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Is HR the Cybersecurity Weakness in Your Organization?

By: Annie Button


an h r professional meeting with a potential hire

When we think about the parts of the business that deal with cybersecurity issues, it is natural to assume that we are talking about the IT team. However, this overlooks the fact that many departments can face problems with cybersecurity, and in fact, some may be more prone than others to attacks.

The HR department is one that you might not initially think about in relation to cybercrime, but through a combination of factors it can potentially be a significant cybersecurity weakness within your organization. In this article, we will take a look at the HR department, its responsibilities and its processes, to understand whether it could be the weak link in your defenses. We will also look to provide advice on what you can potentially do about it.

The HR department deals with data

Perhaps one of the key reasons that the HR department might be a glaring security weakness within your system simply comes down to the fact that it is a part of the company that handles a significant amount of data. 

While we might think of cybercriminals looking for ways to steal money from businesses and individuals, there are actually plenty of different ways that they can look to commit crimes against you. Stealing data is one of the most popular forms of cybercrime, whether it is in order to sell the data itself, or to use it to perpetuate further and more damaging cybercrime. 

Of course, your accounts department might seem like the obvious target for criminals, but focusing too much on this area can leave the HR team overlooked from a security perspective. The HR team deals with a huge amount of data, often having access to employees’ personal details and even financial information. 

Third-party HR software

It may be the case that your business uses third-party HR software. It’s an effective way to maximize the team’s productivity – but it is not always the most pertinent choice for cybersecurity. This is because you can’t manage all of the cybersecurity details within your own company, you are reliant on the software provider.

One of the best ways to counteract this problem is to run regular penetration testing as a part of your day-to-day cybersecurity routine. Penetration testing is “a form of ethical cyber security assessment that seeks to identify, safely exploit and help to remediate vulnerabilities across computer systems, applications and websites.”

Effectively, it is a way to test the effectiveness of your cybersecurity measures in real-world conditions and scenarios. 

Are your HR staff trained in cybersecurity?

Given the fact that HR staff handle such a large amount of personal data and information that would be valuable to cybercriminals, it is surprising to find that the department is not often given priority treatment for cybersecurity training. High-quality cybersecurity training is an extremely powerful tool in defending businesses against cybercrime.

Many people think of cybersecurity training as basic information on using long passwords. But more useful training happens regularly and provides staff with actionable tips on things like avoiding phishing attempts, or offers information on the types of cybercrime that a member of staff is most likely to face. 

If you don’t currently put a lot of budget into cybersecurity training for your HR staff, now is the time to do so. 

The remote working issue

Another factor that has been having an impact on cybersecurity is remote working. Members of the HR department might now be working from home after we saw the huge jump in the numbers of remote workers after the Covid-19 pandemic. This is not to say that anyone who works remotely is a cybersecurity risk, however, just that remote working can create cybersecurity challenges which can’t be overlooked.

For example, if staff are used to working in an environment where their security is managed for them, they might not remember to carry out key security activities such as updating regularly or even locking their computer with a password. Additionally, remote workers are more at risk of encountering problems with shadow IT.

Shadow IT is any software that is used by members of the team without the knowledge of the IT team. An IT department would normally assess any app or software that is to be used by the organization to understand whether it has any potential problems or security issues. If they don’t know about the software, they can’t do their due diligence. As a result staff inadvertently risk system non compliance, inefficiency and vulnerability.

Is cybersecurity a priority in recruitment?

There are other ways that the HR department can be potentially considered a weakness in terms of cybersecurity. It must be considered that as the HR team plays an important role in recruitment, if the organization is lacking a significant culture of cybersecurity it could be because the importance of cybersecurity is not being highlighted enough during the hiring process. 

If you want to ensure that your team is filled with professionals who understand the value of good cybersecurity practice, you need to ensure that the HR department is making it a part of their thought process when they recruit. 

Cybersecurity as a part of the onboarding process

Indeed, following on from this, it is crucial that the HR department puts processes in place to emphasize the importance of cybersecurity to new members of staff. The onboarding process can set the tone for the company’s cybersecurity culture, so it is important that there are training sessions and roles put in place so that everyone understands what is expected of them when they join and just importantly how security is reviewed and updated across all member of staff throughout their term of their employment with the company. 

Published: December 13, 2022

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