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New hires are an ideal target for phishers

While new hires are vulnerable to phishing attacks, the proper training and resources can help them stay alert. HR must build a proactive security culture to reduce the risk of data breaches.

Phishing attacks are a growing threat to organizations, with new hires being prime targets. Their eagerness to please can unintentionally reveal sensitive information and make companies vulnerable to these threats. HR professionals must understand the risks and learn to protect new employees from phishing attempts.

Why New Hires Are Vulnerable to Phishing Attacks

New hires are the most vulnerable to phishing attacks because they are often unfamiliar with a company’s internal systems. Phishers can craft emails that appear to come from colleagues or managers. As new hires try to learn about everyone’s roles, it can be difficult for them to distinguish between legitimate and fraudulent messages.

Moreover, new hires face an overwhelming volume of information. From onboarding documents to numerous welcome emails, it is easy for phishing attempts to slip through as they try to stay on top of everything. Phishers often take advantage of this by sending emails that prompt immediate action. The desire to impress supervisors and colleagues increases their likelihood of falling for these schemes.

When phishing attacks occur, the consequences can be severe. Employees may disclose sensitive information or grant unauthorized access. Data breaches can damage customer trust and tarnish a company’s reputation. In fact, 16% of businesses claim that breach issues pose the most serious reputation concern. That’s why HR teams must recognize the vulnerabilities of new hires and implement effective protective measures.

1. Implement Simulated Phishing Exercises

IBM reported that 41% of the cyberattacks they analyzed resulted in phishing attempts to infiltrate organizations. One way HR can reduce these numbers is with simulated exercises. These are an effective way to help new employees recognize phishing attacks and decrease their vulnerability. By exposing them to realistic scenarios, HR managers can increase their awareness.

One example of a mock exercise is sending out fake phishing emails that mimic common tactics cybercriminals use. These emails typically contain suspicious links or request sensitive information, such as login credentials.

After the exercise, employees who clicked on the links or responded to the requests should receive immediate feedback. HR managers can explain the missed indicators, allowing them to learn from mistakes.

Regularly conduct these exercises to help teams become familiar with the red flags. This consistency enables leaders to track results over time and tailor their training to address specific weaknesses.

2. Encourage Verification of Unusual Requests

HR teams should stress the importance of verifying sketchy email requests, as this is the most common way for phishers to exploit new hires. Start by teaching new hires about all the avenues that may fall victim to email requests. Then, encourage them to double-check unexpected or suspicious requests before taking action. They can do this in several ways:

  • Directly contacting the requester: If an email appears from a manager or colleague, employees should call or message them to confirm the request’s legitimacy. A trusted communication channel is crucial rather than replying directly to the email.
  • Involving IT security teams: If an email asks for sensitive information, let employees know they can forward it to the security team for review. These teams can quickly determine potential phishing attempts and guide the employee on how to proceed.
  • Cross-referencing internal policies: If your company has standard practices for handling sensitive data, ensure new hires have these guidelines. Familiarity with these policies enables them to recognize requests outside normal procedures.

3. Provide Awareness Training During Onboarding

HR leaders should organize cybersecurity training during onboarding. Awareness training can provide the knowledge and skills necessary to recognize phishing attacks. This reduces their susceptibility and builds a culture of cybersecurity vigilance from day one.

Before implementing the training, HR teams should design a phishing awareness program to create success. Such programs should involve:

  • Personalized content: Tailor the training content to each employee’s role. For instance, customer support staff may require training to avoid social engineering attacks. Meanwhile, finance team members may need specific guidance on recognizing fraudulent invoice scams. Personalized training ensures each employee receives relevant and practical information.
  • Consumable bits of information: Break down the training into short, easily digestible segments. This is crucial as it makes it easier for new hires to absorb critical information without feeling overwhelmed. Quick videos, infographics or short quizzes can reinforce key phishing indicators and best practices.
  • Continuous training: Cyber threats are constantly evolving, so training should be more than a one-time event. Implement a constant learning approach by offering periodic refresher courses and microlearning sessions. Regular updates help new hires stay informed and maintain their cybersecurity awareness.
  • Measuring effectiveness: Track the progress and effectiveness of the phishing awareness program. For example, if you run 10 phishing simulations annually, you should analyze the results to identify areas of improvement. Continuous measurement ensures the program remains relevant and impactful.

4. Design Clear Protocols

Clear protocols are essential for enforcing guidelines around trusted communication channels and verification procedures. By establishing them, HR can reduce the chances of new employees falling victim to phishing schemes.

First, provide new hires with a list of trusted email addresses and official communication channels used within the organization. This includes internal domains, key contacts in HR and IT, and any external partners with whom the company collaborates. 

Next, the policy should include the right tools to detect and prevent phishing attacks. For instance, anti-phishing software can help new hires identify and quarantine suspicious emails. HR staff should educate new employees on how to use these tools effectively.

Additionally, provide guidelines on encrypting sensitive email messages. This extra layer of defense safeguards communications and reduces the risk of data breaches.

5. Provide Access to Cybersecurity Resources

Immediate access to cybersecurity resources is vital to ensure new hires are well-prepared for phishing attacks. Almost four in 10 companies have stated that a lack of automation and insufficient predictability are the primary obstacles in preventing phishing attacks. By offering new hires tools and information from the start, HR can help overcome these challenges.

Start with creating a centralized knowledge base that new hires can access at any time. This will give them the resources to recognize phishing threats and best practices for handling sensitive information. It should also provide instructions for reporting suspicious emails and links to video tutorials to reinforce learning.

There should be a point of contact for new hires to reach out to for guidance. Include this information prominently in onboarding materials and the cybersecurity knowledge base for easier access.

Lastly, consider updating teams with the latest phishing trends and security threats through monthly newsletters. Continuous communication keeps employees informed and reinforces best practices for handling cybersecurity risks.

Empower New Hires to Guard Against Phishing

While new hires are vulnerable to phishing attacks, the proper training and resources can help them stay alert. HR must build a proactive security culture to reduce the risk of data breaches. As such, companies can remain productive and continue to protect their employees and reputation.

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