Security Awareness Training (SAT) exists to aid IT and security professionals in their efforts to mitigate and prevent cyber-attacks. SAT solutions provide training to users to boost their awareness of common causes of data breaches (phishing scams, compromised accounts, weak passwords etc.) and, through this enhanced understanding of potential risks, promote more security-conscious behavior.
Our reliance on digital communication has only grown in recent years, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic where the summer of 2020 saw 42% of the US labor force working from home full-time. According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach is 3.86 million dollars – not to mention the non-financial risks to consider, such as customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) being compromised. What this means for businesses is that there is a clear need to invest in security awareness training for employees, to provide them with the knowledge and understanding necessary to minimize potential breaches as much as possible.
How Does Security Awareness Training Work?
Security awareness training works to promote safe practice by altering behaviors through engaging and interactive training. The training is often delivered through fun learning materials like video content or interactive quizzes and, additionally, many security awareness training solutions will also offer simulated phishing campaigns which allow you to test how well your employees are able to spot attacks. The process of providing education to your workforce aims to teach employees about potential security threats and keep them informed on the procedures and policies your company has in place to address them.
More than any technologies, processes or policies, people are the driving force behind security outcomes. And while it is true that flawless cybersecurity protection is not possible, what is achievable is an organization-wide culture of awareness and knowledge.
Which Topics Should Your Security Awareness Training Solution Cover?
Clicks or downloads from phishing emails are how most malware gains entry to company networks, with 32% of all successful breaches involving the use of phishing techniques and 91% of all attacks starting out with a phishing email. According to Microsoft, the increasing cost necessary for hackers to successfully penetrate software means it is becoming increasingly common for attackers to focus on phishing, to trick users and capitalize on the prevalence of human error.
It is important for employees to recognize the signs of a phishing attack and to have a process in place to report such attacks when they spot them. Many SAT programs offer phishing simulation exercises that make use of a library of phishing email templates to give employees the know-how to spot the common signs of a phishing attempt.
The best security awareness training solutions offer hundreds of phishing templates so you can simulate a variety of different types of malicious emails (including ones with attachments, embedded links and requests for personal data). They will also provide reporting which shows how effective each individual user is at avoiding the pitfalls. This allows you to identify those in your organization most in need of SAT and provide them with additional support.
Social engineering techniques are non-technical methods of accessing your networks and systems using tricks and manipulation. Email phishing is the most prevalent example of social engineering, but there are other lesser-known examples (spear phishing, baiting, malware, pretexting, tailgating, vishing, water-holing) that employees should be able to recognize.
Attacks involving phishing or social engineering account for 32-33% of all cyber security attacks, so ensuring that your employees are aware of the potential pitfalls is valuable. To best protect against social engineering, we recommend looking for a SAT solution designed specifically to train the parts of the brain associated with threat detection and response, using humor and repetition to train employees to resist manipulative exploitative techniques. You can read our guide to the top phishing awareness training solutions here.
Working Remotely Safely
Countless organizations worldwide made the decision to have their employees work from home after the outbreak of COVID-19 and many of them will continue allowing remote working going forward. Due to this, SAT for remote workers has become a priority for many organizations who understand how vital it is to maintain their cyber-hygiene.
Cyber attackers tend to look for easy vulnerabilities to exploit in their attempts, so its unsurprising that some 91% of businesses saw a spike in the volume of cyber-attacks being directed their way after the pandemic hit. Employees moving their workspace from the office to their homes led to an adjustment period, as businesses and workers struggled to make the necessary changes quickly and safely. This created the perfect opportunity for cyber criminals to take advantage.
For companies concerned about how the move from office-life to remote working has impacted their security, training for their remote employees is a worthwhile investment. Many security awareness training providers offer remote working training as a part of their content library, allowing you to ensure your workers are securely adjusted and able to stay vigilant against attacks and risky behaviors in their new working environment.
Safe Internet and Social Media Habits
As our world becomes more and more digitally connected, secure browsing know-how has become essential knowledge. Learning the importance of using varied passwords, not sharing personal information like our dates of birth of first pets’ names on social media, and not connecting to public Wi-Fi may seem obvious, but for plenty of less technically inclined workers, a SAT solution which covers these topics can be very helpful. Employing safe internet habits – in all contexts, but particularly at work – is an excellent way to boost overall business security.
This need for a savvy, well informed approach extends also to social media. Employees typically know the policies in place covering their use of social media at work, but it is important that they also take steps in their personal lives to remains safe and secure. A strong security mindset at home will help users to have a better approach to security issues in the workplace.
When it comes to a malicious employee who has infiltrated your business for nefarious purposes, there is no amount of training that can prevent this outright. However, by providing employees with training that teaches them about the common indicators and behaviors that may signal a potential insider threat, you will encourage them to feel comfortable coming forward to share their concerns.
Insider threats are a less common issue facing businesses; they are not nearly as prevalent as, say, email phishing attacks. But still, with 68% of organizations considering themselves moderately to extremely vulnerable to insider attacks, it is clearly a risk worth considering. There are awareness training providers available which include insider threat training, but these are typically included in more enterprise-focussed solutions.
If a security incident does occur – whether it be deliberate or accidental – employees have the potential to make a massive difference to the outcome through their reactions. When employees feel empowered to come to you with their concerns and understand what steps they should take when they suspect they may have made a mistake, this could save you precious time and allow you to take action sooner to mitigate the damage.
There are security awareness training solutions available which put a lot of emphasis on the goal of fostering a culture of reporting. Strong solutions will cover the commons ways sensitive information may be compromised, which information is considered ‘protected’, examples of incidents that may occur (both in physical workspaces and digitally) as well as the appropriate actions to take after an incident has been reported.
Business Laws and Regulations
There are a number of private industry guidelines and regulations that exist to keep valuable and sensitive information secure. Not every organization will follow the same laws and regulations, but certain industries (finance, legal, healthcare) will need particular support as there are a number of important legal regulations to cover.
Your employees may not need to experts on these rules, but they may need to be kept up to date on how the rules apply to your organization directly.
Data Privacy Practices
Data privacy and good cybersecurity should always go together. While many users will have no issues recognizing which pieces of information count as personal or sensitive and will understand how to handle, store and dispose is this information, this may not be the case for every employee. Part of your security awareness initiative and training should certainly cover these basics.
Should You Be Training Your Employees In Security Awareness?
It is expected that the global cost of data breaches in 2021 will reach $6 trillion annually – doubling from the 2015 figure of $3 trillion. In 2019, 90% of breaches could be traced back to human error. Worrying facts like these are usually all that is needed to illustrate to people the importance of SAT, but it is true that not everyone is convinced.
For some, the expenditure of time and money it takes to put employees through SAT is enough to put them off the idea, especially since no amount of training can eliminate the possibility for error all together. However, there are several studies available indicating that using SAT (including ongoing training to keep up with the constantly evolving methods used by cybercriminals) can result in an up to 70% reduction in the risk of socially engineered cyber threats. Considering the potential massive cost and other serious repercussions to a successful cyber-attack, any action an organization can take to significantly reduce their window for error is a worthwhile investment.
There are more benefits to utilizing SAT beyond the prevention of breaches. Some of these include:
Creating A Culture Of Security
What we mean by creating a culture of security, is that the values you want to instill in your employees (such as the importance of security) become woven into the fabric of your business. Using interactive training and making an ongoing investment in the education of your workforce on matters of security is an excellent way to nurture their sense of personal investment in the wellbeing of the company and to promote the notion that they are the first line of defense against cyberthreats.
Supporting Your Technological Defenses
We strongly recommend that alongside security awareness training you have a strong layer of technological protection in place, including a secure email gateway, and endpoint protection. These defenses are highly valuable in your efforts to prevent breaches; however, knowledgeable people are a required to keep these defenses running to their full potential.
Also, attackers today are not targeting only through technological means. Today’s cyber attackers understand that people are easier to hack than technology. So, the best thing you can do is make sure both your technology and your people are up to date security wise and able to work in conjuncture with each other to keep your organization safe.
The very real threat of cyber-attack is not news to most customers these days. People are aware of the persistence of these attackers and understand what consequences there may be if a business they are a customer of is successfully breached. A recent survey found that 43% of the companies taking part in the study had suffered reputation loss and negative customer experiences as a result of a successful cyber-attack.
Customers do in fact take notice of a business’s security credentials, so taking proactive steps towards improving cyber security is likely to inspire a greater level of trust and loyalty.
Implementing SAT may be, for some industries, a regulatory requirement. But organizations should be wary of considering SAT a necessary compliance rather than a beneficial security measure and risk doing the bare minimum. You will get the most out of your SAT if you view it not as a checking boxes exercise, but as a worthy investment into your security and your people.
Awareness And Shared Responsibility – Not Blame Shifting
There are some problems with security awareness training to be aware of. Some businesses rely too heavily on SAT; placing the bulk of the pressure onto employees not to fall for scams, thereby abdicating their responsibility to protect the business and its employees. Security against digital risks is a responsibility that all employees within the organization can play a part in maintaining, but there is a risk that reliance on SAT may lead to users disproportionately receiving blame if a data breach does occur.
Security experts understand that eliminating human error altogether is simply not possible, not with the ever-evolving threat and new innovative cyber-attacks techniques. As Ciaran Martin (former CEO of the National Cyber Security in the UK) argued in 2019, it will be necessary for boards to reach this understanding also.
Creating a culture of fear and blame when it comes to security may undermine your efforts to form a trusting relationship with your employees and strengthen your security culture. Too much fear of punishment for mistakes could lead to users feeling resentful, perhaps even too intimidated to come forward quickly if they suspect a mistake has been made.
Security awareness training should be included as a component in all business’ cybersecurity strategies. This is especially true of recent times, with many people working from home and with the trend of remote working options for workers set to continue.
On its own security awareness training is not going to be sufficient to keep your organization protected. But when it is utilized alongside a multi-layered security approach – with security processes at every level of your organization and a commitment to keeping up with the constantly evolving trends of cyber attackers’ tactics – it can be hugely beneficial towards keeping a business secure.
Security awareness training is a strong investment and there are a lot of excellent options available, each with different strengths and priorities. Read our guide to the Top 10 Security Awareness Solutions to learn more about what they offer.