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Why is Security Awareness Training Important?

Parker Byrd

In today's world, it is more important than ever to have a security awareness training program in place. In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of security awareness training and why it is so important for any company that has employees with access to sensitive data. We will also talk about some common mistakes companies make when implementing their own security training programs.

What is Security Awareness Training?

Hook Security defines it as an education program that teaches employees about cyber security and phishing while creating best practices and good habits.

Psychological Security Awareness Training takes that approach a step further by focusing on the way we train the brain. PsySec uses neuroscience, humor, repetition, and a non-punitive approach to train the part of the brain that houses threat recognition and response.

What are the components of a Security Awareness Training program?

An effective security awareness training program uses a combination of technology, training content, and culture building. While there are great software, tools, and content out there, human to human communication and trust is the most effective factor in building your human firewall.

A solid cyber security awareness program includes:

Phishing Simulations

Phishing simulations are an important security software to not only identify your current level of risk, but they also expose employees to phishing emails in their working environment. This helps employees create pattern recognition and start to train the "fight or flight" sensation that comes when they receive a suspicious email. Phishing tests are also a good way to create unique, specific experiences for different departments, sectors, or employees types within your company. Finally, phishing testing helps you identify employees who need further training.

Related: How to Perform an Effective Phishing Test

Security Awareness Training Courses

A core part of any security awareness program, courses allow employees to learn about various cybersecurity topics, from phishing awareness to malware, ransomware, passwords, social engineering attacks and more.  Security awareness courses are an important part of any cyber security education platform.

Security Awareness Training Content

Security training content should include videos, images, infographics, quizzes, interactive elements, and more. Employees retain 55% of new information when they're learning with multimedia elements versus just reading text on a screen or in printouts. Using visuals helps employees understand concepts better and makes it easier to recall the knowledge later on.

Training Course Style

At Hook Security, we've found that security awareness training content is most effective when the style of the content is entertaining, funny, non-punitive, and allows employees to quickly learn and then get back to what they were doing. This helps your company to train employees without killing productivity.

The Case for Security Awareness Training

Before we talk about why cyber security awareness training is important, let's discuss where there is even a need for it at all.

According to the SANS Institute, 81% of successful cyber-attacks and data breaches begin with a phishing email. No matter how secure you think your company is, it's only a matter of time before attackers come in through an employee who hasn't been trained or re-trained on security awareness topics.

A recent study by Blue Coat found that 20% of employees will click on a phishing email within the first hour after receiving it. Training your employees is key to preventing attackers from getting into your network and stealing sensitive data.

According to Verizon's Data Breach Investigations Report, 90% of successful breaches involve exploiting weak or stolen passwords. The majority (62%) begin with phishing emails - a security awareness training topic that is an important part of any human firewall strategy.

Why should you implement a security awareness training program?

Security awareness training should be part of any cyber security program at your company, but many companies are making common mistakes when implementing their own security training programs that can lead to ineffectiveness and failure.

Cybersecurity training is not just about sending your employees emails to remind them that they need to be vigilant. Security awareness training should build a culture of security, provide tools and resources for cyber security best practices, increase communication among departments in the company (from sales to marketing), and give everyone involved the skills necessary for protecting data at all times - regardless of where they are.

Security awareness should be a core part of any comprehensive cyber security program at your company, and it's an important way to keep employees safe from the growing epidemic of cyberattacks that target human error rather than vulnerabilities in software or hardware. The key is providing security education for all types of audiences within your organization - regardless if you only have a handful of employees or thousands.

Cyber awareness training should be about protecting your company and everyone involved, not just giving out rules that no one wants to follow. Invest in security education for all members of your team - from executives to salespeople - and it will benefit the health of your business immensely over time.

So - Why is security awareness training important?

Security Awareness Training Reduces the Risk of Data Breaches and Cyber Attacks.

Over 90% of cyber attacks include some sort of phishing or social engineering element. It shouldn't be a shock that reducing the risk of phishing attacks reduces the risk of a breach.

Employees receive phishing emails every day. And while most security tools do a great job of filtering out most phishing emails, hackers are changing their tactics every day, and some phishing emails ultimately land in an employee’s inbox.

And the phishing attack is just the beginning.

Phishing is the attack vector the hacker uses to get access to a company’s system. Once an attacker has access, that’s where they do their damage. Some examples of cyber attacks include malware, ransomware, business email compromise (BEC), and more.

Security Awareness Training aims to resolve this by directly focusing on humans and creating habits.

It’s one thing to simply warn employees of the dangers of phishing, but if you can properly create habits and reach the primitive part of the brain that controls threat recognition and response, that’s where you really start to see a reduction in human error and phishing email clicks.

By combining training content, simulations, and communication with an employee’s natural desire to protect themselves and their company from cyber attacks as well as the possibility of embarrassment for falling for a phishing email, you can create that "fight or flight" sensation. You lay down those neural pathways that allow employees to quickly identify threats and respond before a phishing email becomes a cyber attack.

Security awareness training is important because it reduces the risk of data breaches and cyber attacks, which can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line in damages as well as brand reputation.

An effective security awareness training program will help employees recognize potential cyber threats from hackers before they become successful attacks against the company.‍

Security Awareness Training Creates a Positive Security Culture

Security awareness training, when properly executed, contributes to your company’s security culture, and ultimately your overall company culture.

First, you should understand that culture is not something you can command, direct, or mandate. Culture is not a policy. Policy is what employees are told to do. Culture is how they actually behave.

How do you influence culture?

At Hook Security we say there are four main things you can do contribute to a healthy security culture:

Train Everyone - Culture comes from the top down. If top-level employees aren’t being trained, or see themselves as “above training”, it completely dilutes its importance and other employees will not take security seriously.

Expect Mistakes - They are inevitable. How you react to them is everything. When you roll out security awareness training to employees, you will see people click. But that’s okay. The goal is to reduce risk. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate the risk of phishing attacks. Just be glad the phishing email they clicked on was a phishing test, and not the real thing.

Set Goals - Encourage your employees and track progress. If you’re creating a healthy, positive culture around cybersecurity, employees will want to know how they’re doing. Encourage them by letting them know when they pass or fail phishing tests.

Don’t Punish Mistakes - This is the number one pitfall of many companies trying to have a security awareness program. If you truly want to have a positive security culture, treat mistakes as an opportunity for growth. After all, would you report a phishing email if you thought you could be fired?

Who owns the security awareness culture?

If you want to encourage a culture in your organization where employees are concerned with their own security, it starts at the top. As CEO, COO, or other business leaders of your company, you have an obligation to provide proper training for all levels of staff on how they can protect themselves and help contribute towards protecting the company against cyber attacks.

By having security awareness training and setting goals, employees will want to strive towards the goal of protecting themselves and their organization from cyber attacks by following through on best practices like:

Clicking links in emails only when they are expecting them (a one-time link for password reset, etc.)

Reporting phishing emails or other suspicious activity.

Using strong passwords and updating them regularly.

By offering security awareness training to your employees and following these guidelines, you will attain a positive security-aware culture that is FAR more effective than using fear, uncertainty, and doubt.‍

Security Awareness Training Helps with Compliance

Compliance is the initial reason many companies implement security awareness training, but to do it successfully, you shouldn’t make compliance the primary reason for offering training. This approach can lead to poor performance and results.

Instead, focus on the benefits of security awareness training. Namely, improved productivity and protection against cyber threats like phishing attacks or ransomware.

The US National Institute for Standards in Technology (NIST) published a guide to help organizations better protect themselves from cybersecurity risks by developing an effective information security strategy that includes employee education. The following are some recommendations from the NIST report:

Train Employees on Security Risks and Threats - If people know what to look for, they can protect themselves better. The first step is education.

Create a Secure Environment that Prevents Attackers from Entering or Staying in Your System - Companies should develop training programs based on their own risk assessment strategies.

Protect Your Data - A good security awareness training program will cover how to protect data that's stored in the cloud, on a laptop or another device. It also should include information about what happens when someone loses a device and why it is important not to lose touch with IT support once an incident occurs.

Regularly Assess Security Risks to Your Organization - Companies need to conduct regular risk assessments. This includes how the organization uses its networks, what data is stored, and who has access to it.

Companies should also develop a plan for responding when incidents occur that includes provisions like having an incident response team in place, establishing procedures for handling security breaches (including preparing statements), and knowing when to reach out to law enforcement.

What Compliance Programs Require Security Awareness Training?

More and more industries, regulators, and compliance programs are starting to include having a security awareness program.

Some compliance regulations that require security awareness training include:

  • ISO/IEC 27001 and 27002
  • GDPR
  • Many State privacy laws

If these areas of compliance affect your company or companies you offer IT services to, you should offer security awareness training for compliance.

Security Awareness Training Helps Avoid Downtime

Similar to point number one above, cybersecurity training significantly reduces your risk of company downtime, for two reasons:

First, the biggest cause of downtime is when your company is hit with a cyber attack. If you are hit with something like ransomware, your files will be completely encrypted, and many business functions will be shut down completely.

There are other, less obvious forms of downtime related to cyber attacks such as loss of business, PR issues, employee morale, time to fix, and more. Simply put, phishing attacks are bad for business.

Second, when you roll out something like our Psychological Security Training, the training is short, doesn’t take time out of an employee’s day, and boosts morale rather than hurt it.

Then, when your employees are better protected against phishing attacks and other cyber threats, you avoid the downtime caused by these types of attack.

Security Awareness Training Helps Your Employees be Productive

The idea is that if companies successfully implement security awareness training programs, they will see an increase in productivity as a result. This stems from avoiding all the things mentioned above related to cyber attacks, such as loss of business and downtime.

When you successfully prevent these types of issues from happening in your organization through security awareness training programs that include something like our Psychological Security Awareness Training which addresses many security threats (including human error), then employees will be more productive at work because they won’t have to worry about being a victim of a phishing attack. They won’t have to deal with the consequences that come from it, such as loss of business and time needed to fix what happened.

Lastly, when employees are confident in their abilities using technology properly without worrying they will get tricked by an email or text message into clicking on something that will cause their work to be compromised or cause a data breach, they can focus on what’s important - getting work done.

At Hook Security, we research and craft simulated phishing attempts based on the latest tactics that criminals are currently using. We send these simulated phishing emails to employees every month.

Then, when employees fall prey to our trap, we give them a short, educational but entertaining video to train them on their mistakes.

The whole experience from clicking the email to receiving training is less than 5 minutes.

The traditional form of training involved hours-long training in a conference room, or long, drawn-out computer-based training.

This approach kills productivity. And we like productivity.

By training your employees at the moment they clicked (we call this the point-of-infraction), they quickly learn from their mistakes, have a laugh, and move on with their day.

Your Employees Are Your Greatest Asset.

Many security providers and companies say that employees are your biggest weakness when it comes to cyber security, and to be honest we’ve said the same in the past.

And while there may be some truth in the statement, it does very little to accomplish our goals in cyber awareness.

Your tools can not be security-aware. Your computers can not be security-aware (well….not yet….oh god I’m so scared for the future).

We have found that the number one way to create security rockstars out of your employees is to treat them like your greatest asset, not your biggest weakness.

Your employees are the number one keeping your company going. And yes, they are also the people clicking on phishing emails, but you should see them as an opportunity versus a threat. This will have a great impact on the effectiveness of security awareness training.

Finally, your employees are the people who know how everything works. They have valuable insight into where security holes exist in your company. You need to listen to them and empower them so they can do their jobs properly while keeping themselves secure at the same time.

Why is it Important to Offer Security Awareness Training?

If you are an MSP, MSSP, VAR, or any kind of IT services provider, you may or not already offer security awareness training to your customers.

But should you?

Well, we may be biased but we think so.

But so do other MSPs.

In Datto’s 2020 State of the MSP Report, they showed that 60% of MSPs consider security awareness training a critical service to provide for their customers, while slightly less than 60% reported they actually offer it currently.

The cold, hard truth is that if you aren’t offering security awareness training and other emerging services as part of your managed offerings, you could be in danger of losing customers.

Because as company adoption of awareness training increases, companies will look for and ultimately go with providers that offer it.

The benefit of a done-for-you service like our PsySec training is that you don’t have to add any additional resources, time, or employees on your end to provide it to customers. We take care of the testing, training, and reporting for you.

Wrapping Up.

A few quick things to wrap up.

The biggest benefit of security awareness training is that it can be done at the point-of-infraction, while productivity isn’t completely gone and employees aren’t distracted by a trainer or instructor in front of them. This allows for learning on an employee's schedule instead of your own.

Employees are also more likely to retain information when trained in this manner. They understand how the phishing emails were supposed to look, which makes them better equipped for spotting real-life attacks that mimic what they learned.

We’ve found that companies with an effective cyber awareness training program have fewer breaches than those who don’t. This shows they are ultimately more secure than companies who do not provide training, despite the fact that it may seem like common knowledge to some of you in the industry.

Security awareness is never complete; employees will always open phishing emails or click on malicious links when presented with them enough times (trust us, we’ve seen it). However, security awareness training is still an effective way to help employees learn how they can contribute to the safety and success of your company.

Having a great security awareness program can go a long way in proving that you care about your customers’ data as much (if not more) than they do. It shows them through actionable steps what you can do to protect them from security threats, instead of just talking about it.

And finally, if you aren’t offering a security awareness and training program because it isn’t something that is already in your services portfolio – now is the time to start considering adding one as part of an emerging service bundle for your customers.

Training employees in security is no longer an option, but rather a requirement that your company needs to incorporate into their business strategy.

At the end of the day, you want great people working for you who can do their jobs and keep themselves safe at the same time without costing too much money or adding any additional work on your end.

We hope this blog post has helped you understand some of the ways to make cybersecurity training an effective part of your business strategy.

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