Security Awareness Training

What Is Security Awareness Training And Why Is It Important?

Research shows that implementing a robust Security Awareness Training program is crucial to securing your organization—but why?

Article thumbnail image

Security Awareness Training (SAT) is designed to educate employees on what to do—or what not to do—if they’re targeted by a malicious cyberattack. And it’s becoming an ever-more important part of any organization’s security posture.

Think of it this way—your organization is a ship, and every security measure that you implement is to help avoid holes appearing in your infrastructure. 

You might go about this by investing in every security solution you can think of. Robust email security? Check. Strong identity and access management? Implemented. Powerful web security? Done that.

But what many organizations fail to consider is that technology doesn’t stop 100% of threats—and when one does manage to slip through, your users are the only thing standing between a breach and business as usual. 

So, when the fateful day comes when one of your users comes face-to-face with a targeted attack, you need to ensure they’re armed with the right knowledge to be able to identify the threat and react in the right way. 

Investing in an engaging, digestible, and well-rounded security awareness training program is the best way to support your employees—alongside creating a culture where your employees feel safe and happy to go to your security teams with any issues. 

But what is security awareness training, what does it include, and why does your organization need it? 

What is Security Awareness Training And What Does It Include?

Security awareness training is a formal process that you can put in place to educate users on the threats they might face—both in the cyberspace and in the physical workplace environment—and how to respond to them. 

There are three key components to any security awareness training program:

  1. Training modules and educational content.
  2. Phishing simulations and testing.
  3. Reporting and analytics.

Let’s delve a little deeper into these.

1.    Training Modules And Educational Content

An effective security awareness training program should include educational content that covers a wide range of topics and threats your users might face. Training topics include social engineering, password management, privacy, physical security, and many more. 

The idea behind this is to educate your employees about what threats actually look like, why they might be targeted, and how to react when they are. After all, it’s much easier to defend yourself when you know what to look for. 

Methods of administering training can vary. Depending on the vendor that you choose to work with, you might be able to grant full control to your admins and security teams over which modules to allocate to certain groups of users and how frequently they need to undertake training. You might even be able to add in custom content to train users on procedures and policies that are specific to your organization. 

Other vendors might offer fully managed programs, instead. This is where they manage and oversee the administration of training, and automatically roll out modules to users on a pre-determined basis, without the need for involvement from you or your security teams.

In terms of delivery, training content doesn’t have to come in the form of hours-long, monotonous training videos or worse—pages and pages of text (because, who really wants to read dozens of pages of content at a time?) 

In fact, when it comes to educational content, more frequent, short modules are much more engaging and, therefore, more effective. The best SAT solutions offer a range of training materials, including bite-sized videos, blogs, interactive minigames and quizzes, real-life simulations, and more. We’ll go into a little more detail on engaging your users later in this article. 

2.    Phishing Simulations And Testing

Phishing simulations are emails that are designed to replicate genuine phishing attempts and which you can send to users to test whether they identify the “threat”. Simulations are often based on real-life phishing examples but contain nothing harmful within. 

The point is to enable users to put what they learned from their modules into practice in a real-world yet safescenario—while also enabling security teams to test how their users would react to real-life threats. 

To send a phishing simulation, security teams can often choose from a library of customizable email templates or write their own from scratch. They can then automatically or manually send these out to selected groups of users.

These emails then appear in employees’ inboxes as regular emails. They’re designed to look and feel genuine to truly test your employees’ abilities to recognize threats in real-life environments.

Users that report phishing simulations to their security teams are often met with a positive, congratulatory message, and some solutions—like Hoxhunt’s—might even reward users with points that they can redeem for real-life prizes. To enable users to report these emails, many solutions come with an email reporting plugin that sits at the top of your users’ inboxes.

On the flip side, users that fail to recognize simulated phishing attempts and instead engage with the email—by downloading an attachment or clicking on a URL—can be automatically enrolled in “just-in-time” training. This is usually a bite-sized refresher course that’s relevant to the mistake they just made, which provides additional support they might need to help them better recognize phishing attempts. 

To learn more about the phishing simulations and their benefits, take a look at our article: How Do Phishing Simulations Work And How Can They Help Your Organization?

3.    Reporting And Analytics

Lastly, a key function of an effective security awareness training program is its ability to generate granular and detailed reports on user behavior. 

These provide your security teams and admins an insight into who has completed their training as well as who has modules outstanding; who has successfully reported a phishing simulation versus who engaged with the email; the types of phishing emails that are most likely to cause a breach based on the number of users that fell for the simulation; and more.

Using these analytics, teams can identify which individuals or groups of users are in need of the most support and which areas they need that support in, and they can use this information to adjust their security awareness training programs accordingly.

Why Is Security Awareness Training Important?

Here are six key reasons why security awareness training is important for your organization’s overall security posture. 

1.    Reduce The Risk Of A Breach

A statistic that can’t be ignored is that an estimated 84% of breaches are caused by human error. While one in four employees have clicked on a phishing email while at work, and 43% admit they’ve made mistakes at work that compromised cybersecurity. 

So, an investment in training your users is an investment in your organization’s security.

Founder and CEO at Ninjio Zack Schuler agrees that security awareness training is a mutual benefit. Schuler explains it’s about, “protecting the end user and giving them the tools to protect themselves and, in turn, they will protect those organizations that they work for.

In fact, employees with proper training are far more likely to recognize phishing attacks than untrained employees. While a Proofpoint study observed a noticeable decrease in users failing phishing simulations over the period of a year as a result of the effectiveness of their security awareness training programs.

2.    Support And Educate Your Employees

We often see employees referred to as the “weak links” in their organizations’ cybersecurity defenses—which not only devalues your greatest assets, but also perpetuates a culture of blame. But supporting your users in keeping your systems, networks, and applications safe is your responsibility.

Educating and informing users on the risks associated with new technologies is the organization’s responsibility, as is the communication of their expectations,” says Terranova’s Theo Zafirakos.

Throwing your employees out into the cyber world without any training on the threats they might face or informing them how you expect them to act is like asking them to play a made-up game without telling them what the rules are.

So, explain to them the rules. Support them in navigating the murky waters of the cyber world. And treat them as valued assets that play a real part in defending your company against cyberthreats, not weak links. You can do that by implementing a security awareness training program to support their development. 

And it works—an estimated 67% of employees do report that they find security awareness training helpful. 

3.    Support Your Existing Technologies

Interestingly, 55% of IT leaders rely on employees to inform them of data breaches, while only 27% rely on breach detection technology. 

While there are some fantastic technologies currently on the market that can protect you against all kinds of malicious attacks, no technological solution is airtight.

Whether you’ve invested in every technological solution you can think of, or if you’re part of the 22% of organizations that admit to having weaknesses or gaps in their security technologies, some kind of threat will inevitably make it past your defenses one way or another. 

And, in that case, your employees are your last line of defense. Security awareness training helps you ensure that, when the time inevitably comes that a threat does make it past your technological defenses, you have a strong human barrier to block it from going any further.

4.    Foster A Positive Security Culture 

The way that employees understand security is rooted in their organization’s culture, according to research company Gartner. But building a strong security culture starts with you. 

A key part of this is fostering an open environment where discussions on security can take place, and where employees feel comfortable coming forward with any questions or issues. It isn’t about instilling a sense of fear into your employees about the consequences and punishments they face when they make mistakes. 

ThinkCyber Co-Founder and CEO Tim Ward tells us:

“You want to show people you’re there to help them. You want to be in a position where, if someone clicks on something, they don’t think ‘Oh my god, how can I cover this up?’—they say, ‘I’ve clicked on something, and I need your help.’”

Currently, only 54% of employees believe that their organization’s security culture empowers and trusts them. But investing in the right security awareness training program that focuses on training and supporting users can help you build those relationships with users and help them feel comfortable coming forward with any issues. 

That way, if any mistakes are made, they won’t be hidden from you or swept under the carpet and can be dealt with immediately.

5.    Identify Areas For Improvement

While you should provide security awareness training to employees across all areas of your organization, it’s important to recognize that individuals might require different levels of support across specific areas. 

What’s great about many security awareness training platforms is that they go beyond simply training users and provide analytics to help you improve your program and tailor plans for users to really give them the support that they need. 

As Masha Sedova, Co-Founder and President at awareness training vendor Elevate Security explains:

“This gives you the ability to have visibility and insight into who the riskiest employees are, then you can start tailoring security controls and solutions to make sure that every employee is met exactly where they need to be to remediate that.” 

Using these analytics, you can allocate additional training to users that need it or adjust their programs to better suit their needs. 

6.    Ensure Compliance 

Security awareness training is also essential to ensure compliance with many industry standards and external regulations.

For example, many industry standards (including ISO/IEC 27001 & 27002 and NIST 800-53) state that organizations must have security awareness training in place. 

Many compliance regulations (such as HIPAA and GDPR) also make security awareness training mandatory—and fines for non-compliance can be substantial. In GDPR’s case, non-compliance with their regulations can land you a fine of more than £10 million, or 2% of the past year’s revenue—whichever of the two is higher. 

Security awareness training can also affect your cybersecurity insurance premiums. Insurance companies tend to avoid covering clients that they deem as high risk, and often require evidence that you’re taking active steps to reduce your level of risk and complying with regulations—security awareness training is a key way to prove that. 

Product director at SafeTitan Stephen Burke adds:

“A huge driver now is that companies have to be doing security awareness training in order to get cyber insurance, or they’re provided security awareness training by a local provider through their policy. And if they don’t use this, their premium either goes up or their policy isn’t renewed.”

As well as that, implementing security awareness training can help reduce insurance premiums as well as reduce the risk of one of your users unintentionally invalidating your policy. 

Advice For Implementing Security Awareness Training

Ready to invest in security awareness training for your organization? Here’s our advice for how to get the most value out of your security awareness training program. 

Invest In An Engaging Program

We recommend that you look to invest in a program that your users are not only going to engage with, but also enjoy—because users are far more likely to retain content that they engage with. And many vendors build their programs with just that in mind.

For example, Hook Security created its own category of security awareness training called “Psychological Security”, which uses humor to appeal to the primitive brain that controls users’ conditioned responses to threats. 

While NINJIO uses a “Netflix model” for training, producing three-to-four-minute micro-learning episodes featuring American anime-style cartoon characters, which are delivered every month as part of an organization’s subscription to the platform. 

And Infosec training includes “choose your own adventure” games, where users can navigate their way through various scenarios using their own judgment to make choices and learning as they go along. 

Product Marketing Manager at Infosec Tyler Schultz states:

“We’re really trying to improve on the older methods of security awareness training. We’re leaning really hard into engagement, using training episodes with fun themes and characters that employees can get to know and hopefully relate to.”

Focus On Teaching, Not Tricking

While phishing simulations are all about testing your users on their ability to spot real-life threats, they aren’t about tricking your employees with sneaky tactics and then punishing them afterward. All that’s going to do is enforce a culture where employees are too afraid to come forward when they’ve made a mistake. 

Instead, they’re about including your users in the process. As CEO and Co-Founder of Hook Security Zachary Eikenberry explains:

“Training has to be non-punitive. The point is not to trick people; the point is to train people … Respect their agency, respect their person, invite them into the process, and stop telling them they’re the weakest link.”

Terranova Security’s Theo Zafirakos also adds:

“It’s important to communicate the purpose and how we’re going to use simulations from the very start of the program, to make clear what the expectations and potential consequences are. We may ask you to follow some additional training, but the goal is education, not punishment!”

It’s All About Frequency

Many organizations might think of security awareness training as a once-a-year checkbox activity that they need to get out of the way to comply with regulatory standards.

But experts argue that instead, security awareness training should be an ongoing process. As ThinkCyber’s Tim Ward argues:

“It doesn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to realize that being taught something once a year isn’t going to change behavior! It’s only when you do things day in, day out, that you really remember them.” 

While Nick Deacon Elliott, CEO at UK-based awareness training provider Boxphish warns against training users too often:

“If training is too frequent it won’t be well received—everyone’s busy! Instead, it’s about implementing digestible pieces of training. And for us, about once a month feels right.” 

So, how often should you be training users? Well, you should look to strike a balance between keeping content fresh in your users’ minds and being as undisruptive to your users’ lives as possible. 

That can depend on your specific organization and can range from every few months to every few weeks. 

Invite Users Into The Selection Process

Our final suggestion is that it’s often a good idea to bring your users into the conversation when you’re selecting a program. 

After all, your users are who will be spending the most time with the program, so ensuring it’s a program they feel they’ve had a say in selecting is a great way to better ensure their cooperation with the program.

 As Hook Security’s Zachary Eikenberry advises:

“You should invite everybody into the conversation at some level to participate in the selection of the training experience. Because if the organization realizes that everybody had input into the training, it creates a different level of ownership.”

Choosing The Right Security Awareness Training Provider 

Some vendors might offer training content and phishing simulations on one comprehensive platform. While others might focus solely on educational and training content or phishing simulations and testing. 

But regardless of whether you combine multiple vendors’ solutions or invest in an all-in-one product, we strongly advise that your security awareness training program includes both training content and phishing simulations. 

You need a combination of both. Here’s the theory, and here’s a way to practice and apply it effectively,” Terranova’s Theo Zafirakos advises. 

With so many innovative solutions currently on the market, it can be overwhelming to identify the right program for your users. But we’re here to help.

We’ve put together the following market guides to clue you in on how these products work, their key features, and who we’d recommend them for:


So, while security awareness training is certainly an extra layer of protection for your ship, it’s also much more than that.

It’s the foundation to building a positive security culture. It’s a way to identify users that might need extra support. It’s how you can support your employees and keep your organization safe. 

It’s a powerful tool that shouldn’t be overlooked.