Despite the well-known impacts of cyber breaches—whether financial, operational, or reputational—companies continue to suffer from crippling cybersecurity attacks year after year. In 2021, the number of data compromises increased by 68% from the year before.
A single successful breach can have a devastating financial impact on an organization. A data breach in the U.S. costs over twice the global average, with the average cost reaching nearly $9.5 million in 2022.
Regardless of industry, size, or location, any organization can become a target for cybercriminals, especially as the threats evolve and become more complex. While technological safeguards are important tools for prevention and response, 82% of breaches involve human error.
The reality is that employees are the first line of defense in any business, and their awareness of cyber threats and understanding of preventative measures can make all the difference.
Employee Concern for Company Data Is Low
To better understand the current level of security awareness among American workers, we at Fortra’s Terranova Security commissioned research in partnership with IPSOS to uncover the perceptions that U.S. employees have around cybersecurity within their companies, as well as their role in the process.
We found that the level of concern among employees for company data was alarmingly low. More than a third say they have little-to-no concern about data theft at work, and one in five Americans believe they can’t be targeted at all by cybercriminals.
This should raise some concerns for business leaders. Not a week goes by without a headline about a ransomware attack halting operations at a business, or more threats from cybercriminals to release sensitive and personal data on the Dark Web.
You can have the most powerful, cutting-edge security technology in the world, but if people aren’t aware of the risks, or aren’t clear on the impact that a breach can have, company information is at risk.
The Importance of Communication, Education, and Culture
While the research uncovered some concerning findings, it also provided some answers on how businesses can turn perceptions around.
First, better communication is needed from businesses. There’s a lack of understanding among employees regarding the important role they play in protecting information. More than three-quarters of employees in the U.S. think it’s solely the IT department’s job to protect company data, even though most breaches stem from human error. By communicating and re-enforcing the message that each person plays an important role in data and system protection, companies will take a simple but powerful step toward being more secure.
This leads to the importance of education and culture. Employers grant their staff access to technology and other digital assets, and they have a responsibility to educate their staff on the risks associated with those technologies. We can not simply assume the users of technology have been previously informed on the threats and how to recognize them.
In our research, only 41% of employees say they work in a company where cybersecurity awareness training is mandatory and nearly a third say their company doesn’t offer any at all. Clearly, much more can be done to support and educate employees about cyber threats.
Employees are open to training, too—77% believe cybersecurity training is interesting, and 57% have started or completed the training when it’s offered to them.
It’s imperative for businesses to prioritize educating and training their people about the looming cyber threats to mitigate the human risk factor. Over time, regular training will change employee behaviors and build a culture of security awareness at all levels within the company—one where the mindset of protecting sensitive information is always front and center for everyone, from the most senior executives to the most junior employees.
Once you have this culture developing, along with well-informed employees who understand the importance of data security, you have a strong line of defense against any cyber threat.
Theo Zafirakos is CISO of Fortra’s Terranova Security.