Phishing Awareness Training - What are the Pros and Cons of Offering it In Your Small Business?

December 1, 2023

A study conducted last year by Verizon found that 36% of data breaches involve phishing. What's more, this number was up significantly from the previous year, showing how this threat represents a growing problem. These attempts to infiltrate your system constitute a significant danger for your small business.

So, how can you prevent phishing attacks in your small business or startup? One way involves increasing the awareness of your staff. By offering phishing awareness training for your employees, you can reduce your risks and improve your general cybersecurity. Read on to learn more!

By offering phishing awareness training for your employees, you can reduce your risks and improve your general cybersecurity.

What is phishing?

Phishing represents one of the most basic forms of hacking. At its heart, the tactic looks to trick you into revealing key information or downloading harmful software. Overall, these attacks represent the fourth most common cause of data breaches, as well as the most popular delivery method for ransomware.

Here's a typical phishing scenario from everyday life:

You receive an email, seemingly from your bank, reporting a potential breach of your data and asking you to click the link. If you do, it will ask for sensitive information for login purposes. Except, the email didn't really come from your bank. It's from hackers and the information you just inputted can be used for other purposes, like identity theft.

Sometimes these phishing attacks act as a trojan horse for harmful software. Instead of coaxing sensitive information out of you, the link begins downloading malware on your computer. This software can steal your info or deliver a ransomware attack.

The example above shows how phishing operates on a consumer level. However, hackers can use similar tactics to target businesses or other organizations.

Remember the scandal from 2016, when Russian hackers were able to steal embarrassing emails from the Democratic National Committee?That breach, which played a role in one of the closest elections in U.S. history, started with a phishing attack.

Here are some common forms of phishing attacks that impact small businesses:

  • Bulk phishing: Here, the hacker sends out as wide a net as possible. They blast a similar email to a wide variety of your staff members, hoping that one of them will drop their guard and make your entire organization vulnerable.

  • Spear phishing: Bulk phishing attacks your organization on a broad front. Spear phishing uses a more targeted approach. Here, hackers focus on a particular individual or small group, aiming at a key point of vulnerability.

  • Smishing: This follows the same basic formula of phishing but the vector of attack is texting rather than email (or SMS, hence the name Smishing).

  • Vishing: Like smishing, this is another form of phishing using a different medium. In this case, hackers attempt to use a voice call to make contact.

What is phishing awareness training?

One of the simplest ways to protect your company from phishing attacks is to increase awareness among your employees. After all, they represent your main source of vulnerability. Comprehensive training can thwart many hacking attempts before they start.

One of the simplest ways to protect your company from phishing attacks is to increase awareness among your employees.

Much of the instruction comes down to awareness. You need to show your team what constitutes a phishing red flag. This includes identifying suspicious communications and creating safe procedures for conducting business.

Does this training work? A report issued by cybersecurity firm KnowBe4 showed that nearly a third of untrained end users (32.4%) will fail a simulated phishing attack. However, this figure is cut to under 18% following a training program. Overall, the firm's data showed that a company's vulnerability to phishing attacks dropped by 85% after a comprehensive program that included employee training.

Benefits of phishing awareness training

Hackers tend to target large organizations. However, that doesn't mean that small businesses are immune. In fact, one survey published in 2021 found that 42% of small businesses were impacted by cyberattacks in the previous year.

Meanwhile, the costs of these threats can mount quickly. Another study found that the cost of phishing attacks represented more than $1,500 per employee per year. As a small business, you might not have the resources available to your larger competitors, making these expenses more difficult to digest.

You can reduce your risks of these attacks through phishing awareness training. As we noted earlier, these educational efforts can raise employee awareness and minimize your vulnerability to these issues. Beyond the lower chance you'll fall victim to one of these hacks, there are other potential benefits to keep in mind as well. Here are some of the additional upsides you can expect:

  • Reinforce Existing Security Policies: Without routine refreshers, your employees can get lax about cybersecurity procedures. Phishing awareness training offers an opportunity to provide reminders.

  • Underline Risks: These training sessions let you communicate the latest information about phishing and other hacker strategies. You can provide points of emphasis and highlight the biggest current dangers.

  • Ensure Your Team Has Up-To-Date Information: Most of your employees have likely had some form of cybersecurity training in the past. However, conditions change quickly. Phishing awareness efforts give you a chance to deliver up-to-date information.

  • Nurture a Security Culture: Let your employees know how important security is. The mere presence of these training sessions will help make anti-hacking efforts part of your overall culture.

  • Remain Compliant: Having gold-standard security measures can open doors for your small business. Industry groups, individual clients and even potential investors will be reassured by a commitment to protecting your digital assets.

Costs of conducting phishing awareness training

As we've seen, organizations can improve their resistance to phishing attacks with the proper training. However, the upsides available from this strategy shouldn't obscure the costs. Even if you decide training is the right course for your small business, you should be aware of the potential downsides.

Here are some costs of conducting phishing awareness training that you should keep in mind:

Financial Expense

You'll need to set aside a budget to pay for training. If you have a cybersecurity team on staff, they can produce a program for you. However, most small businesses need an outside vendor. Luckily, prices often start in the $500 range, although they can reach thousands of dollars depending on what you want and the size of your organization.

Opportunity Cost

Time focused on phishing awareness training takes away from other operational priorities. You'll need to devote part of each person's schedule to the process. Meanwhile, on an executive level, researching and vetting potential training partners will take time as well.

Ongoing Commitment

Phishing awareness training doesn't represent a one-time event. You'll need to make it part of your ongoing routine. At the very least, any incoming employees will need some form of the training.

Meanwhile, hackers continue to change their techniques to get around security measures. You'll need to invest in refreshers and updates to stay ahead of the nefarious actors.

Improve your cybersecurity with phishing awareness training

A phishing attack could hurt your small business or startup in more ways than one. You can moderate these risks by training your employees to avoid phishing attacks. However, this effort does come with a price tag.

Use the information provided here to begin reviewing your options. Learn as much as you can about your threat level and the costs involved. From there, you can decide if it's worth it to offer phishing awareness training in your business.