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With all the cybersecurity tools in the arsenal of the average MSP, there’s one that often gets understandably overlooked: paper and marker.

Yes, patching, anti-virus protection, double authentication, and firewalls are the most crucial elements of your cybersecurity regime, but as Janine Spears of Cleveland State University tells Smarter MSP:

“Sometimes there is so much clutter, that you can’t underestimate the power of a poster, a good old-fashioned poster.”

Spears is an associate professor in Cleveland State University`s Information Systems department with expertise in information security risk management. She teaches courses in information security and business process modeling and design.

As much as Spears is immersed in the world of cybersecurity, she still espouses occasionally going retro to get peoples’ attention. It’s all about what cuts through the clutter best, and sometimes a poster or flier is the way to do it.

Poster power

You can get your posters professionally printed, but some research suggests just old-fashioned, handwritten signs are just as effective.

“We all get so many emails and other electronic communications that sometimes the best way to reach people, ironically, is through a poster or something written,” says Spears. She suggests, for example, putting up posters during tax season warning of the dangers of IRS phishing scams.

“People will be more likely to pay attention to those than an emailed reminder,” explains Spears.

Statistics underscore the impact print can have over digital. A text or email cybersecurity alert may not be as effective as print. We can draw upon digital versus print advertising effectiveness for statistical illustration. Consider this from Canadian firm TrueImpact:

When asked to cite the brand (company name) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70 percent higher among participants who were exposed to a direct mail piece (75 percent) than a digital ad (44 percent).

It’s not a stretch to think that a poster with a cybersecurity tip or alert would be absorbed better than an email. 

Using printed posters as a tool to promote cyber-hygiene may seem ludicrously old-fashioned and “elementary,” but there is a reason you still see wellness posters in doctor’s offices and printed ads on bus benches: they work. They grab your attention, and in an era when everyone is rushed and distracted, we need every tool at our disposal. And there is science and statistics to back this up.

From branding agency Millward Brown:

“Print leaves a much deeper footprint in the mind due to that personal, emotional bond. The study found that the parietal parts of the brain — responsible for absorbing and storing visual information — were more active in response to print ads than digital ones.”

The same thinking can be applied to emailed reminders versus a poster. Of course, viewing the same poster over and over can eventually cause “print blindness” where it just fades into the landscape. Swapping out signs seasonally or monthly with different colors and graphics is advised.

Examples of good posters

GONE PHISHING: Remember, do not open any email attachments unless you know with 100 percent certainty where it originated. When in doubt, call the IT department.


Posters are also great for imparting important, specific information:

MALWARE ALERT!  Be aware of suspicious emails from accounting asking for your banking information. Accounting will not ask for your information in an email.  Report such emails to IT.

Other advantages of low-tech posters:

Speed: If there is an imminent malware threat, it’s often faster to put up a poster than to disseminate information through an email that may or may not get read.

Everyone sees it:  A couple posters in an office setting are going to be seen by everyone. With an email alert, some are going to read it and some are not.

Inexpensive: While sending an email is also free, if a cheap piece of poster-board can help raise awareness about phishing attempts or ransomware that could potentially bring down your client’s network and your MSP’s reputation, then the $5 for the poster board and materials is a bargain.

The key for an MSP is to communicate, preferably using a blend of old-fashioned print, email, or texts. Some may argue that the job of an MSP should be network maintenance and security, while the client should be in charge of communication. However, if there is a breach, the MSP is often made the scapegoat, so communication and education are as crucial as patching and authentication.

Photo: Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko / Shutterstock

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Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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