Successful cyber-attacks against businesses are continuing to increase at a staggering rate. A recent study has found that in just 2020 alone, data breaches have risen by 237%, fueled by a rise in home working and coronavirus related scams.
Typically, almost 90% of these data breaches are not caused by sophisticated cyber-attacks or ultra-genius hackers. They’re caused by simple human error.
This can take many forms, but will typically involve someone using a weak password for an account, giving a cybercriminal their credentials by mistake after falling for a phishing attack, or accidentally paying a malicious or fraudulent invoice.
Any one of these three mistakes can be easily made, and many of the readers of this article will probably be guilty of making a minor security blunder at one point or another. But unfortunately, they can have major consequences: the average cost of a data breach is now an eye watering $3.86 million USD.
There’s no easy way to solve the problem of human error. Yes, there are a range of security solutions and services available to stop phishing attacks, protect against malicious websites, or encourage users to choose stronger passwords.
But at the end of the day, you’re only as strong as your weakest link and, in many cases, that’s going to be an end user without any technical training, who is just trying to get their job done. Educating these users is one of the main challenges of any IT team.
What is Security Awareness Training?
Security awareness training is the process of training your end users to become aware of the major cybersecurity risks out there, and how they can stay protected against them. Often, organizations will use a SaaS cloud-based security awareness training solution to deliver these training to users.
Security awareness training solutions provide bite-sized training materials to users, often presented in the form of engaging videos, minigames, quizzes and presentations, delivered digitally. Admins are normally able to manage this training from a cloud-based admin panel, where they can also onboard users and view reports.
But security awareness training’s raison d’etre, is of course to help reduce the risk of human error causing a data breach. And research suggests that security awareness is effective at helping businesses to achieve this.
Vendor statistics will vary, but one study found that implementing a security awareness training program reduced an organization’s risk of attack by up to 70%.
However, despite this, many organizations still have no formal security awareness program in place. While 95% of companies claim to be training users on avoiding phishing, just 60% of them actually provide formal awareness training and another study found that around 31% of businesses are not conducting any security awareness training whatsoever.
Why Is Security Awareness Training So Important?
So, it seems many organizations remain unconvinced of the importance of security awareness training. To help you decide if security awareness training is an investment that your organization should be making, we’ve put together a list of the top 8 reasons why security awareness is so important today.
Improving Security Behaviors
The first and most important benefit to security awareness training is helping to educate and train your users to spot cybersecurity threats. As we mentioned, studies have shown that awareness training can be highly effective at reducing the number of successful data breaches against an organization.
Although it can be hard to quantify exactly how many data breaches will be stopped with security awareness training in place that would have been successful without it, it’s just common sense that an engaging awareness training platform that users actually pay attention to will be beneficial at preventing attacks like scams which rely on end-users not practicing safe security behaviors like not giving up passwords, or clicking on unknown links within emails, even if they look genuine.
Evidence also suggests that users are becoming more receptive to security awareness training than they have been in the past. The UK Government’s 2020 Data Breaches Survey found that as cybersecurity attacks and data breaches have become increasingly discussed in the media, employees have become far more receptive to awareness training, improving its effectiveness.
Training users to spot signs of potential scams is an effective tool to improve your organization’s resilience and protect users and your organization against cyber-attacks.
Protecting Business Data
It’s never been more important to protect the data your business gathers. This is because many organizations are now collecting masses of data on their customers, partners, employees and of course, on themselves. This data is highly valuable to cybercriminals, who may hold it ransom with sophisticated malware attacks, or simply sell or leak it on the dark web.
This can have consequences for business productivity, as without data it can often be impossible for organizations to function. But for some businesses data loss can be catastrophic, especially in the legal, healthcare and financial industries. Lost data can lead to a loss of consumer confidence in your business, and in some cases will lead to hefty fines under data regulation laws such as the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA.
Security awareness training can help to protect business data by training and educating users on the importance of protecting business data and the risks associated with it. This includes training users on the importance of account security, identifying signs of phishing attacks and best practices around handling data.
Protecting your Business Partners
Many successful account compromise attacks today start as widespread email phishing attacks that look for “easy prey”; people who will fall for a fake phishing webpage or fraudulent email message. However, once a phishing attack has been successful, cyber-criminals can be very clever in how they leverage the compromised account to get maximum revenue from a target.
What this means is that if a sophisticated bad actor is able to compromise one of your email accounts, they’re unlikely to simply start sending spam to your other team members. Instead, they could start emailing your customers or business partners, looking at previous email communications to make communications sound realistic. We have often seen examples of cyber-criminals building a relationship and rapport with targets from legitimate email accounts, before sending a fraudulent invoice. This also prevents the alarm bells from ringing inside your organization, and often targets will have no idea that an account has been compromised until after an attack has taken place.
These ‘supply chain’ attacks or ‘island hopping’ attacks are becoming increasingly common, especially against small businesses that can act as a gateway to much larger organizations with much tougher security controls in place. This is how attackers were able to scam almost $100 million from Facebook and Google.
Security awareness training can help you to protect your business against this threat by training users on how to detect phishing attacks and signs of account compromise. Think of it like wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19; if every user had a good level of awareness training, everyone’s risk of attack would go down.
Protection Against Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks remain the number one cause of data breaches. Phishing attacks today are often highly realistic and very targeted, making it difficult for even trained security professionals to spot a fraudulent email message from a genuine one. Phishing attacks are also increasingly adept at slipping though the gaps in email security technologies.
However, there are steps users can take to vastly reduce their risk of phishing. This includes spotting identifiers in emails such as numbers in domains, looking for typos and suspicious phrases, or even just knowing not to click on suspicious links or open suspicious attachments in emails.
Security awareness training can teach users all of these things, but it can also help to reinforce them. Many of the best awareness training programs will come with customizable phishing simulation modules that allow IT admins to create and send out realistic looking simulated phishing emails. This can help to train users on what phishing attacks look like, and help you to direct more training to users who make errors on simulated phishing emails.
In addition, some awareness training programs will also allow you to deploy a ‘Report Phishing’ button in Outlook or Gmail clients to allow users to report suspicious emails directly from their email inbox.
Meeting Compliance Regulations and Insurance Commitments
As previously discussed, new data protection regulations like GDPR and CCPA will impose hefty fines on organizations that fail to implement proper protections around the data they are gathering. GDPR applies to all organizations, small or large (although there are protections in place for organizations of fewer than 250 employees), and non-compliance can result in fines of 2% of your annual turnover or 10 million, whichever is higher. Getting a fine like this would cripple most businesses.
Security awareness training can help to prevent such data breaches from occurring, as we have covered. But it can also help to prove that your organization has implemented best practices and done its due diligence in protecting the data you’ve gathered, if there was ever to be a data breach in your organization.
Some industries may have specific compliance regulations that have to be met, such as financial services, education and healthcare. In these cases, security awareness is often needed to make sure that users are aware of certain requirements and regulations. You can see a summary of some of these here.
In addition, many organizations are taking out cybersecurity insurance, as the risk of attack continue to grow. Some insurance organizations will require you to implement security awareness training to help avoid attacks, and it’s a good way to show that you have every protection in place to stop an attack occurring.
Implementing Multi-Layered Security
Many organizations will have some security technologies in place to stop cyber-attacks. Typically, this will include some form of endpoint protection, web security and email protection. Some organizations may take the view that this protection will be enough to prevent attacks, without any form of additional security awareness training.
However, numerous cybersecurity and experts, including world-leading research firm Gartner, would are recommending that organizations implement a multi-layered approach incorporating multiple security systems to protect against cyber-attacks and data breaches.
The reasoning behind this is that having multiple layers of security systems in place will help to provide deeper protection against advanced attacks, like spear-phishing and ransomware. Security awareness training is an important security layer in any holistic security strategy, augmenting and improving the effectiveness of technology like email filtering solutions.
It’s important for all organizations to recognize that no one security solution can act as a silver bullet to stop all cybersecurity threats, but by layering technologies and training users to spot threats we can greatly improve security resilience.
Keeping Track of Security Behaviors
Another important benefit of security awareness training is that it allows your IT admins to more effectively track security behaviors, allowing them to direct more help when needed. Most security awareness training solutions will provide some form of quiz or assessment, which can also include the simulated phishing tests as we’ve previously covered.
The best solutions will then provide detailed reports, showcasing how well users perform in these assessments, and then flagging to admins when improvements need to be made. This of course is not about punishing people who struggle with security topics, but rather giving admins visibility into who could put the organizations at risk, and allowing them to mitigate against the threat before it happens.
Having detailed reports into security performance can also help organizations to make more general risk assessments around cybersecurity threats, and allow them to allocate more resources if needed. Having as much knowledge as possible into your teams’ strengths and weaknesses is crucial to create an informed, well-rounded security strategy.
Strengthening The Human Layer
Security awareness training is not a perfect solution. It cannot stop all the attacks, and bit-sized training modules cannot educate users against every threat under the sun. Security awareness training also cannot completely eliminate the risk of human error, as time pressures, deadlines and the everyday stresses of the workplace mean that even the most security conscious individuals in the world will, at some point or another, make a mistake.
But, security awareness training is the strongest tool that we have to strengthen the most targeted layer in the business: the human layer. Other technologies may protect users against targeted threats from email, or protect against malicious webpages or malware, but security awareness training is the best weapon in our security arsenal to help users understand the threats and protect themselves against it.
No matter how strong your other technologies are, your people will always be the weakest link. And only by making the weakest link stronger can we improve the strength of the entire chain.
How To Find The Right Security Awareness Training Solution
Now you know just some of the reasons why security awareness training is so important, you may be wondering what features are best to look for in a security awareness training solution, and how you can find the service that best fits the needs of your organization.
There are a number of key features that are absolutely essential to any strong security awareness training solution. These essentially boil down to:
- Engaging training.
- Strong phishing simulation.
- Admin controls and reports.
Engaging training is the most important feature to look for, because if training isn’t engaging, users won’t learn anything, and in some cases will try to avoid the training at all costs. But considering any one of these three features is a good basis to compare solutions and make an informed buying decision.
To help you get started in finding the right security awareness training solution for your organization, we’ve put together a guide to the top security awareness training solutions. We compare key features, quality of training materials and pricing to help you find the right solution to meet your business needs. You can read our guide to the Top 10 Security Awareness Training Solutions here.