Security Awareness Training Evolution: Quick Wins

In the first two posts of this series we suggested that any security awareness training program needs to be focused on the proper outcomes and driven by great content. Let’s not forget the unassailable truth that the success of any security initiative is based on building momentum and making demonstrable progress early in the deployment cycle. This is not only the case for projects that involve implementing shiny boxes to block things. With a program as visible as security awareness training, with success criteria not necessarily directly attributed to training efforts, the need for a Quick Win is more acute. Especially given the likely pushback from employees duped by attack simulations. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Buy in You don’t get to roll out new and updated content without getting the organization to buy into the need to revamp any security awareness training initiatives. Selling the training program internally involves making a case for the payback of the investment in training curriculum, services, and employee time. The best way we have found to make this case involves leveraging attack and breach data that is reasonably plentiful. Start with data on the types of attacks that result in compromised devices (available from the myriad of breach reports hitting the wires weekly), and position the value of the training around the reality that the majority of delivery methods for weaponized exploits involve social engineering. From there you can look at the potential economic impact of those attacks – in terms of lost data, compliance fines, and direct incident response and/or disclosure costs. Compare to the costs of improving training, and the case for investing in training should come clear. Don’t stop justifying with direct cost savings from reducing successful attacks – point to operational benefits as well. These include an improved malware detection as well as accelerated incident response from having employees versed in security and attack vernacular. Security-savvy employees can tell you what they clicked on, which websites they visited, and why they believe they have been compromised – facilitating triage and root cause analysis. And don’t be bashful about using information from your own organization. If any of your employees have been compromised due to tactics directly taught in the awareness training (such as phishing messages), you can make the case that the impact of attacks (including clean-up costs) could be reduced by more effectively training employees. Baseline Once the organization is on board you should be able to demonstrate the ongoing value of the program. So you need to figure out where you are right now. You should run a relevant sample of your employees through the qualification tests and/or simulations to gauge where they are before the training starts. This will provide a baseline for comparing future results and tracking metrics against. Of course there is always the fortuitous happenstance that your sample of employees could perform exceptionally well in the baseline tests, reducing the urgency for better security awareness training content. This would be a good problem to have. But we have been doing this a long time, and we cannot pinpoint many (or any) examples of being pleasantly surprised by employee security knowledge, but there is always a first time, right? More likely you will see the seriousness of your situation, and get a renewed understanding of the importance of moving the training program forward decisively and quickly. Low Hanging Fruit The good news is that in the absence of a formal (or effective) security awareness training program, initial improvement is likely to be obvious and significant. You can pretty much count on employees starting with very little security knowledge, so a little training normally makes a big difference. Getting the quick win is about making sure you take the baseline and improve upon it right away. That’s not a particularly high bar, by the way. But it builds momentum and gives you some leeway to expand the program and try new techniques. Be careful not to squander that momentum, or leave ongoing improvement up to chance. You know the old adage: failing to plan means you are planning to fail. So you should think about a broader and more strategic program to deliver on your security awareness training program. The Virtuous Cycle of Training Success Your program needs to acknowledge and address the fact that most students (of anything) rarely understand and retain key concepts during initial training. Don’t simply assume that security awareness will be any different. So let’s consider a logical process which provides a number of opportunities to expose employees to the material, to increase the likelihood of retention. Initial Training: As we described in the last post on content you are looking for great content that will be current, compelling, comprehensive and fun, while providing a catalyst for behavior modification. Competition: A good way to get the most value from the initial training and ongoing efforts is to establish contests and other means to get your employees’ competitive juices flowing. Awarding prizes, using incentives to reward employees for doing the right thing and competing effectively, gives them a reason to practice their new security skills and awareness. Reinforcement: Whether it is a matter of additional training based on the results of a periodic simulation or test, re-qualification required every quarter or bi-annually forcing re-engagement with the content, a monthly newsletter, or all of the above, you want security to be top-of-mind (at least not out-of-mind), which requires a number of opportunities to reinforce the training content with employees. Updates: The dynamic nature of security, with its constantly changing attack vectors, isn’t normally viewed as a positive, but when looking for opportunities to reinforce the messages of security training that dynamism provides an important opportunity. You need to retrain employees on new attack vectors as they develop. This provides another opportunity to go back to the fundamentals and hammer again on security basics. Lather, rinse, repeat: We pointed out in the Introduction that the only way to fail

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The Great Securosis GitHub Experiment

Hey everyone, As you know, we try to make our research process as open and transparent as possible. We know any research that ends up with a vendor logo on it somewhere is viewed with justified skepticism, so our goal is to combat that perception of bias with radical transparency. For the past 6 years or so, since I started the company, we have handled that with blog comments, and by requiring even vendors who license the content to submit feedback via the site. That has worked well but the world keeps evolving beyond blogs. As an experiment I just posted my latest draft paper on GitHub. You can view the Executive Guide to Pragmatic Network Security Management on GitHub. It helps that we write all our papers in Markdown, and GitHub is very Markdown friendly. I will try to use this to both collect comments and keep everyone up to date as we edit the paper. This is also a much better mechanism than blog comments for people to suggest exact changes, although that does require becoming a bit familiar with GitHub. This is truly an experiment and I could definitely use your feedback. I will still post the paper in pieces as we normally do, but if you are up for checking it out, please give GitHub a shot. Share:

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