For businesses, the stereotypical notion of a hacker working alone is no longer the primary threat. Hacking has grown into a multibillion-dollar business, with research and development budgets and institutional hierarchies. Today, attackers leverage sophisticated tools, including artificial intelligence and automation.
Attackers' increasingly advanced approach also comes with a high price tag. IBM's 2021 data breach report reveals that the average cost of a breach has climbed by 10% year-over-year — the largest single-year cost increase in seven years.
We often hear about large-scale cyber attacks in the news, which may give small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) a false sense of security. Although some hackers are interested in larger enterprises, SMBs are also highly popular targets; a ConnectWise survey reveals that 55% of SMBs polled have endured a cyber attack.
While SMBs may feel they are flying under the radar, they hold valuable information that hackers can exploit and are often easier to penetrate. This blog explores why employees play a vital role in cyber attacks, popular scams used by attackers, and how organizations can fortify their cybersecurity.
Human Error: The Leading Cause of Breaches
End-user training is an invaluable tool when it comes to securing your first line of defense: your people. After all, human error is cited among the most significant factors that enable cyber attacks. According to the World Economic Forum, an astonishing 95% of cybersecurity issues can be traced back to human error.
And they're more common than one may think. Last year, 83% of organizations were on the receiving end of a successful email-based phishing attack, in which a user was swindled into taking a risky action: clicking a bad link, downloading malware, leaking login details, or approving a wire transfer.
In today's landscape, addressing the human element of cybersecurity is more important than ever. While training end-users to evade security threats may seem simple, it's powerful in protecting your organization.
A Lack of Employee Awareness
Although human error is a leading cause of security breaches, there has been a troubling decline in employee phishing awareness. Proofpoint's 2022 security survey reveals that only 53% of respondents (compared with 61% the previous year) correctly identified phishing on a multiple-choice test.
Moreover, of the 3,500 employees polled, 42% admitted to clicking on a malicious link or performing an action that exposed company data and login information — or resulted in malware infecting their system. The high prevalence of malicious activity underscores the importance of employee security training, but many leaders are not offering it. Only 37% of decision-makers surveyed provided their teams with best security practices training.
Phishing — and Other Social Engineering Techniques
Many people are familiar with phishing — but the scheme belongs to a broad umbrella term: social engineering. At its core, a social engineering scam exploits human psychology. They take advantage of universal human qualities, such as deference to authority, greed, and curiosity.
Once a user clicks a malicious link, it directs them to a website that appears to be legitimate (e.g., a fake version of their bank's website). The person is then prompted to enter their username and password; if they comply, the hacker obtains their credentials.
Sometimes, links or attachments in the emails are infected with malware, also known as malicious software. If an employee clicks an infected link or attachment, malware can infiltrate their computer — and breach organizational security.
Hackers can trick unsuspecting employees into spreading malware infections, leaking data, providing access to restricted systems, and authorizing money transfers.
Phishing is a form of fraud where a hacker impersonates a reputable entity or individual in an email, text message, or phone call. Often, phishing messages reproduce emails from large companies like Amazon, banks, or government departments.
These schemes are typically not personalized and sent to hundreds — if not thousands — of people. The attacker will prompt the recipient to download an attachment, transfer funds, or click a link.
Spear phishing is similar to phishing but takes a targeted approach. Hackers meticulously research their victims' online behavior and curate customized scam communications. They learn about a victim's personal and professional relationships to craft personalized messages that appear authentic. For instance, a hacker may impersonate a CEO to convince an employee to conduct a financial transfer that makes sense within the context of their job.
This scam involves tempting an end-user with a perk, such as a gift card or a lucrative reward. Bait schemes are enticing and often sound too good to be true. The goal is to encourage a user to click a link or download an attachment — and infect their device or gain access to confidential information.
With this technique, an unauthorized person gains physical access to business assets. They may follow an employee into a restricted area (by asking them to hold the door because they forgot their ID). The hacker may pick up a valuable USB stick or ask to borrow an employee's laptop to install malware.
Malware and Its Consequences
Malware is any software created with malicious intent; attackers can deploy it using malicious links, attachments, and websites. Typically, the goal is to steal data, damage devices, and illegally secure funds. While malware comes in various forms, below is a list of some common culprits:
Viruses require some type of user action to infect a system. Users may inadvertently share virus-loaded files with colleagues, causing them to spread rapidly. Viruses can delete files, damage programs, reformat or erase a hard drive, cause device malfunctions, and more.
A trojan is a seemingly harmless program, but it bypasses device security and invites malware in when downloaded. Like viruses, trojans require human interaction to circulate. They cause perpetual pop-up windows, delete files, steal data, and more.
Attackers typically spread ransomware through phishing emails or drive-by downloads (websites that install malware to a user's device). Once ransomware is deployed, an organization's files become inaccessible — and are only unlocked when it pays the hacker a handsome fine.
ConnectWise's 2022 MSP Threat Report states that a whopping two-thirds of midsized organizations have suffered a ransomware attack in the past 18 months. What's more, 20% of them spent at least $250,000 to recover. More organizations are learning about the dire consequences associated with ransom attacks today — especially since they're on the rise. Ransomware incidents more than doubled in 2021, and approximately 37% of global organizations experienced one.
Fortifying End-User Security Defenses
End-user cybersecurity training is more than a compliance check-box on a human resources form. It can mean the difference between a perfectly secure, efficient, and productive environment — or potential data leaks, reputational damage, endless downtime, and costly damages.
While small and mid-sized businesses are not immune to attacks, a solid end-user security training program will strengthen their defenses considerably. Understanding best security practices, suspicious signs to watch out for, and how to handle a threat empowers your employees to keep your organization safe.
At Riverstrong, we understand that hackers' strategies evolve over time — and we upgrade our security offerings in lockstep. We offer the most innovative and comprehensive end-user training using the latest IT research available.
We deliver the full suite of cybersecurity services to keep your network secure, optimized, and efficient. Whether you're looking for a simple security solution or a robust strategy to take your organization to the next level — we're only a click away!