Cybersecurity often feels like IT’s responsibility but HR and their colleagues in L&D are seen as pivotal in the fight against ransomware attacks, as recent cases in the media and communications sectors illustrate.
The Guardian newspaper and website has officially acknowledged that ransomware was to blame for a cyberattack that forced it to close its UK offices and restricted its print and internal IT operations from 20 December.
It has also told employees that those behind the cyberattack had gained access to some personal information of UK employees of the Guardian Media Group.
Staff have only been able to access the newspaper’s offices in King’s Cross, London, on an individual basis with the vast majority being told to work from home until February at least.
In a message sent to employees at the paper on Wednesday, CEO Anna Bateson and editor-in-chief Katharine Viner informed staff that the hack likely resulted from a phishing effort and entailed unauthorised third-party access to a portion of the company’s network.
About 1,500 people work for the newspaper worldwide, with 90% based in the UK. The personal information of the company’s employees in the US and Australia has not been accessed, staff were told.
“We believe this was a criminal ransomware attack and not the specific targeting of the Guardian as a media organisation,” said Bateson and Viner.
There has been no more information released concerning the persons or organisations suspected of being involved, and it is unclear if a ransom demand was made to the Guardian, nor whether any money was paid.
The incident has been reported to the UK’s cyber intelligence agency, as well as the UK police.
Meanwhile, the Royal Mail has this week reported that a cyber “incident” has crippled its international letters and parcels operations.
According to Ciaran Martin, a professor at the University of Oxford and former chief of the National Cyber Security Centre, the “incident” was down to “malicious activity” and was likely to be criminal extortion.
He told the BBC: “You’re locked out of the system and there will be a demand, probably in broken English from a criminal abroad, to pay a lot of money in cryptocurrency for what is called a decrypt key to let you back into the system.” A full investigation of what has taken place would take some time, he said.
The frequency of cyberattacks has significant implications for HR. According to Brian Warszona, UK cyber growth leader at professional services firm Marsh McLennan, “HR is increasingly called upon to help determine and enforce employee data permissions, train and enforce cybersecurity policies and procedures, and help respond to cyber events involving employees.”
Increasing HR involvement
He wrote in a blog that HR’s increased involvement was due to a “more active regulatory environment, the pervasive use of technology and devices in employees’ work, and recognition of the importance of a strong organisational cybersecurity culture”.
Warszona added that employees’ data and security practices were critical determinants of business cybersecurity, with most executives recognising that the largest threat to their organisation’s cybersecurity was employees’ failure to comply with data security rules, not hackers or vendors.
The growing risk of cyberattacks has seen a significant increase in cybersecurity training with searches for “cybersecurity training for employees” rising by more than 110% over the past four years, according to global compliance eLearning provider, DeltaNet International.
Shortage of cybersecurity skills
The surge in demand for cybersecurity awareness training comes amid continuous shortages for cybersecurity skills. This suggested that employers were looking to their entire workforce to be more aware to reduce the likelihood of cyber-attacks.
Jason Stirland, CTO at DeltaNet International, said: “Training employees is a step in the right direction, but the job is nowhere near done. For example, testing employees with phishing simulation messages are integral to the learning process. As a result, IT and HR teams can understand which employees might be a higher risk and therefore require further training and support.
“Employees across the board, from HR to finance, access critical data, so training everyone in the business on cybersecurity awareness issues, from understanding how to spot phishing attempts to preventing data breaches, is vital. Cybersecurity is not just an issue for the IT and security teams in organisations; it’s an HR issue.”