The most sophisticated cyberattacks we see today aim to gain access to company data via the very heart and soul of a business—its employees. Attackers consistently exploit our dependence on digital communication; in a world where we’re sending 306.4 billion emails every day, they have ample opportunity to strike.
There are all manners of stringent security measures that organizations can put in place to help prevent data breaches, including anti-virus software, web filters and email gateways. Unfortunately, even the most powerful technical solutions are rendered helpless if an employee inadvertently holds the door open to an attacker by giving away sensitive information such as account credentials or financial data.
The best way to tackle cyber threats today is by implementing multiple layers of security that combine technical protection, such as a Secure Email Gateway, with human intelligence, such as cyber awareness training.
But how does cyber awareness training work, and what features should you look out for to make sure you’re choosing the best solution for your users?
What Is Cyber Awareness Training?
Cyber awareness training, also known as security awareness training, is the process of teaching your workforce how to identify cybersecurity risks, and how to apply best practices in combating them. Training solutions usually involve each user taking a virtual training course made up of videos, games, presentations and quizzes, and they often come with a library of supplementary materials such as infographics to help explain key cybersecurity concepts clearly and visually. Once they’ve completed the course, the user is then assessed on what they’ve learned.
Strong cyber awareness training solutions allow admins to manage the platform from a central console, where they can also view employees’ assessment results and provide further training to those who need it.
Why Does Cyber Awareness Training Work?
Cyber awareness training places cybersecurity at the forefront of your employees’ minds, helping to cultivate a security-first mindset and culture across your organization. It does this by providing each user, or learner, with the knowledge and tools they need to face sophisticated attacks.
If you aren’t aware that a problem exists, you can’t take any steps to solve it. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness is what makes employee vulnerability such a lucrative target for cybercriminals—if they don’t expect to be targeted, they won’t notice it happening. Making your employees aware of security threats is the first all-important step in empowering them to stay protected, by responding to them, rather than reacting to them.
However, the threat landscape is always changing as attackers find new and increasingly sophisticated ways of accessing their victims’ data. Because of this, it’s important that you implement ongoing training, not just a one-off session, to arm your employees with the knowledge they need to combat even the most recent threats. With this in mind, research from The Aberdeen Group has shown that an awareness training solution can reduce the risk of successful socially engineered cyberthreats on your organization by up to 70%.
In fact, according to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report, last year saw a decrease in phishing click rates and an increase in report rates, despite an increasing number of phishing attacks, thanks to the successful implementation of powerful awareness training solutions designed to combat these attacks.
What Features Should You Look For In A Cyber Awareness Training Platform?
So we know that awareness training works but, in order for it to be as effective as possible, you need to make sure you’re choosing the right solution for your business. Some solutions are tailored to help your employees combat a certain type of attack, such as phishing awareness training and simulation solutions. Others provide more general training to help defend against the most recent and emerging threats.
No matter which type of training solution you’re looking for, there are a few key features that are always going to be critical to its success, and which you should look out for when investing. As it happens, we’ve put together a nifty list of these solutions for you to use for reference, so here it is: the top features to look for in a cyber awareness training solution.
High Quality Training Materials
If you’re looking to invest in a training solution purely for compliance reasons, you might not be so focused on this feature. But when 85% of data breaches involve a human element, it’s likely that you’ll want your chosen solution to actually train your employees to identify threats. If this is the case, it’s imperative that you invest in training that provides high quality materials. There are three factors to consider here:
- The materials must be comprehensive. They should cover all of the threat types that your organization is facing most, and in enough detail to help employees understand how the attack works, what causes it, and what they can do to help prevent it.
- The materials must be relevant. “Comprehensive” doesn’t mean “gives you information on every single cybersecurity risk out there”! You need to make sure the materials are specifically targeting the challenges you’re facing. Put simply, if your employees are coming under fire of sophisticated phishing attacks, you want materials about phishing.
- The materials must be engaging. This is the trickiest requirement and, unfortunately, it’s often the one that gets overlooked. The fact of the matter is that engagement correlates directly with retention—we’re much more likely to remember something if we connected with it in some way and enjoyed it. That’s why most of us find it easier to remember song lyrics and stories than facts from a textbook.
For the materials to be engaging, they should be presented across multiple mediums, including videos, infographics, presentations and quizzes. This will help mix the program up so that the learners don’t get bored, and it’ll also make sure that you’re catering for different learning styles: visual, aural, and even kinesthetic with the help of interactive or gamified content.
The materials should also be delivered in bitesize learning modules that employees can easily complete around their working hours. Bitesize training helps to improve engagement because it’s much easier for us to process and retain smaller packages of information. It also enables you to deliver training more frequently, so you can keep your users up to date on emerging threats they might face. A five-minute module once a week will be much more useful and relevant than a four-hour course once a year!
It’s important that all of your employees can access the training content, no matter their role or location. To enable this, your chosen solution should be mobile-friendly and available offline, so that people can learn on-the-go, and delivered in bitesize modules, so that they can easily complete the training around their job.
Again, accessibility means that all of your employees can complete the training. This includes those who may have a disability, or specific learning and reading needs. Basic customization options, such as being able to change the font size and color, will help make sure that everyone can learn comfortably and, as a result, more effectively.
Finally, it’s important that the solution you choose is available in all of your employees’ native languages. Increasingly powerful digital communications tools have paved the way for the rise of global workforces. You need to make sure you’re enabling your employees to learn, no matter where they’re from.
Self-Directed Learning And Progress Mapping
If you’re going to set a task, it has to have a goal, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. The program should clearly outline the goals and objectives for the learner to help them measure their own success. It should also give them a way to monitor their progress towards achieving that goal. Solutions that use learning paths do this really effectively – they map out each employee’s progress and help them keep track of what they’ve achieved, while keeping them motivated and looking ahead to the next challenge.
Learning paths also allow employees to complete the learning at their own pace, which encourages them to take ownership of their own professional development. And this sense of ownership leads to – you guessed it – better engagement!
Assessments perform two crucial roles. The first is that they provide the learner with that goal to work towards, and show them what they’ve achieved and where they need to improve.
The second is that they allow you to assess your employees’ results and provide appropriate feedback or further training where necessary.
Assessments could be anything from simple drag and drop exercises and multiple-choice quizzes to sophisticated phishing simulations. You should be able to choose the level of assessment with which you want to test your employees and view a range of reports on the results. This leads us to the next point…
It’s all well and good testing your employees, but how do you know if they’ve actually passed the test? That’s where reporting comes in. A strong awareness training solution will have built-in reporting tools to show you how well employees are responding to the training, both in terms of actually completing it and how well they’ve fared in the tests. This will help you to target further training to individuals who need it, as well as assess the general security state across your organization.
Deployment And Integration
Last, but certainly not least, we come to deployment and integration. All of the other features we’ve just been through become redundant if you can’t easily roll out the training solution and integrate it with your existing systems, such as those to manage employee details and financial records.
Most training solutions are delivered via a learning management system, or an LMS. An LMS is a piece of software that helps you deliver and manage the training. There are two types of LMS: self-hosted and cloud-hosted. You’ll need to integrate both of these with your existing systems yourself, so it’s important to make sure that you have the technical resources to do so. You should also check that your LMS can integrate with your active directory, which will make it easier for you to onboard users automatically, rather than entering all of their details manually.
A self-hosted LMS requires you to install the software onto your server and manage any updates yourself, including updates to add-ons. Once signed in to your LMS, you can upload content, manage users and set up course registration.
A cloud-hosted LMS doesn’t require you to install or maintain any software; it’s all hosted online. As an admin, you simply sign in to the application and from then it works in the same way as a self-hosted LMS.
Cloud-hosted training means that employees can complete the training from anywhere, at any time, because the content isn’t tied to a server. Learners can switch between their different devices and pick up where they last left off. It’s also quicker to set up than a self-hosted LMS, because you don’t need to worry about setting a theme or uploading the content yourself. With a cloud LMS you also have the perk of knowing exactly what it’s going to cost you every month, because they’re usually delivered as a monthly subscription. This is particularly helpful for SMBs with a tighter budget. You also have the support of the LMS provider’s IT team, should anything go wrong.
However, a cloud-hosted LMS is less customizable and gives you less control over your course platform. This means that if the provider makes an update you don’t like, you can’t change it, and if the system has a failure, you can’t fix it yourself.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the level of control you have vs ease of use, and you need to make the call on which is more important to your organization.
No security solution is going to give you complete protection against all kinds of cyberattacks, so it’s important that you combine multiple layers of security to make your systems as difficult as possible for attackers to penetrate. This means implementing security processes at all levels of your organization, no matter whether human or technical.
Employees are often thought of as being an organization’s biggest vulnerability, but they don’t have to be. If you want to invest in high-quality training to help transform your workforce into a robust line of defense against cyberattacks and would like to find out more about the options available to you, read our guide to the top ten security awareness training solutions.
And if your organization is facing highly targeted phishing attacks and you’re looking for an awareness and simulation solution designed specifically to combat these threats, we have a guide for that, too.