Cyber security is more important than ever before. The news is full of stories of leaks and breaches large and small. Some of these result from sophisticated, targeted hacks, and others occur thanks to enterprising hackers taking advantage of security holes in insecure or out-of-date software.
At the end of the day, though, just about every organization has the same weak link: its employees. The finest security tools are no match for bad (or just naïve) behavior from your employees. With that in mind, today we’ll review 6 strategies and tips crucial to improving your employees’ cyber security behavior.
1. Use Long, Complex Passwords
People tend to be lazy. It’s a part of human nature. If your IT policies allow people to set their passwords to “password” or “12345”, you can be assured some of your employees will do just that. Short, simple, easy-to-guess passwords are a security threat to your business. Not only can passwords like these be easily guessed by a human, they take next to no time to be brute forced by hacking tools.
Encourage (or, better, require) your employees to use long, complex passwords. A phrase that’s memorable to the employee is a good start. Add in some complex characters (symbols, mix of capital and lowercase) to increase the complexity further.
2. Understand That Everyone Can Be Targeted
Don’t think of cyber crimes in the same way people used to think about military conflict: as something that occurs between large entities with high-powered offensive and defensive capabilities. Yes, it’s the Targets and Experians of the world that make the national news when they are breached, but those high-profile cases are the exception, not the rule.
Smaller hackers aren’t going after hard targets, like governments or Wall Street. They’re going after soft targets: small and medium businesses that think they “can’t afford” good cyber security. In other words, they’re going after you.
3. Don’t Go Swimming and You Won’t Get Phished
One of the best tools hackers use is phishing. Phishing starts with your employees receiving a fake email. It could look like a legit business message or like a message from a vendor or service that you’re already using (like Microsoft Office 365). In other cases it looks interesting, tantalizing, or even salacious. These emails will contain a link or an attachment and will encourage users to click the link and log in or to open the attachment.
But the links and attachments aren’t what they appear to be. Once users do those actions, their credentials or devices are compromised.
Our best advice here is don’t go swimming so you won’t get phished. Don’t click on suspicious links, no matter how interesting they look. Don’t open attachments from unfamiliar accounts. If the email looks to be from a legit service (like Office 365), navigate to that service manually instead of by clicking the link. Lastly, if you’re not sure about an email, check with your IT group before continuing.
4. Consider the Security of the Network You’re Using
One of the advantages of cloud services is the ability to access many work systems from anywhere. As more and more firms move to cloud software and cloud services, those firms’ users need to stay up to date on security best practices. Employees dealing with sensitive company information or accessing customer data should only do so on secure networks. Public computers, free Wi-Fi at the corner café, and your cousin’s open Wi-Fi network are all examples of insecure network environments. Save the sensitive stuff for a more secure environment like the office.
5. Be Physically Aware
Many cyber attacks are perpetrated through actual, physical access to systems. Employees can be shockingly careless with company tech. If you walk away from your computer, phone, or tablet — even just for a second — lock the device. This is true even in your own cubicle or office. You never know when a disgruntled coworker might attempt to compromise something while posing as you.
Also, make sure employees understand that devices can be compromised by anything that’s plugged into them. Computers can be compromised by plugging in a flash drive or SD card that’s infected with malware. Be sure you trust the source of any external device that’s coming into your company.
6. Beware Social Engineering
Employees also need to watch out for social engineering schemes. These are similar to phishing schemes, but instead of stealing credentials using a fake form or website, thieves convince employees to hand credentials over outright. Don’t be afraid to hang up on (or stop emailing with) someone claiming to be from an important vendor (we’ll use Microsoft again). If anyone is asking an employee to supply credentials or to take actions on your computer or network, that’s a huge red flag. Legitimate vendor contacts likely wouldn’t need the employee to do this for them. Employees can call back directly using a number they know is legitimate. If the concern is real, the real support team will know about it.
These 6 strategies will help your employees resist cyber intrusions, but there is so much more for your team to know. For more comprehensive help with your cyber security strategy, contact us today.
I am an IT professional with a broad depth of knowledge and experience as an IT planning consultant, with previous experience as a network engineer. I have 14+ years in the industry providing sustainable technology solutions for small to medium-sized businesses. I personally thrive on making systems more efficient and I am continually interested in ways to innovate using technology applications. I enjoy working closely with colleagues and clients to collaborate and provide a best fit solution for all IT-related needs. More recently I have assisted my workplace with an implementation of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) in the “Integrator” role, where I have assisted with optimizing company operations and improving cross-departmental functional systems.