As businesses emerge from a pandemic year, cybersecurity concerns are necessarily top of mind. Companies face expansive cybersecurity threats on many fronts, prompting 75 percent of business leaders to view cybersecurity as integral to their organization’s COVID-19 recovery.

They undoubtedly face an uphill battle. Surging ransomware attacks and increasingly deceptive phishing scams are attracting national attention, while more than 500,000 cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled in the US alone. As a result, many businesses struggle to appropriately augment their defensive posture to meet this challenging moment.

That’s why today’s organizations can start improving defensive posture by focusing on their most prominent and controllable cybersecurity element: their employees.

Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report found that 85 percent of breaches involve a human element. In addition, a survey on data privacy compliance found that 70 percent of IT leaders acknowledged an accidental internal breach in the past year. Similarly, human error plays a role in 90 percent of cloud data breaches. Collectively, it’s clear that accidental and malicious insider threats are an obvious place for businesses to improve their defensive posture by the end of the year.

Here are five steps companies must take before the end of 2021 to protect their data and digital infrastructure and start improving defensive posture against insider threats.

#1 Train employees in data management best practices.

For most employees, cybersecurity is an afterthought as they perform their day-to-day responsibilities. However, converting employees from cybersecurity vulnerabilities into defensive assets requires everyone to understand what’s at stake.

For starters, equip employees to identify personally identifiable information (PII). The US Department of Labor includes names, social security numbers, identifying codes, telephone numbers, email addresses, and more as PII.

Effective training won’t just identify what employees are protecting, but why. For example, Teach Privacy, an organization that helps companies promote privacy awareness in the workplace, encourages leaders to address five issues:

  • Why should people care about privacy?
  • Why is privacy valued by the organization?
  • What are the consequences of failures to protect privacy to customers, clients, and colleagues?
  • What are the consequences to the organization?
  • What are the consequences to the individual(s) involved in the failure?.

Training doesn’t have to be boring. Consider gamifying the learning process while using competitions to reinforce data management best practices. Accidents are a real risk to cybersecurity, and effective training can mitigate those concerns.

2. Establish, communicate, and enforce data management standards.

Every employee has a responsibility to protect PII. While training can empower teams to best secure this critical information, companies should establish, communicate, and enforce clear data management standards. Employee monitoring software, which was broadly adopted during the pandemic, can support these efforts.

For instance, employee monitoring software allows businesses to enforce data managements standards by:

  • Restricting information access and lessening the risk of a privacy violation
  • Assessing ongoing data management practices so teams can improve their practices with time
  • Preventing accidents from escalating into cybersecurity incidents.

While malicious insiders will intentionally thwart these boundaries, most employees will be better positioned to protect company data and IT infrastructure when they are following clear data management standards.

#3 Protect the perimeter.

Of course, companies that are serious about defending against insider threats will protect their perimeter with data loss prevention (DLP) software that constantly monitors network activity for data movement.

It takes the average company more than 200 days to discover a data breach, making perimeter protection a critical last defense against a significant cybersecurity incident. With the right DLP solution, IT leaders can monitor real-time activity while relying on automation to restrict data movement and identify potential threats.

4. Anticipate privilege user misuse.

Privileged users have legitimate access to critical IT systems, network applications, and company data. As a result, privileged user misuse is difficult to detect. Verizon estimates that these breaches often take “months or years” to discover, underscoring the need to identify and defend against these threats.

Notably, Verizon’s cybersecurity report found that, while overall incidents of privilege misuse are declining, more than 70 percent of incidents in this category are attributed to malicious activity. Simply put, protecting against insider threats must be an all-in priority that includes privileged users.

5. Develop a proactive approach.

Insider threats are often surprising, but businesses don’t need to be surprised any longer. Employee monitoring software and other capable oversight technologies can provide user behavior analytics that assist in threat detection, anomaly assessment, and data loss prevention.

For example, behavior analytics can identify employees regularly using personal technology to access or transmit company data or notify IT leaders when a company leader begins unusually engaging with company data.

The cost of cybersecurity failure is incredible. It’s estimated that recovery expenses will approach $4 million, while regulatory consequences, brand erosion, and customer loyalty make a cybersecurity incident even more problematic. By responding to the expansive threat posed by insiders, businesses can start improving defensive posture before the end of 2021, positioning them to operate safely and more effectively moving forward.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog IT Security Central and reprinted with permission.