Everyone, from the small business owner, to senior executives in businesses of every shape and size are confronting a seemingly insurmountable problem: Constant and rising cyber security breaches. It seems no matter what we do, there is always someone that was hacked, a new vulnerability exploited, and millions of dollars lost.

In an effort to stem the tide people have tried everything: From throwing money at it by buying the latest and greatest tech gizmos promising security, to outsourcing cyber security management, to handing it over to the IT folks to deal with it. And, every time the result is money lost, productivity decreased, and the attacks continue.

Many business people complain that we’re not just losing a battle here and there. We’re losing the war. Is that true?

The truth is that those that keep losing their cyber battles and risk losing the war are making three critical mistakes:

1. They think cyber security is a technology problem.

2. They follow a cyber security check list once-and-done.

3. They don’t have a cyber security awareness training program in place.

First, cyber security is not a technology problem. Far from it. It is a business-critical problem, and more importantly: It’s a people problem, and we need to address it at that level.

Second, cyber security is a constantly evolving battlefield. The threats evolve, the attacks take new paths, the underlying technologies change. A static check list solves yesterday’s problems, not today’s, and certainly not tomorrow’s.

Finally, if people don’t understand the threat they will not even see the attack coming, much less be able to respond and protect themselves. Cyber security awareness training is the only way to prepare everyone for the new reality we live and work in.

Cyber security is not an IT problem. It is a risk management problem. This is easier to understand in you work in a regulated industry. There, the concept, language, even governance of risk management is part of the daily lexicon.

Not so with small and mid-market business less familiar with the risk management function. It doesn’t help that the very nature of the threat and the way the “payload” of the attack is delivered is via information technologies. It almost makes sense to have IT deal with cyber security. But the victims are not the computers. The victims are the businesses and their people.

More importantly: A company’s Information Technology generates Value. It does so a myriad different ways depending on the business you are in, from the actual delivery of goods to clients (e.g. software businesses, data businesses, media and technology businesses etc.) to complementing, enhancing, and realizing the mission and vision of the company (law firms, manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, etc.)

Cyber security, like all risk management, is there to protect value. Therefore, you can never have cyber security (the value protector) report to IT (the value creator). That creates a conflict of interest. Just like IT reports directly to the CEO, so must cyber security. They are parallel tracks keeping the business train aligned and moving.

Once you have the reporting structure correctly in place, you need to empower it with executive buy-in and engagement. Cyber security needs your direction on company goals and risk appetite so they can develop the right strategy to protect the company’s assets. Cyber security professionals, working with the board and executives, including IT and business units, will develop the right defense-in-depth strategy that is right for the company.

Cyber security doesn’t happen in isolation. It is not a set check list. It is dynamic, adjusting strategy to risk, asset value, and controls. As market conditions change, as company goals change, and as technology changes, so will the cyber security strategy.

Neither structure nor strategy will help if you ignore the most important element in cyber security: People. In 2016 ISACA published the top three cybersecurity threats facing organizations in that year. They were, in order: 52% Social Engineering; 40% Insider Threats; 39% Advanced Persistent Threats.

Excluding the advanced persistent threats typically targeted against large multinationals, governments, military, infrastructure and the like, the other two have one common element: People.

It is people that become the victims of cyber-attacks, and by extension, the businesses they work in or do business with. Be it through social engineering, extortion, or any of the many vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit, it is people that get compromised first. They are the ones that have to pick up the pieces when all the data is gone or when their identity is stolen.

The good news is that cyber security awareness training is one of the most effective controls against hackers. Training and sensitizing people to the threats, the methods used, vulnerabilities, even their own personal privacy risks, has been proven time and again as the one thing that makes a real difference in early detection, quick response and recovery during a cyber-attack. Having a quarterly lunch-and-learn will go a long way in developing a culture of cyber awareness, saving both your business and your employees from cyber-harm.

Avoiding these three mistakes in cyber security won’t help win every single battle. But it will guarantee you win the war.

(About the author: Chris Moschovitis is co-author of the critically acclaimed “History of the Internet: 1843 to the Present” as well as a contributor to the “Encyclopedia of Computers and Computer History” and the “Encyclopedia of New Media.” He is cyber security and governance certified (CSX, CISM, and CGEIT), and an active member of ISACA, ISSA, and IEEE. In addition to his duties as CEO of tmg-emedia, Chris personally leads the cyber security and consulting teams and delivers cyber security awareness training and consulting. He is an active speaker and writer, and delivers workshops on a variety of topics, including Cyber Security, Information Technology Strategy, Governance, and Execution. Chris is working on his latest book “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Hackers,” to be published in early 2017. He can be reached at Chris.Moschovitis@tmg-emedia.com)

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