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The Role of Leaders in Creating a Cybersecurity Culture

In Hollywood films, cybercrime is usually portrayed as the modern-day Western where the bad and good nerds shoot code at each other instead of bullets. The reality is far more mundane. Most of the time, data breach incidences occur simply due to negligence or avoidable mistakes by employees.

According to a recent report by the Ponemon Institute and IBM, approximately a quarter of the data breach incidences from July 2018 to April 2019 resulted from human error. The best action to remedy this risk is adopting a holistic approach that can address technology, practices, procedures, and people. Ensuring that all these procedures and practices are well maintained requires an efficient governance model.

This calls for strong leadership from the organization’s top levels. Ultimately, all company leaders are responsible for implementing the relevant principles and policies in their teams and departments. Unfortunately, senior executives (even in established companies) still believe that cybersecurity issues are for the IT team instead of a leadership issue.

The company leaders play a vital role in terms of defining the organization’s values. They have the influence and authority to prioritize cybersecurity as a critical component of the overall organizational culture. Typically, employee engagement is usually born out of culture and not vice versa. It does not matter the level of commitment or how excellent your strategy is; it will not be successful unless your employees buy into it.

A robust cybersecurity culture can help you avoid data breaches and cybersecurity incidences. But it starts with ensuring all leaders assume their responsibilities.

Leaders Play the Main Role in Creating a Cybersecurity Culture

It is all well and good adopting state-of-the-art, advanced security technology and tools to protect your company data and systems from cyber threats. But if you fail to establish a strong cybersecurity culture, you will still be vulnerable.

Every day, cyber threats get more sophisticated. This explains why nearly a third of businesses in the US have experienced a data breach. Considering these statistics, most companies deem cybersecurity as one of their top priorities.

Companies that make significant investments in cybersecurity mostly base their investments in tech. However, they fail to provide sufficient attention to the human side of the system, which remains a top cybersecurity threat for most companies.

Often, malicious individuals attack organizations’ systems using phishing emails and other similar tactics. This means employees have to be strengthened as the first line of defense. After all, apps, software, and computers do not click on these emails, it is the humans who do it – and this is where you should focus your cybersecurity investments.

Furthermore, it is the personnel who access most of the company’s networks, computers, and systems every day, so they have a major role in keeping the IT infrastructure resilient in the threat landscape.

When you implement a cybersecurity culture in the company, the benefits will cover the security posture and the entire organization. The culture goes beyond simply creating and publishing policies without adequate instruction and instructing personnel to change their access details and passwords frequently. Employees do not put the company data at risk intentionally. They only need sufficient guidance and training to handle any incident that comes their way.

That is why company leaders should be at the forefront when creating a security culture. Their role may include raising awareness and explaining to employees the possible cybersecurity threats, their implications, and how to mitigate them. This will allow you to enforce practical cybersecurity approaches and standard procedures that will assimilate with the organization’s day-to-day activities.

The board of directors is ultimately responsible and liable for the organization’s survival. In the interconnected world of today, cyber resilience remains to be a major part of their responsibility. These organization leaders should consider cybersecurity an enterprise-wide issue, not just the IT department’s job. As such, they must guide the management team on the best practices.

Directors should understand the associated regulatory and legal implications of cyber threats and relate this information to their specific circumstances. They should also guide management in creating a robust risk-management framework with an adequate budget and staffing.

How Leaders Can Foster a Cybersecurity Culture

The Covid-19 period has seen a massive increase in reported cybersecurity incidences and data breaches. However, the increase in attacks and vulnerabilities is also a unique opportunity for company leaders. This is the appropriate time for them to step up their communications and operations to create a strong cybersecurity culture that adequately guides members on the desired behaviors and actions.

High-ranking company executives should personally facilitate enhanced vigilance against opportunistic threats to business data and the company as a whole. They must also ensure employees implement these secure behaviors during these crisis times and beyond.

Here’s how leaders can create and reinforce a strong cybersecurity culture in their establishments:

Begin with the Basics

Most companies make the common mistake of skipping the basics. This can lead to lots of confusion among staff, and most may end up making errors that they could easily avoid.

Basic activities like establishing and implementing a firm password policy can have a significant impact. With this policy, you will have an effective defense line, and attackers will have a hard time accessing your network and systems. What’s more, enabling two-factor authentication means an additional security layer to the baseline and limited access to accounts.

It is also essential to limit access to systems, software, and data to only the appropriate roles. Once a worker leaves the organization, you should terminate any access to sensitive information or face the risk of exploitation.

Finally, it is vital to limit the types of software employees can download using company devices. This significantly lowers the risk of data breaches and cybersecurity incidences.

Implement Simple Reporting Procedures

Employees may be easily led into thinking that they cannot interact with security and IT departments unless a mistake has been reported. This should not be the case. Instead, management and executive teams must ensure open communication within all the company departments. Staff must also feel confident about reaching out to the responsible groups to report an issue or provide a constructive response when they have committed a mistake.

Leaders should also make junior staff understand that they are free to request any assistance from the teams and gain a more profound knowledge of their roles in maintaining a strong cybersecurity culture. In addition, create channels where staff can easily reach out to the relevant professionals to report any suspicions, seek guidance, or request additional cybersecurity training.

Engaging Continuous Cybersecurity Training Is Vital

There is no excuse for failing to make cybersecurity training a more engaging experience. Making the training interactive and engaging for your staff is a significant component of a robust security culture.

For instance, you may use real-life examples to show how lousy security hygiene can harm the company, but it should not end there. You should enlighten them on how vital their role is and how they can ensure secure systems and seamless operations.

Make the training fun for your staff. You can organize a competition and reward those who show a deeper understanding of cybersecurity issues. It is also helpful to share stories on how a good cybersecurity culture can transform the company and make the training continuous. Do not force an entire week of training down their throats. Instead, remind everyone to stay vigilant every week while often rewarding anyone who identifies and reports any threat or bug.

Relevance is key. To make the training more useful, you can customize the education program to match different departments’ needs since they do not face similar threats. Facilitate cooperation, coordination, and dialogue between teams so that they can share their experiences. All this will ensure the employees have a deeper understanding of all cybersecurity aspects.

Monitor Post-Training Performance and Behaviors through Metrics

Using fun competitions and games to achieve an engaging learning process can also help you keep track of your strategy’s effectiveness. Quick and regular tests and assessments will clearly show how useful the training has been, and you will be certain whether your employees have gained concrete knowledge of the concept. By checking these metrics, you will know how far you have come regarding creating and developing your security culture.

Be creative with the education. For instance, you can assign negative points to underperforming employees or mention their names to motivate them. Of course, this activity is not ideal for all companies, so ensure you choose a strategy that works for your team. 

Make It Your Long-Term Objective

Criminals and malicious individuals understand that the best time to attack is during high levels of uncertainty, fear, chaos, and doubts. Company executives must step in and implement the attitude and values that all employees are responsible for the company’s security. Leaders must also demonstrate their commitment to ensuring security by improving their activity, updating their staff, and supporting first responders whenever there is a cybersecurity incidence.

Everyone hopes that the coronavirus pandemic ends soon, but maintaining your data and overall company security should be a long-term objective. A security culture where all employees feel personally responsible for protecting the company against cybersecurity threats will protect you from new vulnerabilities and threats for years to come.

The Bottom Line

It is a common misconception that protection from cyberattacks and data breaches is the security and IT departments’ work. The truth is, organizations’ leaders are responsible for creating and implementing a robust and long-term cybersecurity culture. With the above tips, you will ensure a robust security culture that will not only protect you from threats during this coronavirus era but for years to come.

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