A woman and a man in a room of computers performing cybersecurity.

How to Strengthen Your Weakest Link through Cybersecurity Education

It takes only seconds for an individual to send an email reply that could lead to a multi-million dollar breach. Even more concerning, in most cases, the responsible party doesn’t even realize the error. 

How can this scenario be prevented? The biggest component to overcoming this challenge is educating employees on the dangers of social engineering—the use of deception to manipulate individuals into sharing confidential or personal information for fraudulent purposes—and showing them detection methods to spot the fraudsters. 

A Changing Cybersecurity Landscape

If one click can compromise an entire organization’s sensitive data and systems, then not even an organization that has invested millions of dollars in IT and security infrastructure is immune to attack. 

That’s the reality of today’s cybersecurity landscape. And end–user–focused social engineering attacks are perhaps the most constantly evolving cyberthreats. 

Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering as a method of attack isn’t a new concept. Individuals and hackers have been using these people-focused deception techniques for decades to manipulate targets and extract sensitive information. 

However, the adoption and usage of social engineering as a primary method of cyberattacks has dramatically risen in the past few years. As organizations continue to develop their online presence, fully integrate their email and network access, and expand their digital footprint, social engineering has become one of the easiest, most successful methods for an attacker to exploit. 

It’s important to note that many cyber attackers are part of a group or organization run as a for-profit business. Just like a board or executive suite, attackers are focused on key metrics such as the bottom line and achieving a high return on investment. It pays to keep in mind that the bad guys are highly organized, motivated, and compensated.

Go Phish

Rather than spending hours, days, or weeks attempting to penetrate your security infrastructure with sophisticated attacks and advanced persistent threats, hackers realize a higher ROI and success rate through widespread phishing email attacks. In a matter of hours, they can develop a customized phishing email to distribute to hundreds or thousands of addresses. One single click is all it takes for an employee to fall victim while criminals capitalize. 

When you consider the number of employees in your organization and the number of emails each employee receives on a daily basis, the expansiveness and diversity of the “attack surface” (the end users) is a gold mine for criminals. This in combination with the elevated credentials and weak passwords of many end users mean an attack is likely. 

Cybersecurity Education Prevents Attacks

What can you do? Combining real phishing exercises with in-the-moment feedback and training is the best way to educate and improve your end users’ security awareness. 

While many organizations implement an annual security training module, educating end users requires ongoing efforts. Consistent training should be content-specific and focused on current styles of social engineering and ransomware attacks. 

Organizations who implement an internal phishing education program have seen dramatic improvements in end user awareness and ability to detect potential attacks. Effective programs deliver phishing emails to internal resources and monitor which users open the email, click on the link, download the attachment, and authenticate to the fake website. With each failure, targeted training can be delivered to the end user to help them identify what went wrong and provide meaningful examples of how to improve. 

Results from clients who have adopted an exercise and training program show that after a few months, the percentage of failures (employees who click on the link) decreases from an initial 50-60% in the first campaign to under three percent. 

For more information and help with implementing a campaign of your own, contact our cybersecurity team. 

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Originally published  June 7, 2017. Updated February 23, 2024.



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