersecurity practices because every employee plays a role in protecting an organization’s cybersecurity.