Employees can unknowingly fall prey to a phishing attack with just one click. That one tiny click can shake your business’ foundation to the core. After all, the average cost of a single data breach in the U.S. in 2019 was $3.92 million. And, phishing attacks were accountable for 32% of those breaches, according to a recent report by Verizon.

It’s up to your company to educate your employees on how to identify malicious emails. In this article, we’re sharing five ways to protect your employees from phishing attempts.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a type of cybersecurity attack during which a hacker sends an email with a link or document that looks legitimate but is designed to steal information. A phishing email looks as though it’s from a trusted source (e.g., your bank, another employee, a well-known company). Once someone clicks on the malicious link or attachment, however, he or she will be prompted to enter confidential information. The link could also download malware onto the employee’s device. Employees could hand hackers precisely what they need to gain access to important company accounts without ever knowing what happened.

How to Protect Your Employees from Phishing Attacks

1. Conduct a company-wide cybersecurity training.

Security-savvy employees are your primary defense against phishing attacks. Creating a mandatory company-wide security training goes a long way in protecting your company’s data. Implement this training into your onboarding procedure with regularly scheduled refresher courses to follow.

Keep in mind that security education doesn’t have to be boring or formal. Your program will be more effective if you find ways to engage your employees. If they perceive the exercise as a mandatory session that they need to “get through,” your lessons will fall on deaf ears.

Training should cover best practices, but you shouldn’t stop there. Ensure that your employees know what to do if they notice something suspicious and the steps to take to alert management of the issue.

2. Teach employees how to identify a phishing email (and quiz them).

The most critical element of protecting employees from phishing attacks is to teach them how to identify phishing emails quickly. Because hackers use real company logos and add small details to make their emails seem legitimate, red flags can be difficult to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Here are a few elements used to identify phishing emails:

  • Typos and poor formatting. Unlike legitimate companies, cybercriminals likely do not have writers on staff to create their emails. If you notice obvious typos or pieces of the text that aren’t clear, this is a tip-off.
  • No specific greeting. If the information seems generic (i.e., the email doesn’t reference your name or any identifying information), this could be a sign of a phishing email. Hackers will not usually take time to personalize emails. They will instead use the same one to cast a wide net and hope that someone bites.
  • No domain email. Check the sender email address to identify whether it originated from a legitimate source. A reputable company will own their domain email (e.g., example@linkedin.com), whereas an imposter will alter the address (e.g., example@linkedin123.com) if they even put in the effort to make the address look authentic.
  • Unsolicited attachments or information requests. Legitimate companies do not send attachments that you didn’t ask for, nor do they request sensitive information via email.

Add a quiz into your training to test your employees’ skills. Show example emails and ask them to identify if the email is authentic. This quiz is a great opportunity to add an engaging element to your security education. For example, make a game of it and recognize employees who answer correctly or participate with the most enthusiasm.

3. Show real-life examples of data breaches caused by phishing.

To help employees understand what you’re up against, show real examples of companies that have suffered a data breach as a result of a phishing email. Your employees will learn the most powerful lessons through raw data: dollars lost, people affected, damage to the company, and other tangible facts.

It isn’t that your employees don’t care about the company’s security; however, without seeing what could actually happen, they may feel as though this training is more of a formality than a necessity.

4. Use trusted antivirus software and ensure it’s routinely updated.

  • Mistakes happen. Even with excellent security training, an employee could accidentally fall for a phishing email. If that happens, you’ll want a robust antivirus software installed on your devices.
  • Remember that antivirus isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Always ensure that your software is updated and running at its best. Your IT department or service provider should keep an eye on antivirus for all your company’s devices; however, consider that if some employees use their personal devices, your IT team will need to ensure those devices are protected as well.

5. Make sure executives are involved in your security initiative.

A gap in many security programs often occurs with higher-level management. Though those are the teams that arrange for security training to take place, they are also often left out of the training. It’s assumed that they don’t need it or that they have more pressing issues to focus on.

Executives without security training are extreme liabilities to any company. Because they have the highest level of access to confidential data, hackers will target higher-level employees specifically, which is known as a whaling attack. Everyone in the company—from the very top to the very bottom—should be included in security training.

As phishing attacks become increasingly more sophisticated, it’s vital that your employees know what they’re up against. Through understanding the possible effects of a breach, employees will feel ownership over protecting the company’s data from being exploited.