Despite the advanced state of modern cybersecurity, phishing remains one of the most prolific ways to compromise a company’s security posture. Phishing refers to a malicious attacker sending a compromised link or file to an employee’s mailbox and using embedded malware to infiltrate a company’s network.
Phishing is tough to combat because it leverages several human vulnerabilities. It uses the trust a person has for certain sources and turns it against the victim. Despite these challenges, phishing can be tackled effectively.
Here are 4 ways to mitigate the threat phishing poses to modern organizations.
Invest in security training
Security training programs are essential to combating the phishing threat. Unfortunately, most security training programs are delivered in unengaging and inaccessible formats. For instance, most employees are forced to sit through lengthy seminars conducted by technical personnel. The result is these employees view cybersecurity as a highly technical pursuit, something inaccessible to them.
This view is present even in most companies’ higher echelons. Executives find cybersecurity incomprehensible and believe security teams can bail their companies out when trouble strikes. This view is incorrect. Security is every employee’s responsibility, not just the security team’s.
Effective security training installs security as a matter of company culture. It pushes security as a product feature, instead of painting it as an add-on. Good security training also prioritizes the need to change employee behavior instead of building awareness. For instance, every employee is aware of phishing.
However, awareness does not assist them in identifying possible phishes. Companies must invest in effective training platforms that simulate and train employees in real-world situations. This kind of training will build organizational resilience towards phishing, creating more awareness and an effective security posture in the long run.
Examine authentication protocols
Phishing is most commonly associated with receiving malware-laden emails. However, modern phishing techniques compromise sophisticated security methods such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) too. The recent cyberattack on Uber leveraged social engineering to bypass MFA. At its core, this attack was an example of a sophisticated phishing attempt.
While most security teams are aware of the different ways a phishing attack can be executed, non-technical employees are less aware of the vulnerabilities that exist in their devices and other social engineering channels. For instance, a message on an internal messaging platform from the CEO could be an attacker impersonating the CEO and sending a malicious link.
Better training is one way of handling this situation. Another is to examine the way your security team authenticates users. MFA is a good way to secure networks, but it isn’t infallible. For example, can a malicious attacker infiltrate a device and collect authentication codes?
Passwords are another common vulnerability in authentication workflows. Some companies mandate their employees to change passwords every month or three months. However, frequent password changes reduce password quality. People are more likely to resort to common patterns or reuse old passwords, giving AI-armed attackers an easy way in.
Ditching passwords, as Microsoft has done in its internal systems, is a good way to move forward. However, those methods need solid technical infrastructure backing them. Conducting a security audit and unearthing inefficiencies in workflows is the best way to begin installing a new authentication framework.
Examine the challenges of remote work
Remote work poses an additional challenge that most companies must tackle these days. Employees might not be present physically in a location to ask questions or clarify doubts. Security teams cannot control the devices employees use to log in to systems, and this poses a significant threat.
Despite employers’ wishes, rolling back remote work situations is impractical if companies wish to attract top talent. The solution is to employ cybersecurity solutions that account for remote access. For instance, VPN usage should be mandatory for all employees accessing company systems remotely.
In addition, companies must install the latest endpoint security and encryption systems to protect data at all times. While these measures are not directly related to phishing, they protect company assets in case of a compromise.
When combined with the right training mechanisms, these cybersecurity tools will reduce phishing incidents.
Track the right metrics
Most security training programs track the wrong metrics. They prioritize metrics such as training frequency and instances of training. While these are important, these numbers do not give you a holistic view of your security readiness.
Tracking metrics such as the number of phishing emails reported or trends in simulated training environments make much more sense. These metrics give you an idea of how well your employees are responding to training methods and what you can do to improve them.
Note that these metrics are not infallible. For example, the number of phishing attempts reported might consist of several false positives. Thus, place your metrics in the right context and dig deeper into your data to reveal trends.
Phishing needs a coordinated risk mitigation effort
Companies have been battling phishing since email was first launched and have yet to find an effective solution. While phishing might never be eradicated, it can be combated effectively using the techniques mentioned in this article.
It’s time to minimize phishing as a threat, and these methods go a long way toward achieving this goal.