Employees aware of privacy risks, but unsure of how they affect the workplace

62 percent of employees are unsure if their organization has to comply with the recently-enacted CCPA, which gives California residents enhanced consumer data privacy rights, according to a survey of more than 1,000 employees conducted by Osterman Research.

aware of privacy risks

Results reveal a similar lack of awareness regarding the GDPR, in effect since 2018.

Employee cybersecurity and privacy engagement

The findings reveal progress in cybersecurity awareness. However, many respondents continue to hold false impressions about malware, phishing, and cloud file-sharing, putting their personal and employers’ data at risk.

“The benefits and rewards of digital technology are many, but so are the risks. As states race to address cybersecurity and data privacy risks with new compliance measures, businesses are under more pressure than ever to educate their employees, or prepare to face increasingly negative outcomes,” MediaPRO Chief Strategist Lisa Plaggemier said.

“To adequately protect consumer data, companies must quickly transform employees from bystanders into security advocates, and that begins with awareness programs that engage employees and reinforce behaviors that align with security and compliance goals.”

The survey assessed employee engagement with and understanding of good cybersecurity and privacy practices (or lack thereof) across multiple risk areas. Overall results show more than 50 percent of respondents fall within the “vulnerable” side of the spectrum regarding their reported practices and attitudes.

“The survey revealed a number of key issues that decision makers should address right away,” said Michael Osterman, Principal Analyst of Osterman Research. “Among them is the need for more and better security awareness training, and improving employees’ perception of their role as a key line of defense for both security and privacy compliance.”

Confidence and security awareness remain lacking

Awareness of seemingly basic cybersecurity threats and best practices remains insufficient among many employees, putting them and their organizations at risk. More than a quarter admitted struggling to identify a phishing email, while just 17 percent felt “very confident” they could identify a social engineering attack.

Only 27 percent of employees can identify at least two warning signs that malware has infected their computing platform, and two in five employees are unable to describe to senior management the negative impacts posed by cybersecurity risks.

Misinformation and misconceptions abound

Cybersecurity awareness requires the ability to correctly distinguish cybersecurity fact from fiction, yet many employees have distorted ideas. For instance, one in seven employees believe that – much like the flu passes among people – malware can spread among devices in close physical proximity.

A full 39 percent of employees mistakenly believe that simply leaving their computer unlocked can also result in a malware infection.

Privacy regulations remain challenging

Many employees require a better understanding of the privacy regulations and guidelines impacting their organizations, and the requisite steps to protect data.

A majority of employees (more than 60 percent) don’t know if their organization needs to comply with most privacy rules and data protection guidelines such as the CCPA, PCI DSS, and GDPR.

In fact, nearly three in five employees (58 percent) don’t believe storing sensitive data in an unsecured location or on their desktop / laptop computers or mobile devices (69 percent) could pose a potential policy violation.

Social media and file-sharing security awareness is high

The majority of employees (more than 50 percent) understand that oversharing on social media is a bad idea, as it can give cybercriminals the information and opportunity to craft more targeted attacks.

More than half of employees understand using personal webmail for work purposes poses a risk to their organization, and 90 percent recognize the risk associated with using personally managed file-sharing or similar cloud solutions for work purposes.

Employees possess password savvy

The majority of employees are mindful of password best practices, using a unique password for every device and application (52 percent). When working from home 61 percent of employees agree it’s important to change their router’s default password before accessing corporate data or email.

Urgency of updates is understood

Software updates serve an important role in protecting devices from viruses and malware, and ensuring security holes are quickly patched before cyber thieves can exploit them.

The vast majority of employees (84 percent) understand that regularly installing software upgrades help protect against cybersecurity threats and prevent security breaches.

“Safely navigating the digital world remains confusing for many. Add to that an ever changing roster of seemingly byzantine rules and regulations and the effort can seem almost insurmountable,” said Tom Pendergast, Chief Learning Officer at MediaPRO.

“This survey shows we still have a long way to go toward resolving employee clarity and consistency on cybersecurity and data privacy obligations and best practices; however, we’re encouraged that many of our respondents appear to be on the right track in putting their cybersecurity knowledge into action day-to-day.”

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Employees aware of privacy risks, but unsure of how they affect the workplace