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The human firewall: how employee training can bolster your cybersecurity defenses

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In the world of cybersecurity, passwords and firewalls are only a tiny part of the equation. It’s not enough to secure your corporate network if you don’t also protect your employees from themselves. When it comes to protecting sensitive data, you need everyone in the organization to be a guardian. An employee who’s careless about how they use their devices or keeps their password stored on their company laptop may cause more damage than an outside hacker could ever hope to do.

People are your best and last defense against cyberattacks

Human psychology is the winning element in the most successful cyberattacks. Given the amount of information we are exposed to daily, including news, emails, private messages, newsletters, and company communications, a click on a malicious link can happen to anyone. As humans, we can also be tired, distracted, or overzealous. Some want to help and quickly answer an urgent request. Social engineering attacks rely on precisely that.

For this reason, employee awareness is the most important cybersecurity tool in every organization. A well-trained employee will stop an attack and report it, even when it’s already passed through your malware-detecting tools.

How to build your human firewall

Your employees can be your best asset in fighting cybersecurity threats, but you must first equip them with the right tools and knowledge. Here’s the to-do list:

  • Build awareness: ensure your employees know about the risks and their role in addressing them.
  • Create processes: employees have to know what to do if they see something suspicious.
  • Provide training: train them on how to spot potential breaches in your organization’s security.
  • Test: run cybersecurity tests and fake attacks to spot any gaps.

Build awareness

To protect your business and your employees, you need to make sure they know what they’re up against. This means providing them with information about the risks involved in doing business online, including:

  • The kinds of data that cybercriminals can compromise;
  • How hackers can use this information to launch attacks, including spear phishing and ransomware;
  • The tools employees already have at their disposal, like strong passwords and two-factor authentication.

Streamline reporting

Your team should know what to do if they spot a problem. Including when they’ve made a mistake and might feel uncomfortable reporting it.

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Depending on the size of your company, you can encourage your employees to contact you directly and as soon as possible whenever they suspect a phishing attempt or a data leak. Otherwise, designate a person from your IT team to handle cybersecurity reports. Ideally, provide your employees with an anonymous way to report incidents.

Fostering a company culture based on trust is critical because it encourages timely reporting. This, in turn, can help prevent further damage to the company’s finances or reputation. If your employees are scared of disciplinary action, they may end up making things worse by trying to fix the problem themselves.

Provide training and lead by example

Train employees to spot potential breaches wherever they happen in your organization. Make sure you run mandatory training sessions and that you participate in these sessions as well.

How and where a company’s security can be compromised

Hackers can get very creative in crafting cyberattacks. Phishing alone can be done in more than fifteen different ways, and that’s something your team may not realize. Make sure your employees learn about spear phishing, smishing, ransomware, watering hole attacks, identity theft, and everything else in between. Give specific examples of how some companies fell into the trap and what the consequences might be.

How to spot a malicious attempt

Once employees have been trained about the scale of the problem, get practical and train them on how to spot a data breach attempt. Employees should be taught how to recognize suspicious activity on their computers or devices, even if those devices aren’t part of the company’s IT infrastructure. They should also have a sense of how this suspicious behavior may indicate an attempted attack from outside sources.

Test knowledge and send reminders

Creating a cybersecurity course is one thing. Making sure the right behavior is implemented is another. Testing your team’s knowledge will give you an idea of how much they’ve learned. More importantly, though, don’t let them forget it all once the training session is over.

The best way to do this is to regularly launch fake data breach attempts and track employees’ responses. Debrief employees after each “attack” and discuss the lessons learned from it. The more real-life scenarios you can create, the better. This will help your team learn faster and retain their knowledge longer.


Cybercrime is not something that will go away. On the contrary—last year, the Internal Crime Center (IC3), received complaints indicating 103,000 cybersecurity crimes in the US alone. Research identified that nearly 60% of these cases were worsened or influenced by perpetrators having access to their victims’ personal information.

This is why cybersecurity training is not something you should take lightly. It’s a topic that affects every aspect of your business and can have life-changing consequences if not done properly or with due diligence. If implemented correctly, however, it will ensure that your organization is well prepared for any threat to its security—whether human or machine-driven.

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