Phishing attacks, or cyber scams designed to trick users into revealing sensitive information, are rapidly becoming more pervasive.

Cyber criminals are becoming more sophisticated and relentless, hitting larger and more complex systems often with costly and disruptive results. An increasing number of cyber criminals are attacking organizations by planting malware on unsuspecting victims’ computers and networks through realistic-looking emails, attachments and websites.

Being aware and proactive about these tricks, traps and pitfalls can help your company better detect, prevent and respond to attacks. Here are five steps employers can take now to help prevent and mitigate harm later:

Ensure your security programs and operating systems are up to date.

Your best investment is a strong defense. New phishing schemes emerge from every corner of the internet, and these attackers can range in size from one individual acting alone to state-sponsored groups. Installing regular software updates can make it harder for cybercriminals to exploit existing vulnerabilities. Applications that monitor suspicious network traffic, block infected files and scan emails for known malware strains are readily available and can be scaled up and down depending on an organization’s specific needs. Larger companies may go as far as simulating a cyber attack to help harden existing systems, networks and applications and to identify overdue security patches.

Regularly back up data and digital records.

Backing up critical data can be a difference maker in quickly recovering from a phishing attack. Ensure sensitive files are protected or encrypted, as well as segmented from the rest of the network so they can’t be easily targeted.

Take password protection seriously.

Employees and vendors with access to your network should be required to use strong and unique passwords. Consider activating a multifactor authentication (MFA) system for additional security.

Train employees on security awareness.

Malware can be hidden, not just in applications or installation programs, but in what appear to be legitimate links and file attachments. Frequent cybersecurity training can help employees more easily identify and report these malicious attempts and know what to do in the event they receive them. Vendors and professional service providers with access to your networks should also be trained on best practices to further help mitigate risk and exposure.

Plan ahead for a cyber attack.

Unfortunately, even with all of these protective measures, any organization may be subject to an attack. Companies that deal with particularly sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) , like health or financial details, should be especially diligent. Develop and maintain internal and external response plans, and brief teams so they’re familiar and ready to act if and when needed. Having clear and defined roles, responsibilities and protocols in place will help your company respond quicker and more effectively to a potential threat and may also help minimize damage. 

By taking action now and putting the right security measures in place, you can better protect your business and significantly reduce the risk of becoming a cyber criminal’s next target.