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How to Make Cybersecurity Training for Employees Actually Stick

Securing your business from a cyber attack involves a combination of people, processes, and technology. If we analyze the underlying causes which result in organizations falling victim to security incidents, people are consistently the weakest link in the security chain. As Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report found, malware, stolen credentials, or phishing are the most prevalent attack vectors, and the one thing they all have in common is that they target the human element. The only way to mitigate this risk is to educate people and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves and the organization with cybersecurity awareness training.

Putting educational awareness programs and campaigns in place is the easy part, but how do you ensure your staff adhere to your organization’s security policy and utilize their training to secure themselves and your organization?  

Find a Passionate Owner and Lead By Example

Finding a passionate individual who will own and drive information security practices and knowledge management is an essential ingredient to any successful cybersecurity educational campaign. Any project or team needs a leader, and your cybersecurity awareness initiatives should be no different. This individual should not only be passionate about IT security but should also have the requisite knowledge to assist other staff members while raising the organization’s cybersecurity awareness level. Ultimately, the success of this individual and the entire initiative will rest on the support he or she receives from top management.

A successful awareness campaign starts at the top. Leaders need to set an example by adhering to the company IT security policies and embracing any cybersecurity awareness initiatives. If the boss is not following good cyber hygiene and keeps his password on a sticky note attached to his monitor, chances are his employees are not going to behave any differently. As such, your organization’s senior team needs to endorse the rationale and benefits of cybersecurity awareness and lead by example.

Leverage Reinforcement Activities

Effective cybersecurity awareness training is a continuous process which needs to form part of an organization’s security culture. Although the process may start with an educational initiative, an effective cybersecurity awareness campaign requires consistent reinforcement. Not only do reinforcement activities ensure employees retain their cybersecurity awareness, but it can also help an organization test the effectiveness of any training initiatives.

Organizations can implement reinforcement activities in a few different ways. Here are a few examples:

Use Simulations

If your employees have received training on how to spot suspicious messages, you could test their cybersecurity awareness by sending a few phishing emails before the course commences. Once they have completed their training, you could then run a simulated phishing attack and compare statistics to determine their heightened level of awareness and the effectiveness of the exercise.

Develop an Awareness Culture

In addition to training your employees and running simulated tests, you could reinforce a cybersecurity culture by implementing an ongoing awareness campaign. This initiative could include items such as sending out a daily security tip to all staff via email, positioning colorful and informative posters in strategic locations around your offices, and hosting regular informal information sessions where industry experts can share relevant stories and experiences.

Tailor Training to Change Behavior

Formal training is knowledge-based education, but what any cybersecurity awareness initiative is trying to achieve is behavioral change. For some employees, cybersecurity awareness could seem like a dull topic. However, by introducing an element of personalization, your training initiatives could achieve better results.

A good training program must communicate why understanding the content is so important. Illustrating the catastrophic effects a data breach could have on an organization, is far more effective than merely regurgitating the theory behind it. The training should also be tailored to meet the unique needs of the organization and staff complement by using examples which are relevant to the audience. Covering topics like what to share on social media, provides employees with advice which not only adds value to their personal lives but also instills the cybersecurity awareness your organization needs.  

Keep it Brief

Where feasible, training must be as short as possible. Instead of taking a whole day to walk through the entire cybersecurity landscape, shorter sessions on different topics are more effective in getting the message across and ensuring content recall.

Test and Evaluate

Testing your employees once they have completed their training is essential. It not only ensures they pay attention during their course but also helps your organization assess the value of the exercise. These assessments should not just measure information recall. Testing employees with quizzes and activities which contain real-world, practical scenarios is a far better way to assess their applied knowledge.

Organizations must not only assess their employees but the effectiveness of the campaign as a whole. Proactive measures such as testing your password policy by performing a penetration test can help you determine if your cybersecurity awareness campaign is improving your organization’s overall security posture.

Training Your Employees Ensures They Form Part of Your Cybersecurity Solution

People may be the weakest link in the security chain, but with the right training, they can become an integral part of your cybersecurity defensive strategy. An effective awareness campaign requires an internal champion to drive the program, leadership from the top echelons of the business, and any training needs to be personalized and tailored to meet the organization’s unique requirements. However, training in isolation is not practical. It needs to form part of a more extensive campaign with consistent reinforcement to ensure it provides the required results.

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Rema Deo
Rema Deo

As CEO and Managing Director of 24By7Security, Inc., Rema is a highly experienced and credentialed information security professional. Among her certifications are PCI Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) from PCI SSC, Health Care Information Security & Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP) from (ISC)2, Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), and Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA) from ISACA. She also holds a certificate in Cybersecurity: Technology, Application, and Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Certified Data Privacy Practitioner (CDPP) from Network Intelligence. She earned her MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management in Pune, India, and her Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Bombay. Be sure to follow the 24By7Security Blog for valuable insights from Rema and her colleagues.

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