To know the extent of possible damage of a phishing or social engineering attack on an organization is to test employees’ phishing resistance by performing regular testing throughout the enterprise to identify the baseline security level

Fremont, CA: Many hardware and software providers have implemented stringent protections and secure defaults because of high profile security breaches. Since vulnerabilities to breach organizations have become more complicated, and expensive, attackers are turning to a new organizational attack vector: The people.

Here are a four ways on how organizations protect its employees from phishing:

Implementing Active Defense

Humans are prone to error, and socially engineered phishing attacks target qualities most people want to encourage in themselves, like kindness, generosity, and helpfulness.

In order to prevent this, an active defense or a SOC (security operations center) that proactively monitors, or uses tools that monitor the email perimeter should be brought in place. If the SOC learns of a dragnet attack, it blacklists the associated domain and removes the email from all targets’ inboxes so that employees cannot click on a phishing email.

Another strategy is the use of a domain typosquatting notification service. One method of this approach is to take a URL that an employee would expect to see in an email, change a character, and register it as an attack domain. The detection system would notify the SOC or other points of contact that someone, somewhere, has registered such a domain which allows taking pre-emptive action.

Training Employees

Employees are the easiest targets for attackers. An unaware user is an easy target which opens the door for a comprehensive dragnet phishing attack (a phishing attack that covers a large part of the organization, often with the simple goal of harvesting credentials and valid identities or compromising users’ laptop with malware), and it only takes one vulnerable user for a breach to occur.

There should be regular and meticulous training to create a foundation of user phishing awareness, along with periodic employee reminders to improve what they have learned in training. It should provide users with examples of phishing attacks and context on how to spot such attacks and steps to take if they feel like they might be the target of an attack.

Another practice would be to regularly conduct red team engagements to challenge the organization’s security effectiveness.

Test Phishing Defenses Regularly

The best protection against phishing and social engineering is to take a comprehensive approach. A combination of knowledgeable users, an internal security structure that can stay one step ahead of an attacker, and the expectation that an attack will succeed one day, will help the organization to protect itself from any potential attacks.

The first step in measuring employee’s phishing resistance is to perform a mock phishing exercise to understand where gaps in knowledge exist. But testing the active defense, which is slightly more complicated, needs for a more advanced version of a mock phishing exercise. Something similar to a red team engagement would be best suited to test the organization’s ability to respond to threats realistically. And the best way to test the organization’s capacity to avoid endangering is to perform internal and external network penetration tests or red team assessments.

Network Segmentation

The risk of an employee being phished goes far beyond the borders of the office. Organizations cannot keep a check on what their employees do outside the office and after work.

An employee whose personal account gets phished raises a particular risk. It opens further ways for an attacker to attack, from blackmail/ransomware to compromising corporate information, which an employee unknowingly passed to themselves over their personal email.

By adding a layer of defense and a well trained SOC armed with the right tools will help the organizations to avoid massive breach provoked by a single user.

Having robust endpoint protection, a segmented network with stringent permission requirements across mandated two-factor authentication, and active defense, might help detect the invasion immediately and curb it to affect only that one user.

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