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Karan Singh Karan is a highly experienced DevOps Engineer with over 13 years of experience in the IT industry. Throughout his career, he has developed a deep understanding of the principles of DevOps, including continuous integration and deployment, automated testing, and infrastructure as code.

Data Breaches: Why Employee Training is Your Best Defence

3 min read

Just hearing the words “data breach” is enough to give most business owners a shiver down their spine. We hear about them in the news, and we read about them in industry publications – but most leaders never really think that it will happen to them…until it’s too late. 

The thing is, data breaches can be extremely costly. According to IBM, the average financial cost of a data breach was $4.45 million in 2023. That’s not exactly chump change. On top of this, these breaches can also come with a catalog of other severe consequences, such as ruined reputations, regulatory penalties, operational disruptions, and even legal liabilities. 

While cyberattacks are unavoidable,  the good news is that many breaches are completely preventable with the right employee training. How so? Let’s find out. 

What are Data Breaches?

In the realm of data protection, a breach is the term used to describe the unauthorized access, disclosure, or misuse of any form of sensitive information within an organization. This can be both internal company records (such as employee data or financial documents), as well as customer/user data. 

While the media often puts the focus on sophisticated cyber attacks (such as the Equifax or SolarWinds events), the reality is that data breaches cover a far wider spectrum of incidents, some more extravagant than others. 

  • Deceptive Phishing Campaigns: Scammers send fake emails impersonating trusted brands to try and manipulate employees into revealing login credentials or other sensitive data.
  • Carelessness and Noncompliance: A lot of the time, data breaches actually originate from employees accidentally or intentionally disregarding security policies and protocols. This can be due to human error, laziness, misconfiguring software or mishandling confidential data.
  • Unsecured Devices and Transmission: Lost, stolen, or improperly encrypted devices as well as unsecured data transmission open pathways for third parties to access unprotected sensitive information.
  • Sophisticated Hacking Techniques: Finally, we have the more “traditional” idea of cybercrime, where highly skilled hackers use complex methods like malware, brute force password cracking, or exploiting undiscovered software bugs to penetrate systems and gain unauthorized data access.

Employees: The First Line of Defense

While you may have the best firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and all the latest and greatest tech that money can buy – but these defenses are all rendered useless if your employees aren’t security aware. All of the money spent into building these systems can be easily undone by one small slip – clicking on a phishing link, connecting a corrupted USB, or taking a shortcut where a hacker was lurking in wait. 

This is where cybersecurity awareness training comes in. Not only does it empower your workforce to be active participants in protecting your data, but it also helps you meet regulatory and compliance frameworks more effectively.

Just look at HiBob, the rapidly scaling HR software start up that manages highly sensitive employee data for more than 3,500 companies. While they undoubtedly have some of the most cutting edge encryption and network defenses, they understand that employee training should always be priority number one if they want to avoid a HiBob data breach.

All new hires, even contractors receive mandatory training on cybersecurity at least once per year. This reinforces the idea that security is everyone’s responsibility, and serves as a reminder that everyone who handles data is on the front line against the cyber criminals. 

Employee Training: A Two-Pronged Approach

Ok, so when you break it down, employees need training across two separate fronts. First, it’s how to prevent breaches. Second, is how to react quickly when a breach does occur. Let’s break both of these down:

Preventative Training

  • Password Hygiene/Habits: Bring everyone up to speed on what good password management looks like. This means informing people on the dangers of reuse, the value of password managers and authenticators, as well as how to spot and report suspicious login attempts.
  • Spotting Red Flags:  Teach employees the basics of spotting red flags in digital communications, especially emails. This includes things like sender addresses, domain names, grammatical errors, and language choice. Also highlight common phishing tactics that hackers tend to employ, such as urgency and requesting sensitive info. Skepticism should always be the starting point when dealing with new addresses. 
  • Data Handling: Make sure that everyone understands the company’s policy when it comes to sharing sensitive information – both internally and externally. If you don’t already have them, there should be clear guidelines for things like file storage and use of encryption when transferring data.
  • Device Security: With the rise of remote work, employees need to be up to date on the risks that come with the territory. Educate on things like man of the middle attacks from logging on to unsecured public networks. Also have clear procedures for reporting lost or stolen work devices.
  • Fraud and Identity Theft: Organisations have the legal, moral, and ethical responsibility to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of their customers and employees. Educate on securing PII and other consumer data by using IP address location API to fortify their digital infrastructure.

Response Training

  • Know the Incident Reporting Chain: When the worst does happen, employees need to have access to a simple and easy to comprehend guide on the reporting process. Every employee should have a specific manager or team that they need to contact immediately if a breach is suspected.
  • Understand the 72-Hour Deadline: Depending on which country you’re in, there are now many data protection laws that require the reporting of data breaches to authorities within a certain timeframe. This is typically 72 hours. Given the short time frame, it’s crucial that employees understand the need for swift reporting.
  • Policy and Practice = Preparedness: It’s all well and good having policy and procedures in place, but if employees haven’t actively practiced or drilled them, then they aren’t going to be as useful. Make sure to run drills once in a while. 

Parting Thoughts

What may seem like common sense to the more technically savvy may not even occur to someone who is not well versed in cyber security. And given that it only takes one small mistake to compromise your whole system/network, it’s absolutely vital that all team members are brought up to speed on the current best practices when it comes to data protection techniques. 

Yes, it requires extra time and resources, but this simple preventative measure could end up saving you a significant headache down the line, as well as something money can’t buy – your reputation. 

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Karan Singh Karan is a highly experienced DevOps Engineer with over 13 years of experience in the IT industry. Throughout his career, he has developed a deep understanding of the principles of DevOps, including continuous integration and deployment, automated testing, and infrastructure as code.
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