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The Importance of Cyber Security Training – Understanding End User Threats

Cybercrime is widely recognised as one of the most significant threats facing Irish businesses. While SMEs acknowledge the importance of robust technical protections like firewalls and antivirus, surprisingly few account for the greatest risk facing their IT systems: end-users.

Employees with poor cyber security knowledge can represent a huge digital vulnerability, enabling attackers to evade security infrastructure and gain direct access to critical systems and sensitive information. It’s natural to put faith in your employees and trust them to act in your business’s best interests, but without the right training, they might not know how to spot danger or recognise the hallmarks of emerging threat methods.

So how do you make sure your employees form an integral part of your business’s cyber defences? The answer: cyber security training.

A cyber security training programme will give your staff the knowledge, skills, and confidence to spot and inhibit threats that seek to damage your digital systems. Training will also reduce your business’s risk exposure by educating staff on cyber security best practices, ensuring employees understand how to handle sensitive information securely and compliantly.

PAQ IT – Security-first IT Support and Solutions for Irish Businesses

Based in Limerick, PAQ IT assists businesses throughout Ireland in unlocking their full potential with expertly managed IT services and customised solutions. Serving organisations across Cork, Galway, Limerick, and beyond, we specialise in helping SMEs harness the benefits of secure, reliable, and fully-optimised IT infrastructure.

Recent years have seen a rapid evolution in the cyber threat landscape. Attackers have become more advanced and organised, launching attacks that are far more potent and sophisticated than those that have gone before. Many of the newly developed methodologies in use are focused on exploiting poor end user awareness, making cyber security training an indispensable risk management strategy.

In this blog, we’ll highlight the importance of addressing end-user security risks and shed light on the ways attackers capitalise on user error, poor threat awareness, and lacklustre cyber hygiene.

Human Error is a Contributing Factor in Most Security Incidents

A common misconception about cybercrime is the belief that all attackers leverage high-level technical capabilities to breach corporate IT systems. While some do possess such skills, the reality is that most attackers rely on more rudimentary methods, often employing simple acts of deception. Manipulative trickery plays a significant role in many attacks, aiming to deceive users into divulging sensitive information, granting access to critical systems, or initiating fraudulent payments. In some instances, the attacker seeks immediate rewards, while in others, deception serves as the initial step in a more elaborate and serious attack chain.

Whatever a hacker’s modus operandi, users with poor cyber security awareness can often undermine a business’s digital integrity. This happens either through compliance with the hacker’s requests or by unwittingly presenting an opportunity to the hacker as a result of cyber security negligence, carelessness, or naivety. Many business leaders underestimate the seriousness of user-related security risks. The following stats illustrate the importance of taking end-user security seriously:

  • 88% of data breaches happen as a result of user mistakes.
  • The incidence of phishing attacks in Ireland is above the global average, with 57% of Irish adults encountering phishing in 2022.
  • According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, human factors play a significant role in security incidents and breaches, with 82% of breaches attributable to credential theft, phishing, IT misuse, or error.

How Do Attackers take Advantage of Poor Threat Awareness?

Cyber criminals deploy a variety of methods to infiltrate IT systems by exploiting users with poor threat awareness. Here’s how:

  • Phishing: Phishing attacks deploy subterfuge, with criminals often assuming the identity of a trusted individual or company in order to dupe users into complying with their demands. These underhand tactics are deployed for a range of purposes:
  • Fraud: An attacker may seek to steal financial account credentials in order to perpetrate fraud. Online banking credentials, credit card numbers, and bank account details are particularly at risk.
  • Identity Fraud: Criminals often use phishing to commit identity fraud, using social security information, names, addresses, and other forms of PII to impersonate victims.
  • Malware Injection: Phishing attacks are often used as a pathway to infect corporate IT systems with malware, including ransomware, viruses, worms, and keyloggers. The mechanisms for doing so vary, but often involve either malicious attachments contained within emails or links to rogue websites.
  • Corporate Espionage: Phishing is sometimes used to steal compromising information from a business that can be used by a rival to gain a competitive advantage. Trade secrets, intellectual property, and other forms of proprietary information are often targeted, with attackers either selling this information to a rival firm or using it for their own benefit.
  • Extortion: If a phishing attack results in a successful ransomware infection, an attacker will be able to encrypt or exfiltrate data and use the threat of permanent deletion as leverage to extort a ransom payment from the victim.

Employees that are unfamiliar with the concept of phishing may struggle to distinguish legitimate emails from those that are fraudulent, placing a business’s IT system at increased risk of hostile infiltration.

Harmful Links and Downloads

 Criminals use URL redirects and downloads for a variety of harmful aims, including to launch malware attacks, steal account credentials, conduct identity theft, and commit financial fraud.

Users that fail to recognise the dangers associated with links and downloads from unverified sources can significantly increase a business’s cyber risk exposure. For example, an employee that unquestioningly downloads a file that’s presented as a vital software update could unknowingly introduce malware onto the system in the absence of the proper checks.

Credential Theft

 Cyber criminals use multiple methods and technical tools to exploit weak passwords and substandard authentication practices. Basic, easily guessable passwords increase the attacker’s chances of success, with methods ranging from dictionary attacks and credential stuffing to brute force attacks and even simple guesswork.

Users with poor threat awareness may be more prone to ill-advised password practices, such as reusing passwords across multiple accounts, setting short, basic passwords, and sharing passwords with colleagues and associates. User account compromise that occurs as a result of credential theft can be difficult to detect and combat, since any login attempt will appear (outwardly at least) to be made by a legitimate user. This can grant an attacker free rein to steal data, inject malware onto the system, and alter security settings in their favour. 

Public Wi-Fi Risks

 Attackers use a number of tactics to steal data and compromise devices using public Wi-Fi connections. One method used is a practice called ‘Wi-Fi Spoofing,’ which involves the creation of illicit wireless hotspots that imitate legitimate networks located nearby. Once connected, hackers use these rogue hotspots for a number of harmful purposes, including to steal information, distribute malware, and redirect users to credential-harvesting websites.

Criminals also exploit poorly secured Wi-Fi networks to intercept sensitive information being sent across them. One example of this is the infamous Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MitM), whereby an attacker will position themselves between the victim and the intended recipient of a communication. Once in place, they’ll monitor the conversation for sensitive information. They may even modify messages in their favour or inject malware into transiting files in order to corrupt the victim’s device.

Users with poor or limited security awareness are less likely to verify the legitimacy of the networks they connect to and are unlikely to give thought to a public network’s security standards and protocols, thus potentially exposing their device to a multitude of cyber threats.

Portable Device Risks

Portable storage devices (including USB drives, portable hard drives, and SD cards) can serve as vectors of malware transmission. Cyber criminals have been known to send malware-infected storage devices to organisations, using them as a springboard for devastating cyber-attacks. Portable devices are also susceptible to malware infection as they connect to countless PCs, laptops, and other devices over time. There are even malware programs specially designed to self-replicate onto removable devices, boosting their ability to disseminate across vast networks to inflict maximum damage.

Users with a lack of security training may fail to recognise the risks posed by portable devices and may be more likely to connect devices that haven’t undergone thorough security screening.

Final Thoughts

While security technologies have generally become more effective at halting cyber threats, end users with poor security training represent a persistent vulnerability that many companies fail to address. By implementing cyber security training, businesses can mount a robust defence against a myriad of online dangers by giving employees the skills they need to spot and thwart threats that they encounter.

In our next article, we’ll explain the benefits of a well-rounded cyber security training programme and the cyber risk factors that make security training more vital than ever before.

PAQ IT – Security-focused Managed IT Services for Irish Businesses

Here at PAQ IT, cyber security excellence is fundamental to every service and solution we deliver. We support businesses across Ireland in building and maintaining robust digital infrastructure with cutting-edge, fully-managed cyber security measures designed to combat sophisticated modern threats.

Click here to book a 30-minute meeting with our friendly team and discover how secure, optimised IT can be harnessed as a growth driver in your business.

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