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Data security as a company culture

(Image credit: Shutterstock / whiteMocca)

In today’s digital era, where companies are placing a huge dependency on technology and security, it can be easy to overlook the human aspects of business operations. Data security is at the top of many organizations’ priority list, but many tend to forget the human element of security. With an increasing number of security incidents resulting from employee error or social engineering techniques, failing to consider employees is a serious mistake for businesses to make.

Whilst investing in the latest technology is a great starting point, data security can be drastically improved when it has the backing of the whole workforce. As a result, businesses need to improve awareness of data security to ensure that employees consider how their behavior impacts the company’s security.

Adapting a company culture is not something that can happen overnight, but it is built over a sustained period of time. And a security culture is no different. But as it’s been proven that employees are always the weakest link when it comes to data security, there’s never been a better time to develop a security awareness program. Therefore, businesses must invest in a security culture framework to ensure employees understand best practices and can take appropriate action when required.

From the top to the bottom

The first step in building a security culture is to instill the concept that data security belongs to everyone in the business. It’s easy to assume that security teams are solely responsible for security measures. This can often result in workforces that are ignorant to potential data threats and could be vulnerable to breaches. A security culture requires everyone in the company to be responsible for their part of the security practice. It’s vital to start with the basics, as there are a wide variety of ways that hackers can breach the network. Closing basic security gaps is a great place to start, including passwords, firewalls and software updates.

Organizations can achieve this “all in” mentality by incorporating security at the foundation of its business, resulting in a more vigilant approach to data security. The main driver of a data security culture must come from the top. It’s up to the company’s leadership team to make security a priority and can communicate this to the rest of the organization as a company-wide issue. Most importantly, instead of blame and fear, leaders need to create a culture of personal responsibility to best protect data. To achieve this, it’s essential for businesses to organize meetings between senior executives and security teams. In these meetings, they can discuss ongoing data security issues and best practices to improve the company’s security culture.

Developing a training program

Once it has been established that data security is everyone’s responsibility, a security awareness training program can be developed to embed a culture of security. This training helps to ensure that all employees are on the same page, reducing data risks and building a solid foundation to protect the business from security threats. Employees at every level of the organization should receive security awareness training to ensure they have the skills required to identify an attack. Data security training should be concise, engaging and informative to ensure that staff understand what is required of them and the importance of their role in safeguarding the company’s sensitive data.

What’s more, security awareness training empowers employees, as they are confident in how to handle data and have an understanding of information that must pass through security protocols. Not only does being security-conscious benefit them in the workplace, but it can also be transferred to their personal lives. Businesses can also consider monitoring post-training behaviors, to keep track of its effectiveness. This will help to build and strengthen the data security culture in the long term, as they can monitor how effective the training program has been and make any necessary changes or additions.

Documenting security policies

Once training has been completed, it’s important to also create documentation that outlines the data security policy to guide employee behavior. Developed by the security team, these documents will outline specific rules and procedures that the workplace should follow when accessing the company’s IT systems and network. Not only will this be available to employees on a day-to-day basis, but it will also be provided to new starters to ensure that they understand the company’s security policy from their very first day.

These security policies will also outline how the workforce can best report security incidents. With a strong data security culture, employees at all levels will feel responsible to report any circumstances that they deem suspicious, such as phishing emails, accidental clicks or lost data from the network. A clear incident reporting policy will allow the security team to respond to any issues on a faster scale and decrease the likelihood of the next security incident.

Embracing a data security culture

Most importantly, having a resilient security culture will protect the business from security threats and possible data breaches. Some businesses may be reluctant to invest in a security culture due to financial and time constraints, but the benefits hugely outweigh the consequences of a data breach and the potential loss of new business. Companies may also experience improved customer trust and loyalty to its brand, as a customer is more confident that their data is safe and protected. Therefore, paying attention to a data security culture can grow the brand’s reputation and bring opportunities for new business projects.

It’s clear that establishing a security culture undoubtedly requires work, but many organizations are starting to recognize the importance of making this cultural shift. Employees at all levels of the organization need to be on board with security and committed to taking responsibility for reducing risks. This includes executives and business leaders enforcing safer procedures that will help employees with their daily work routines and leading them from the top on best security practices. It’s also important to develop an awareness training program and security documentation to ensure employees have the resources and skills required to confidently identify and report an attack.

Alan Hayward, Sales & Marketing Manager, SEH Technology (opens in new tab)

Alan Hayward is Sales and Marketing Manager at SEH Technology UK and has been with the company for 19 years. In this role, Alan’s responsibilities include overseeing all sales and marketing activity in the UK, as well as collaborating with clients including resellers and distributors.