Lowering Your AI Cybersecurity Risk Starts with Employee Awareness Training

Chaz Hager May 03 2024

The Human Element in AI Cybersecurity Risk 

It’s not hard to look around right now and see the collective excitement about AI, paired of course, with a healthy dose of fear and skepticism. But if we strip out the hype to think about AI as a tool, it helps to also think about it as a tool that’s available to anyone. So, while AI can be used as a tool for cybersecurity defense, it’s also being eagerly used as a tool for cybercriminals—which means that AI is absolutely increasing your cybersecurity risk.  

While there are many different types of cybercrime, all of them growing increasingly more sophisticated by the day, they all essentially boil down to two different ways criminals can attack: systems attacks and attacks through people. 

Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach report found that “74% of all breaches include the human element, with people being involved either via Error, Privilege Misuse, Use of stolen credentials or Social Engineering.” While our minds most often go to social engineering attacks like phishing when we think of these types of cybercrime, often criminals will target people to then gain access into a business’s systems without their knowledge—going after troves of data and other valuable information instead of a simple financial payout.  

Thanks to AI, criminals can now evolve their tactics even faster, as it enables them to analyze and adjust in real-time, to continue evading detection. AI is also helping criminals get better at deceiving and manipulating employees, from deep fakes to more convincing phishing emails.  

Which is why employee training is crucial to help keep your defenses strong. Just like effective employee communications is the secret to meeting IT compliance standards, a robust cybercrime employee training program can go a long way towards keeping your business safe. When employees develop a better understanding of what the latest threats are, how they can impact your business, what to look for, and how to handle responding and reporting an attempt, your business is far better protected. 

Ahead, we’ll walk you through some critical elements of an employee cybercrime training program. 

1. Help Your Employees Understand Why Cybersecurity is Important 

Just like with compliance, or really any business rule or standard, you’ll see adherence increase when your employees move to understand why cybersecurity measures are important and how it impacts them.  

This is part of leading your employees as a team, but it’s crucial to help them understand that the risk of a cybersecurity breach isn’t only on you as the business owner. For example, a client came to us after they experienced a breach that was so devastating, it took weeks for their systems to come back online, and some employees even had to cancel planned trips to deal with the fallout.  

Especially for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), breaches can be majorly financially impactful: 95% of breaches are financially driven and in the US, the average cost of a data breach reached $9.44 million in 2022. The costs of a breach go beyond a ransom fee; they can also include lost revenue during extended downtime, lost revenue due to customer loss following a breach, legal fees, and audit fees, which can be up to 13.5% higher for companies following a data breach than those without one.  

If you’re a SMB, those types of costs can be difficult to come back to, especially if you’re dealing with the loss of customer and vendor trust. For your employees, it’s important that they understand that this impacts their job, and the entire company has to act as a team, working together on cyberdefense in order to safeguard the business. 

2. Cybersecurity Awareness and Training is Always Ongoing 

While there are indeed helpful training courses on cybersecurity that can be an important pillar to your employee training program, what really moves the needle on cybersecurity awareness is injecting it into your communications and culture.  

Cybercriminals never stop, and especially with AI, they’re rapidly evolving their tactics at all times. Which means you want to keep awareness and defense top of mind at all times.  

  • If you publish regular employee newsletters, company emails, or other content through internal channels, make cybersecurity a regular topic. This could include examples of new attacks, reminders about what to look out for, and updates on how you’re doing as a company defending against these attacks. 

  • Consider providing incentives, such as extra PTO, when employees report a scam or attempt. Make sure every employee knows not to interact with or reply to phishing attempts, but to forward them to IT. 

  • Publish those attempts internally as they happen, with breakdowns of the tactic, so the entire company knows what to look out for—and that they’re happening. 

3. Ensure Everyone Knows Cybersecurity Best Practices – and Follows Them – by Setting an Example as a Leader 

One of the best things you can do for your IT team is publicly show them your support. This can include helping them regularly communicate cybersecurity best practices and voicing your adoption of them yourself. These include: 

  • Effective password management: Support the use of password manager applications and remind employees regularly to change their passwords, and to use strong, memorable passwords. Consider setting a schedule and reminders for yourself to change yours, and emailing your team on the same schedule, letting you know you’ve just updated yours and it’s time for the entire company to do so as well.  

  • Maintain software updates: As we mentioned, not running your software updates on time leaves your business easily open to attack through known software vulnerabilities. Help your IT team out by making sure you’re running yours regularly on your devices, and, similar to above, vocalizing your efforts internally as you remind the team to do the same and of their importance. Without awareness of the importance of these, updates become easy for employees to brush off—especially if they’re not regularly shutting down their computers and other devices. 

  • Don’t bypass IT to install applications: Thanks to the ease and accessibility of SaaS applications, many businesses these days find themselves with what’s known as Shadow IT: IT applications and devices in use and connected to your network without IT’s knowledge of them. Which ultimately means, IT hasn’t evaluated them for cybersecurity. While most of these seem innocent and are predominantly installed to enable employees to carry out their jobs more efficiently and effectively, each connection to your network means a new vulnerability, not to mention, proper security measures need to be followed when it comes to the type of information and data that’s being shared to and saved in these applications and on these devices.  

Yet the 2023 Not (Cyber) Safe for Work report found that 97% of business executives access work accounts on personal devices. As with all things leadership, that means that cutting down on Shadow IT starts with you. As with the other best practices mentioned, be vocal when it comes to supporting IT’s efforts to reduce Shadow IT and follow their cybersecurity measures yourself so you’re leading by example.  

Understand the Depth AI is Going to

AI’s power and ability grows the more data it consumes. But because no single person, company, or even government has access to all the data stores, it’s impossible to completely understand the environment. At this point in our technology journey, it’s best to assume that for every piece of tech you touch, it’s compiling data.

While this can and will empower tremendous business insights, it’s also important to understand there’s still a lot of unknown. This includes how much of our customer and individual data AI has access to, including your employees’ data. Protecting data has already become exceptionally important; it’s a critical part of any cybersecurity defense. It becomes even more important with AI. Ensure your employees are aware of this and understand their options when it comes to protecting their own data. Have privacy and data recovery plans in place for any type of data you have stored in your network and systems.  

It is Possible to Defend Against AI-Enabled Cybercrime 

While AI will undoubtedly enable people to achieve tremendous things, there will still always be bad actors looking to leverage its abilities to further their own malicious efforts. Luckily, AI-enabled cybercrime is not completely invincible. There are a few essential measures you’ll want to take—including a comprehensive and continuous employee awareness training program. It also helps to partner with an experienced Managed IT Services Provider (MSP) like Northriver IT. As we can tell you, we’re out there on the front lines—which means we combine our deep bench of knowledge and expertise with real-world experience dealing with cybercrime of all kinds.  

Arm Yourself with the Essential Steps for Defense

Cybersecurity isn’t something you want to take on yourself, especially now that AI is involved. To help you understand the essential pieces of an effective cybersecurity strategy, we’ve prepared a Cybersecurity Checklist to Safeguard Against AI —so you can move from awareness to action.  

Download the Checklist 


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