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How to empower staff and protect data security

Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

Your cyber security is only as strong as its weakest link and that weak link is often the human element. Cyber security is a human problem. That’s why it is critical to invest in staff awareness so they know what to do to prevent your organisation being breached.

In a modern business, cyber security is everyone's responsibility. It's important to develop a culture of cyber awareness in your team so they can play their part in minimising business risk.  The internet, email, cloud use and apps all work to keep business running.  However, it is this interconnectedness that means cyber-crime can now happen at a pace, scale and reach that is unprecedented.  To counter this potential threat, it is important to make sure your staff are cyber aware and play their part in protecting your valuable information at all times.

A photo of a woman from behind working at an office desk

"Information is power" – it's an age-old saying more relevant than ever. Your data is one of your most valuable assets, not just the business' own sensitive data but also customers' data. This is even more the case today with the 2018 changes to the Privacy Act. Unfortunately, many businesses are rather lax when it comes to keeping this valuable asset safe, even though a serious data breach could bring the business to its knees.

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Lock it down

Empowering employees to protect business data starts with establishing effective cyber awareness programs and having accessible, plain-English cyber security policies. These should start with a focus on password-protecting computers and handheld devices which contain, or can access, business data. In addition to this, there need to be policies around staff using their own devices at work.

Cyber security policies guide staff behaviour and should cover effective password management, such as a minimum length and complexity as well as a ban on using the same password for different services. Password managers are woth considering. Two-factor authentication should also be enabled where available, to offer an extra line of defence for business systems and online services. Businesses may want to also consider having good processes around reviewing who has access to what information (both staff and external suppliers) and making sure that staff who no longer need access no longer do. This is essential cyber security housekeeping often overlooked by many businesses. It would be like not collecting the keys from the previous 10 tenants that leased your rental property. 

It's important to tighten up security across the board, not just on a few key systems. Supply chains are critical when working out who has access to your valuable information and how they might be looking after it. It is important that your suppliers protect your valuable information - several well-known breaches have been through supply chain vulnerabilities.

Enable encryption

An email is like a postcard - it can be intercepted and read in transit.  Don’t assume there is inherent security in email. A growing number of websites use HTTPS encryption to stop third parties eavesdropping on your online activities. Staff should always look for the padlock symbol and the 'https://' in a browser's address bar when using services like online banking and webmail.

Your web browser or security software will often warn you if a website looks suspicious, checking for an invalid security certificate or malware embedded in the page. It's easy for your team to develop warning fatigue and simply click OK to every pop-up notification, so it's important to train them to remain vigilant and ask for assistance when in doubt.

Your business should also enable the extra protection of a Virtual Private Network when your team members work away from the office, to protect their online activities from prying eyes. It's an important security precaution when using public Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks in locations like cafes, airport lounges and hotel rooms.

Think twice before clicking

A healthy sense of paranoia is one of the best defences when it comes to cyber security. Most businesses rely on email as a key business tool so clicking on links is necessary. But some links come with more than business opportunities.

Cyber criminals looking to steal your valuable information will use phishing emails as a way of gaining access to your company and your valuable data. Rather than promising something too good to be true, like winning the lottery, most phishing emails often pretend to be something too mundane to be alarming – such as an overdue utility bill or notification of a missed parcel delivery. But always look carefully at the email - - were you expecting a bill? Were you expecting a delivery? Why would the police be emailing an infringement notice to your work email?

All staff need to think twice before clicking on links in emails or opening attachments, as these can infect a computer with malicious software designed to steal passwords or perhaps encrypt the computer's hard drive and hold your data to ransom. 

Businesses are also vulnerable to targeted "socially engineered" emails, which are tailored to trick specific people in your organisation.  The "engineered" aspect is that they appear to come from other staff members or people you know. They all have the same intention of getting the recipient to click on the link or do something that will allow them to gain a foothold in your organisation. 

These socially engineered emails can be harder to detect but the same rules apply: - staff should always approach links and attachments with caution and not be afraid to query unusual requests, or ring the person or organisation purporting to send the email on their published phone number and check with them.

Building cyber-aware staff is key.  - Cyber security is as much a human issue as it is a technical issue, so having staff who are aware of the risks and how to manage them can make all the difference in this interconnected world.

*Originally published on March 30th 2016. Updated July 10th 2019.

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