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How Staff Security Awareness Training Can Protect Against Phishing Attacks

By SolarWinds Passportal

Phishing attacks are a form of cybercrime where the attackers send emails to employees in an attempt to solicit sensitive information. Essentially, hackers psychologically trick or manipulate users in order to get them to send private data. Phishing typically refers specifically to fake emails or links that encourage employees to enter their login credentials or provide similarly sensitive information. This can even give hackers access to the broader business infrastructure.

For managed services providers (MSPs) tasked with IT security for customers, phishing can be especially frustrating. Essentially, employee behavior is the weakest link when it comes to protecting an organization against phishing schemes. Because phishing attacks rely on psychologically targeting recipients, software tools and email filters alone can’t fully protect an organization. If MSPs want to cover their bases for IT security, they need to help train organizations on how to recognize potential phishing threats.

What is phishing training?

Wondering how to prevent phishing? Your best bet is to talk to the staff. Phishing training is about teaching employees how to recognize potential phishing tactics in order to change the broader company culture around security best practices. That includes training upper management and executives—hackers may be especially eager to target them, as their information is highly valuable.

Due to the increasingly sophisticated nature of phishing attempts, it’s no longer enough to rely on email filters alone to catch fake emails. Phishing emails may use branding that closely resembles the branding of official companies like Apple or Microsoft. Or the attempts may be highly targeted, individualized to trick specific HR personnel or executives. Hackers may ask payroll staff to change a direct deposit account, offer a tempting lead to a journalist, or scare lower-level employees with a fake CEO directive. Phishing relies on social engineering tactics, so training humans is your best chance to make an impact.

Why phishing training is important

Every organization needs a consistent game plan when it comes to phishing prevention. Learning how to prevent being a victim of phishing is critical for staff, and employee education and training offers the best protection. Phishing isn’t a security threat to take lightly. When employees give out their login credentials, hackers may be able to easily access internal business information and gain control over personal or financial data. While large-scale ransomware attacks tend to be the ones that make the news, phishing attacks can be just as disastrous.

In fact, some research suggests that successful phishing attacks can cost a mid-sized enterprise an average of $1.6 million. The threat of phishing is on the rise, as Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report showed that phishing attacks increased by 250% during 2018. Meanwhile, the UK Cyber Security Breaches Survey found that phishing is actually the most common form of cyberattack. The same survey also found that workers are better at recognizing scams than most software, suggesting that staff training is indeed important and effective.

How to train employees on phishing

MSPs need to teach their customers that hackers and attackers may be actively trying to trick them, particularly over email, and sometimes with quite sophisticated measures. Every new employee should be required to undergo mandatory security awareness training, and all employees should receive training at regular intervals. At the same time, MSPs should encourage customers and their employees to come forward immediately if they think they have already fallen prey to a phishing email.

In terms of specific information, you will need to break down common features of phishing emails so staff can more easily recognize red flags. For instance, these emails may contain:

  • Generic headers: Many phishing emails don’t use a recipient name, as this requires more effort on their part.
  • Incorrect sender addresses: The email address may even resemble an official address. Take a moment to double-check the email is correct.
  • Urgency: Employees should be wary of emails that push for “urgent action,” especially as a scare tactic.
  • False links or attachments: An employee should hover their cursor over any links to see if the destination website matches the URL within the email. Only accept attachments from trusted senders.
  • Sensitive information: Don’t trust an email that asks for sensitive information, like logins, ID numbers, or bank accounts. When following links, employees should watch out for fake login pages that may automatically collect their information.

How effective is phishing training?

If you’re wondering whether your training was effective, it’s possible to perform phishingtests for customers, wherein you send out fake third-party emails to see if everyone has understood the lesson. This can be an excellent way to judge whether company culture around email security has actually changed.

However, while phishing training is essential, it isn’t necessarily foolproof. Phishing training may or may not be effective for any given company. Individuals more familiar with technology may be more adept at recognizing threats. But as phishing grows ever more sophisticated, it’s important to impress upon staff that phishing scams could happen to anyone.

Relying on human awareness and effort is critical for protecting against phishing attacks, but it’s unlikely that the success rate will always be at 100%. It’s helpful to also have automated security software in place alongside human training. For instance, employees should be on board with secure tools for automated password reset, document sharing, and similar measures.

Built for MSPs by MSPs, SolarWinds® Passportal + Documentation Manager offers these capabilities and more, so overloaded MSPs can provide top-notch security to their clients without adding on hours to their workday. Overall, both training staff and implementing smart tools for business email security remain the best ways to protect against costly targeted scams.


Additional Reading:

SolarWinds® adds Passportal suite to its MSP product portfolio. MSP security, simplified. SolarWinds® Passportal + Documentation Manager is a SOC 2 certified, RAPID 7 tested, award winning platform.

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