Cybersecurity Awareness: Definition, Importance, Purpose and Challenges

With cyberthreats increasing significantly, cybersecurity awareness is vital to keeping your workforce and business safe online. In fact, to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity, Cybersecurity Awareness Month (earlier known as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month) is observed every October. This initiative is supported by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and National Cybersecurity Alliance to educate individuals and organizations about the role they play in improving cybersecurity and the steps they can take to be more secure in the digital world.

Read on to learn why cybersecurity awareness is essential in today’s ever-evolving threat landscape, what the training programs must include and how to better protect your business and data.

Cybersecurity awareness

What is cybersecurity awareness?

Cybersecurity awareness is an ongoing process of educating and training employees about the threats that lurk in cyberspace, how to prevent such threats and what they must do in the event of a security incident. It also helps to inculcate in them a sense of proactive responsibility for keeping the company and its assets safe and secure. In simple terms, cybersecurity awareness is knowing what security threats are and acting responsibly to avoid potential risks.

Cybersecurity awareness includes being aware of the latest security threats, cybersecurity best practices, the dangers of clicking on a malicious link or downloading an infected attachment, interacting online, disclosing sensitive information and so on. Security awareness training programs help to enhance your organization’s security posture and tighten its processes, thereby paving the way to building a more resilient business. Cybersecurity awareness must be an organization-wide initiative for it to be most effective and beneficial.

Why is cybersecurity awareness important?

Despite having best-in-class defense systems and measures in place, many organizations still experience security breaches. Unfortunately, it is often human error that has been a major contributing factor behind many data breaches. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, more than 80% of breaches involved the human element, including social engineering attacks, errors and misuse of stolen credentials. Threat actors look to exploit this weakness to infiltrate an organization’s networks and systems. This is where cybersecurity awareness comes in.

Cybersecurity awareness helps educate your employees about malicious methods used by cybercriminals, how they can be easy targets, how to spot potential threats and what they can do to avoid falling victim to these insidious threats. It empowers your workforce with the right knowledge and resources to identify and flag potential threats before they cause any damage.

Ignoring or not conducting cybersecurity awareness training regularly can have serious consequences on your business such as legal penalties, financial loss and cost of remediation, loss of intellectual property, damaged company reputation, loss of customer trust and so on. After all, your company’s cybersecurity strategy is only as strong as your weakest link — your employees.

What is cybersecurity awareness training?

With cybercrime continuing its upward trend, cybersecurity is a top priority for businesses of all sizes. Security awareness training is a critical component of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy. It encompasses various tools and techniques used to inform and equip employees about security risks and how to avoid them. This helps them understand the cyber-risks your business faces every day, the impact they have on your business and their roles and responsibilities with regard to the safety and security of digital assets.

What is the purpose of cybersecurity awareness training?

Cybercriminals are constantly evolving and devising new methods to exploit vulnerabilities to steal valuable data from businesses. Additionally, they look to exploit human behavior and emotions. It is no surprise social engineering attacks like phishing, spear phishing, business email compromise (BEC), etc., are so successful.

Well-educated and trained employees can quickly identify these threats, which can significantly reduce the risk of cybersecurity incidents and help prevent data breaches. Security awareness training not only helps stop threat actors in their tracks, but also promotes an organizational culture that is focused on heightened security. Cybersecurity awareness training is a necessity for the survival of your organization. Your organization must invest in cybersecurity training, tools and talent to minimize risk and ensure company-wide data security. A well-defined cybersecurity awareness training can help significantly reduce the cost and number of security incidents in your organization.

What should be included in cybersecurity awareness training?

Over the years, cybersecurity awareness training has come a long way from being largely reserved for security professionals to include IT administrators and other employees. The scope of cybersecurity awareness programs may vary depending on the number of employees, how aware they are, budget and so on. Regardless of what the scope is, here are some courses that every cybersecurity awareness training program must include.

Email security: Email is one of the most important communications tools for businesses today. However, it is also the entry point for several types of cybercrime, including phishing, ransomware, malware and BEC. About 94% of all dangerous ransomware and other malware enter an organization through email. Therefore, email security training is crucial to protect your employees and business from malicious email attacks. Email security training will help employees be mindful of unsafe links and attachments.

Phishing and social engineering: The human attack surface is the primary gateway for threat actors. Social engineering attackers are aware of how humans think and work. They leverage this knowledge to exploit human behavior and emotions to influence their targets to take desired actions. For example, disclosing sensitive information, granting system access, sharing credentials, transferring funds and so on. Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that more than 35% of data breaches involved phishing. Phishing and social engineering attacks are targeted and convincing, making them highly successful. However, with the right training and skills, your employees can spot warning signs and greatly reduce the probability of falling victim to these scams.

Ransomware and malware: Malware, such as ransomware, enters an organization via phishing emails. It is estimated that about 300,000 new pieces of malware are created daily. SonicWall’s 2021 Cyber Threat Report revealed ransomware attacks increased by a whopping 48% in 2020. Ransomware awareness training will help employees understand how these attacks are executed, the tactics threat actors use and the actions they can take against rising ransomware attacks.

Browser security: Web browsers are hot targets for hackers since they are the gateways to the internet and hold large volumes of sensitive data, including personal information. Not all websites you visit online are safe. Therefore, browser/internet security training, including best practices, browser security tips, the different types of browser threats, internet and social media policies, can go a long way toward maintaining confidentiality and browsing the web safely.

Information security: Your organization’s information is the most prized asset. That’s why protecting its confidentiality, integrity and availability should be everyone’s responsibility. Your training programs must include courses that emphasize the criticality of data security and responsibilities toward protecting the data. Train your employees on how to handle, share, store and dispose of sensitive information safely. Having a clear understanding of the legal and regulatory obligations of a breach is critical. Employees should also be trained on incident reporting to remediate issues quickly and minimize risk.

Remote work protocol: Working remotely is the new norm, as is evident with most organizations globally implementing a hybrid work model. This poses greater challenges for organizations since they must now ensure safety and security both in the office and at home (or anywhere). This also means additional security risks. However, these risks can be significantly reduced with the right knowledge and tools for your employees. Your training programs must include the dangers of connecting to unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, the use of personal devices and unauthorized software, and the importance of VPNs for additional layers of security, to name a few.

Physical security: Physical security includes everything from being aware of shoulder surfers to protecting your company-provided laptops and mobile devices from potential security risks. For example, locking the devices when stepping away, keeping the workstation clean, avoiding tailgating, and storing confidential files and printed materials in a secure place.

Removable media security: Removable media, such as USB drives, CDs, portable hard drives, smartphones, SD cards, etc., offer convenient ways to copy, transfer and store data. However, there are risks of data exposure, virus or malware infection, data loss and theft. Educate your employees about your organization’s removable media policy, the risks involved with using removable media, especially untrusted/unsanctioned removable media, the importance of the policy and the repercussions of not following procedure.

Password security: According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network, more than 5.7 million cybercrime reports were filed by consumers in 2021, of which 25% were for identity theft. The importance of having a strong password is paramount in today’s threat-laden environment. Security awareness programs must include password management and password best practices, including what constitutes a strong password and how to generate one. Your employees must also use multifactor authentication (MFA) whenever possible to prevent account compromises.

Incident response: Having an incident response (IR) plan and IR team is not enough. You must also educate your employees about their roles and responsibilities in the event of a security incident. The harsh reality is security incidents are inevitable. Your organization’s preparedness to deal with such incidents can be the difference maker between grappling with legal and regulatory issues and quickly recovering from crises and avoiding further damage.

Cyber awareness challenges

While cybersecurity awareness cannot solve cybercrime, businesses today realize its importance in mitigating potential risks. In fact, most companies provide some sort of security awareness training to their employees. However, statistics of successful data breaches in recent years indicate that there is still room for improvement in cyber awareness. Cybersecurity awareness is a must in the digital world. That being said, developing cyber awareness programs can be labor-intensive and challenging.

Cybercriminals constantly come up with new attack methods. Catching up with new trends and updating training programs is harder than it sounds. This also makes cybersecurity training materials rapidly outdated since the knowledge and skills that worked today may not be sufficient for tomorrow’s threats.

Developing cybersecurity awareness programs is often a manual process (unless your company uses a fully managed cyber awareness program). Therefore, selecting security content, creating resources, testing training materials and tools can be time-consuming and burdensome.

It is always a challenge to generate interest and engage employees. Repetitive curriculum, too much information, duration of the course and complexity can discourage employee participation.

Supplement cybersecurity awareness with Spanning Backup

Cybercrime is a growing challenge not just for big companies but for small businesses as well. Despite implementing state-of-the-art security solutions, deploying security personnel and training employees, threat actors continue to successfully evade defense systems.

When cybersecurity incidents occur, your secure backup is your last line of defense. Whether it is due to human error, illegitimate deletion, ransomware or hackers, if your organization has a secure, clean backup of your data, you can quickly get back to action with minimal or no disruption to your business.

Spanning Backup for Google Workspace, Microsoft 365 and Salesforce makes backup seamless with a quick and easy setup that’s accompanied by an intuitive interface. That means no expensive training costs, no lengthy installations and configurations, and no headaches.

What’s more? No need for admin intervention — your employees can restore their own data, allowing IT admins to continue focusing on critical tasks.

Experience the powerful, yet easy-to-use capabilities of Spanning today.

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