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Employers overestimate staff cyber smarts

New research has revealed a big difference between how employees and IT decision makers view cyber security.

The research from Kordia, commissioned by Aura Information Security, found staff are not as secure as their IT managers may think.

"The ‘human factor’ has long been a weak link when it comes to cyber security," Kordia says.

"Businesses can have the best protection available, but if a staff member unknowingly lets a cybercriminal into the system, then it won’t matter."

While 62% of New Zealand businesses say they carry out security training exercises with their staff, only 37% of Kiwis say they have received training on good cyber security practices, the research says.

This disconnect is further emphasised by password practice. Most IT managers encourage all staff to use a password manager to ensure the most common password mistakes aren’t made. However, it doesn’t appear staff are taking this advice with one third of employees admitting to reusing the same passwords across both work and personal devices and accounts.

Hilary Walton, Kordia chief information security officer, says this is something New Zealand businesses need to address right away.

“Cybercriminals ran rampant in 2020 and it’s only getting worse. New Zealand businesses are becoming more aware of the risks, but many aren’t doing enough to protect themselves," she says.

"These businesses may have gotten lucky by not being targeted yet, but with more and more attacks happening each day, it’s only a matter of time."

Walton says a good place to start is properly educating staff because it’s easy for complacency and cyber fatigue to set in. 

"This shouldn’t just consist of a one-off cyber security lesson which is quickly forgotten, but constant reminders and check-ins to ensure best practice is being followed," she says. 

"Reducing human errors will significantly strengthen your cyber defence.”

Poor password practice isn’t the only issue making Kiwi businesses vulnerable to attacks. Organisations are also at risk from delayed software updates and a lack of care with dodgy links and attachments.

Almost a third of Kiwis don’t update their work computer or smartphone as soon as software updates become available. 

Walton says this is an opening that hackers can easily exploit.

“It’s also concerning to see 20% of New Zealanders only sometimes check links to ensure they’re legitimate," she says.

"This is something we need to do 100% of the time. The fact that 17% of respondents said they’re not confident they could even tell the difference between a legitimate email and a fake emphasises the need to educate staff without delay," Walton says.

“Sometimes it’s not even the staff member who clicks through to a dodgy link and lets malware into the system. The survey shows 15% of parents let their children use their work devices, further increasing the likelihood of a mistake being made.”

The research also revealed employees vastly underestimate how often their workplace is targeted by hackers with an alarming 25 percent thinking their work isn’t targeted at all. The reality is in the last 12 months, half[ of Kiwi businesses were affected by 1-10 ransomware attacks and a further 35 percent were affected by 11 or more.

“After a year like 2020, the last thing our businesses need is to deal with a cyber-attack shutting systems down or stealing sensitive information," says Walton.

"I’d suggest all Kiwi businesses make it a 2021 goal to strengthen their cyber security and educate their staff. This needs to be made a priority as soon as possible."

She adds it is also important to create a culture where staff feel comfortable to come forward if they think they may have clicked the suspicious link or attachment. 

"The sooner the IT department knows about an issue the better," Walton says. 

"Hackers are known to lie dormant once they get access to a system, waiting for the opportune time to strike to do as much damage as possible. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to let the IT team know."