Building a Cybersecurity Culture: Employee Training and Awareness

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Fostering a cybersecurity-focused culture is imperative to any organization. Data is constantly moving between servers, and there are countless opportunities for a hacker to exert influence. And employees are a hacker’s favorite target.

Rather than fight against a complex set of security software, it’s far easier for criminals to trick employees into giving up their login credentials. This allows access to confidential details and a potential access point to other parts of the network.

Employee training is a necessity against the dynamic nature of cybercrime, but it’s equally important to maintain an atmosphere of awareness in the workplace. Most people know about safe online hygiene but fall victim to careless moments.

Understanding the Threat Landscape

A proper cybersecurity culture can only be achieved if everyone knows about the potential threats and risks. It’s inadvisable to tell people tips to follow and habits to build without any context.

Employees will question the purpose of tedious tasks like multi-factor authentication and eventually ignore security principles altogether.

Some of the critical threats that training should focus on include:

Phishing Attacks

Email phishing involves deceiving someone into disclosing confidential information. These emails typically impersonate management roles or human resources in the workplace to pressure lower-level employees.

The message will refer to an urgent problem requiring immediate action on the employee’s part. It will ask them to visit a dangerous site or request login details.

Training should emphasize the importance of verifying email senders and analyzing the legitimacy of requests for sensitive information.

Social Engineering Attacks

Phishing is only one type of social engineering attack. Other tactics include pretexting, scareware, and baiting. The common feature of all social engineering attacks is they abuse the target’s emotions to push them into acting in unsafe ways.

For example, a criminal could leave an infected USB drive in a noticeable office corner. An employee, curious about the USB, inserts it into their workstation and triggers an automatic malware download.

Social engineering attacks often play to an individual’s fears and excitability over medical harm and financial stress.

Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is a type of malware used to hold a business’s operations hostage. It accesses the server and shuts down access to critical files or threatens to delete them.

Employees play a large part in ransomware protection through regular data backups; training should reflect that.

Credential Attacks

Password creation and privacy are among cybersecurity’s most well-known and least-followed principles. That’s because no other data safety implementation is used as much as passwords, and having a complex password is a hassle.

Over time, employees start reusing or simplifying passwords. A common idea is that their account isn’t worth taking over, so it doesn’t need as much protection. However, criminals can use low-level accounts to move through a network and spread malware.

The slow decay of care toward password security is one of the reasons why regular employee training is necessary.

Remote Work Practices

Every cybersecurity post in the past three years has harped on the field’s changing landscape due to the sudden shift to remote work. Well, we’re saying it again.

In the office, employees benefit from stricter controls on their hardware and protection from physical tampering.

These safeguards don’t exist when you’re traveling or even at home. A hacker could install malware while you’re at a coffee shop or airport. Your child might break a device while you’re in the restroom.

Additionally, employees are usually responsible for installing security software like virtual private networks and firewalls. These tools make it safer to access public Wi-Fi in an emergency.

Developing a Cybersecurity Awareness Program

Bolstering awareness in an organization can’t happen overnight. Managers need a long-term plan with the following goals:

  1. Teach cybersecurity principles
  2. Review implementation metrics
  3. Ensure long-term adherence
  4. Schedule refresher sessions

If any of these factors are missing, the awareness program will suffer and degrade over time. It may also fail to keep up with changing technologies in cyberterrorism and be even more susceptible to danger.

Assessing the Organization’s Needs

The first step in establishing a cybersecurity culture isn’t with the people but through a comprehensive review of the organization.

Existing security measures should be evaluated for potential vulnerabilities to identify how the human element contributes to those weaknesses.

Also, if the business lacks crucial software like firewalls and MFA options, there’s nothing for employees to interact with. There’s a limit to how much an employee’s habits and mindfulness can protect them from threats.

Designing Training Modules

There are various cybersecurity training modules available online. Significant examples include KnowBe4, NINJIO, and Infosec IQ. However, sometimes, you want to tailor your modules to your unique workplace environment.

Assess Employee Knowledge

To save time and promote engagement, you might want to get a read on what employees already know. This information will guide your module and show you where the organization is most at risk.

Regardless of employee knowledge, modules should touch on password management, email safety, and remote work practices. These act as reminders to prevent excessive apathy toward basic cyber hygiene.

Customize Content to the Field

Tailor content to address industry-specific regulations and compliance guidelines. This brushes up the employee’s knowledge of legal standards and provides additional reasons to follow through on the information.

Different Training for Different Roles

Recognize that different roles within an organization face distinct cybersecurity challenges. Creating a varied training experience will help employees empathize more strongly with specific threats.

Specializing in certain security events means they can take a leading role. For instance, finance teams would receive specialized training in detecting payment fraud.

Choose a Training Format

Employing a variety of learning formats such as videos, infographics, interactive quizzes, and real-world scenarios. Doing so caters to different learning styles and may improve engagement and retention rates.

A more exciting way of training is through practical scenarios. Incorporate interactive simulations of successful cyber threats and see how each employee responds. This hands-on approach is more involved but helps apply teachings in specific situations.

Update the Modules

Think of your modules as applications. They need frequent patches on current cybersecurity trends. Otherwise, holes will start to appear. Incorporate real-world examples of recent threats and exploited vulnerabilities.

Implementing the Program

Effectively implementing a cybersecurity awareness program requires support from multiple departments. The Board or a dedicated corporate governance entity is also necessary. It provides the authority for you to dedicate employee time and resources to the program.

You’ll also want to consider including the risk, legal, and insurance departments in the process. Data breaches disproportionally affect these groups and can supplement security information with real-world consequences.

Most importantly, the IT and security teams will be pivotal in explaining key ideas and managing simulations. If there isn’t an in-house cybersecurity expert available, then one should be engaged in investing in IT support with extensive experience working with this kind of cyberattack.

Measuring Success and Continuous Improvement

Feedback from employees during and after training sessions helps measure the program’s effectiveness. This feedback loop enables organizations to continuously improve modules and learn how to get through to employees better.

Phishing Simulation Results

Some IT teams periodically send phishing emails to company employees to identify security risks. The ethics of this practice have fallen under scrutiny, with some considering it psychologically abusive.

A less contentious approach is to create a simulated inbox during training and have employees point out dangerous messages.

Incident Response Time

Measuring the time required for employees to report potential security incidents is an excellent indicator of awareness and vigilance. This metric is difficult to simulate, but security experts can discern the timing of an attack through forensic evidence.

Slow response times indicate a need for further training on security protocols. Otherwise, a redistribution of tasks and responsibilities may be next.

Training Completion Rates

Many employees are free to complete modules on a non-fixed schedule. In these cases, monitoring completion rates of training modules is essential to widespread participation. It may also highlight certain groups who lack seriousness over cybersecurity.

Number of Security Incidents

Analyzing the number of security incidents over time is a long-term endeavor but will provide a holistic view of a program’s impact. Of course,

you’re looking for a reduction in total security incidents, but you should also consider the recurrence and success rates of specific threat types.

Employee Surveys and Feedback Sessions

Employee training focuses on the human impact on cybersecurity, and measuring in numbers will only get you so far. Collecting qualitative data on employee satisfaction levels with training modules is key to improving engagement.

Practice What You Preach in Terms of Cybersecurity

Like Rome, a cybersecurity culture isn’t built in a day. It needs time and tinkering to get it right, along with a lot of employee interaction.

Training should contain proactive elements and showcase how each employee’s actions can impact the organization as a whole.

One of these programs’ biggest mistakes is using the same outdated program for decades. Cybersecurity isn’t static; new threats constantly appear in the wild.

Companies must empower their workforce with the knowledge and skills to navigate the internet of today, not ten years ago.

About the Author!

David Lukić is an information privacy, security and compliance consultant at The passion to make cyber security accessible and interesting has led David to share all the knowledge he has.

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