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Employees can either be a business’s strongest safeguard or its most vulnerable point. Often referred to as the ‘human firewall’, employees either keep cybercriminals out – or accidently let them in.

The advent of the digital age has brought unprecedented opportunities for businesses, but it has also introduced substantial cyber risks. Cyber threats such as ransomware, phishing, data breaches, and DDoS attacks are increasingly prevalent and sophisticated. As businesses continue to embrace digital transformation, they become more susceptible to these threats.

In 2021 alone, ransomware attacks caused an estimated damage of US$20 billion, a figure projected to skyrocket to a staggering US$265 billion by 2031, according to the 2022 Cybersecurity Almanac by Cybersecurity Ventures.

The 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report by the Ponemon Institute puts the average cost of a ransomware attack at a hefty US$4.62 million. This price tag doesn’t include the ransom itself, but rather what it costs the business operationally and reputationally instead. 

While no corner of the world is immune to these cyber onslaughts, South Africa presents a striking case study. Based on the Veeam Data Protection Trends Report 2022, a whopping 86% of South African businesses fell victim to ransomware attacks in 2022, marking cyberattacks as the principal cause of downtime for the second year running.

Yet, the financial implications are merely the tip of the iceberg. Ransomware attacks pose severe operational disruptions, expose sensitive data, and inflict lasting damage to an organisation’s reputation. Fuelling this trend is the rising prominence of ‘ransomware as a service,’ in which cyber kits can be bought on the dark web for less than US$100.  These low-cost, high-yield kits equip aspiring cybercriminals with advanced tools and automated capabilities to scale their operations, enhance attack sophistication, and minimise costs. The result? The economic dynamics underpinning successful ransomware attacks are setting the stage for their exponential growth.

So, how can security leaders navigate this increasingly turbulent cyber terrain?

Embracing a cyber aware culture 

As a business leader, your employees can either be your strongest safeguard or your most vulnerable point. Often referred to as the ‘human firewall’, employees either keep cybercriminals out – or accidently let them in.

Unfortunately, human error remains one of the most common causes of cybersecurity incidents. Whether it’s falling for a phishing scam, misconfiguring a server, or losing a company device, people are often the weakest link in a business’s cybersecurity defences.

A cyber-aware culture refers to an environment where employees understand the importance of cybersecurity, are aware of the threats they could face, and know how to respond effectively. Within this culture, the human firewall is implemented through an educated and vigilant workforce that can detect and respond to cyber threats proactively.

When employees are educated about cyber threats and best practices, they’re less likely to fall for scams or make errors that could compromise the business’s security. A cyber-aware workforce also plays a crucial role in detecting threats early, potentially preventing a full-blown security incident.

How to build a cyber aware culture 

Leadership commitment:

Building a cyber-aware culture starts at the top. Leaders must prioritise cybersecurity, investing in resources and demonstrating a commitment to safe practices. This commitment will trickle down through the organisation, influencing attitudes and behaviours at all levels.

Regular training and education:

Training should educate employees about the latest threats and safe online practices. It should also be engaging and interactive, using real-life scenarios and gamified elements to make learning more enjoyable and impactful.

Establish clear policies and procedures:

Develop comprehensive cybersecurity policies that clearly outline acceptable use of company resources, incident response procedures, and consequences of non-compliance. Ensure these policies are communicated effectively and regularly updated to reflect evolving threats.

Encourage open communication:

Foster an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting potential threats or incidents without fear of blame. This open communication can help detect threats early and mitigate potential damage.

Continuous reinforcement:

Cybersecurity awareness isn’t a one-off event – it needs to be continually reinforced. Regular reminders, updates, and refresher training sessions can keep cybersecurity top of mind for your employees.

Leverage technology:

Use technology to support your cyber-aware culture. This could include security awareness platforms, simulated phishing tools, and monitoring software to detect and prevent threats.

Protect your business today

Building a cyber-aware culture is a critical step in protecting your business in today’s digital landscape. By educating your employees and fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness, you can strengthen your human firewall and safeguard your business against the escalating threat of cybercrime. It’s not just about implementing the right technology; it’s about empowering your people to be the first line of defence.

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About the Author

Del van Rooyen
Chief Information Security Officer, Sasfin Holdings Limited

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