What is security awareness training?
The risks of being online are becoming increasingly severe for companies. In the past two years, 77% of companies suffered at least one cyber incident. It’s understandable, then, that organizations would want to implement measures to mitigate these risks. That’s where cybersecurity awareness training for employees can be useful. For example, according to Kaspersky’s research around threats experienced by companies of different sizes, inappropriate IT resource use and IT security violation by employees pose two of the greatest threats experienced by companies, with the average cost of one incident costing $337,561. Moreover, 38% of cyber incidents in businesses were caused by genuine human error, and 26% was due to information security policy violations.
Security awareness training is an essential tool for companies or organizations that want to effectively protect their data , reduce the number of human-related incidents, reduce the cost of the response and ensure their employees understand how to responsibly handle client data and safely navigate being online. According to Kaspersky’s 2022 report, if employees are aware and understand what they need to do in the case of a security incident, the less the chance of the attacker penetrating the company’s infrastructure. Developed and delivered by IT and security experts, these programs share a common goal to try and help combat the human error that leads to data breaches and stolen information and that can, by extension, lead to financial losses and reputational damage for a company. But what constitutes a successful training program? And how can a company ensure that cybersecurity stays top of mind for employees? Learn the answers to all this and more below.
What is security awareness training?
Security awareness training is an educational program that can take many different forms. But, all programs have one ultimate goal: to equip a company’s employees with the knowledge and skills they need to protect the organization’s data and sensitive information from hacking, phishing, or other breaches which in turn will protect the company’s IT infrastructure. There are many different aspects to cyber awareness training, and a good program will cover many of these to give employees a holistic skillset for safely managing data and online activity.
By law, some companies are required to comply with certain industry regulations, such as
the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or even the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and as part of these examples, they must deliver cyber security training for employees. This usually happens once or twice a year to keep employees up to date on the latest cybersecurity issues, which are constantly evolving.
Why is cybersecurity training for employees important?
Because so many cybersecurity breaches can be the result of human error and social engineering, companies need to ensure their employees are aware of how vulnerable they are to attacks and breaches and are able to counter these threats as much as possible. This is why security awareness training for employees is crucial. Effective cyber awareness training educates employees about what cybersecurity threats exist against the company, helps them understand potential vulnerabilities, and teaches them the appropriate habits for recognizing signs of danger and avoiding breaches and attacks as well as what to do if they made a mistake or they have any doubts. In addition, many companies will need to implement cybersecurity training to ensure it meets compliance regulations.
Successful security awareness programs empower employees to understand their responsibility for cybersecurity in the company and to be on guard when working with company data—while online, while using company devices, and both in the office and when working remotely. This can significantly lessen a company’s vulnerability to cyberattacks and data breaches.
What should online security awareness training cover?
According to Kaspersky’s 2023 Human Factor Survey, when analyzing the non-human error factor of how security incidents are caused in the workplace, the most common employee factor was the downloading of malware, and the second; using weak passwords or failing to change them regularly. This highlights the need for a good security awareness program to be comprehensive, covering a variety of elements that come together to give employees a holistic view of cybersecurity and what it means for the company. These might include, for example, learning good password hygiene habits, being able to recognize social engineering scams, exhibiting safe email habits, and following legal regulations.
While there are many security topics that could be covered, each company’s program will be slightly different based on their needs. However, many elements of cybersecurity threats and protections will be relevant to every organization, as outlined below:
- Responsibility for company data: Employees should be aware of their responsibility for protecting sensitive information and complying with handling and confidentiality laws.
- Password security: Creating and using strong passwords, understanding the need to regularly change passwords, and potentially, the use of password managers.
- Phishing awareness: Recognizing potential phishing emails and avoiding scams or divulging privileged information.
- Compliance: Following regulations, like those of the GDPR and HIPAA, for example.
- Data privacy: Protecting customer data or sensitive company and employee information.
- Insider threats: Recognizing internal threats and vulnerabilities coming from within the company.
- Procedures: Understanding policies and protocols for responding to security incidents.
- Appropriate online behavior: Learning how to safely use the internet within the organization’s systems and recognizing suspicious sites and sources.
- Responsible email use: Educating employees on how to safely use emails to avoid data breaches and hacking.
- Use of devices: Educating employees on the best practices for using company-owned devices such as laptops and phones.
- Device security: The need to use VPNs and antivirus software to protect company devices from external threats, like malware.
- Use of software: Understanding what software is allowed to be used on company devices—and where to source these—and what should be avoided.
- Email habits: Knowing how to responsibly use emails, including recognizing legitimate senders and not sharing sensitive data.
- Remote usage: Protecting devices and systems while working remotely, such as by using VPNs or remote gateways.
A good cybersecurity awareness training program needs to not only cover all the topics mentioned above, but should also incorporate various formats, making the training engaging and using techniques that aid in remembering the material. Additionally, a good training program must include numerous real-world cases for employees to feel the connection with reality. A well-rounded training should not just answer questions about what is and is not allowed, but also address "what if" scenarios and what to do if a cybersecurity solution fails to detect a threat and an attack occurs. Reinforcing skills through simulations or gamification elements is also incredibly important.
Top tips for cybersecurity within organizations
Having a comprehensive understanding of security awareness is important, but implementing the right strategies is equally essential. So, what strategies should companies be trying to cultivate through cybersecurity awareness training for employees? There are numerous measures that companies can take to improve the likelihood of success of their programs. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Use strong passwords: Password hygiene should be a key focus in security awareness training and as such, companies should set strong rulesets that include special characters, minimum lengths, and mixed-case letters. A company-approved password manager can be useful, as this can help employees generate complex passwords that are less vulnerable to hacking and dictionary attacks.
- Try multifactor authentication: Many major organizations now require users to set up two-factor authentication to protect their user accounts and emails. This ensures that even if hackers manage to compromise the user’s password, it is far less likely that they will be able to access the account it is linked to, as they would not be able to get the one-time password generated to the user’s cell phone, for example.
- Deploy fake attacks: To raise awareness of how easy it can be for cybercriminals to breach a company’s cybersecurity protocols, the IT team can occasionally implement simulations of phishing attacks, that demonstrate what these attacks look like and how employees can avoid them.
- Check test metrics: After deploying attack simulations, administrations can compile and analyze the results to judge the effectiveness of the cyber awareness training and make decisions about how to adapt it.
- Regular updates: Ensure that all software is kept up to date so that the most recent security patches are deployed through the company’s systems and devices.
- Limit exposure: Through a company’s security awareness program, employees should have a good understanding of what information they can or cannot share online, and how to minimize their digital footprint.
- Use VPNs: Whether in the office or working remotely, employees should use virtual private networks (VPNs) to encrypt their online traffic and help shield any sensitive information.
- Regularly back-up data: By ensuring that all data is backed up frequently, the organization can ensure that in the event of a breach, they can recover as much as possible.
- Ensure the management team is on board: Having the support of the company’s leaders can be very useful for implementing cybersecurity training for employees. Not only will this help ensure the program receives the necessary resources, but it can also be necessary for ensuring that the appropriate cybersecurity policies can be implemented.
- Perform regular risk assessments: Cybersecurity is a world of constantly evolving threats. Regular risk assessments can help identify potential vulnerabilities and threats in an organization’s systems, and administrators can then adjust the cyber awareness training program as necessary.
- Create informative, interactive courses: The average employee may not think about cybersecurity on a daily basis and may not have that much knowledge about potential threats. As such, a successful security awareness training program will offer easy-to-understand overviews in a hands-on manner that will help employees understand potential vulnerabilities and how to counter these.
- Update policies: Because there are always new vulnerabilities and threats to an organization’s cybersecurity, it is essential that administrations regularly review their policies and, where necessary, implement and enforce new ones.
- Retraining is crucial: Cyber awareness training is not a one-and-done proposition and as such, employees should participate in regular retraining sessions that keep cybersecurity in the forefront of their minds and their skills up to date.
- Begin during onboarding: Cybersecurity training should be part of the onboarding process so that new employees understand the nuances of the company’s particular policies.
The Importance of Cyber Awareness Training
In Kaspersky’s 2023 Human Factor 360 report, survey respondents were asked where their company was most likely to make investments in cybersecurity in the next 12-18 months and it highlighted that 39% of respondents were interested in investing in trainings for cybersecurity professionals, and 38% were likely to invest in general training in employees, amongst other areas. It is therefore crucial to understand that increasing and investing in the cyber literacy of employees is a necessary measure to ensure comprehensive protection of a company. Not only this, but it is very important to choose the right educational program that will cover all the necessary topics and contain modern approaches to teaching to truly influence cyber behavior change. By involving all levels in the organization, even C-level, along with the support of the company’s management, this will lead to the successful implementation and maintenance of a cybersecure environment.
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