Making an Impact with Security Awareness Training: Quick Wins and Sustained Impact

Our last post explained Continuous Contextual Content as a means to optimize the effectiveness of a security awareness program. CCC acknowledges that users won’t get it, at least not initially. That means you need to reiterate your lessons over and over (and probably over) again. But when should you do that? Optimally when their receptivity is high – when they just made a mistake. So you determine the relative risk of users, and watch for specific actions or alerts. When you see such behavior, deliver the training within the context of what they see then. But that’s not enough. You want to track the effectiveness of your training (and your security program) to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. If you can’t close the loop on effectiveness, you have no idea whether your efforts are working, or how to continue improving your program. To solidify the concepts, let’s go through a scenario which works through the process step by step. Let’s say you work for a large enterprise in the financial industry. Senior management increasingly worries about ransomware and data leakage. A recent penetration test showed that your general security controls are effective, but in their phishing simulation over half your employees clicked a fairly obvious phish. And it’s a good thing your CIO has a good sense of humor, because the pen tester gained full access to his machine via a well crafted drive-by attack which would have worked against the entire senior team. So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to implement security awareness training for the company. Let’s go! Start with Urgency As mentioned, your company has a well-established security program. So you can hit the ground running, using your existing baseline security data. Next identify the most significant risks and triage immediate action to start addressing them. Acting with urgency serves two purposes. It can give you a quick win, and we all know how important it is to show value immediately. As a secondary benefit you can start to work on training employees on a critical issue right away. Your pen test showed that phishing poses the worst problems for your organization, so that’s where you should focus initial efforts. Given the high-level support for the program, you cajole your CEO into recording a video discussing the results of the phishing test and the importance of fixing the issue. A message like this helps everyone understand the urgency of addressing the problem and that the CEO will be watching. Following that, every employee completes a series of five 3-5 minute training videos walking them through the basics of email security, with a required test at the end. Of course it’s hard to get 100% participation in anything, so you’ve already established consequences for those who choose not to complete the requirement. And the security team is available to help people who have a hard time passing. It’s a balance between being overly heavy-handed against the importance of training users to defend themselves. You need to ensure employees know about the ongoing testing program, and that they’ll be testing periodically. That’s the continuous part of the approach – it’s not a one-time thing. Introduce Contextual Training As you execute on your initial phishing training effort, you also start to integrate your security awareness training platform with existing email, web, and DNS security services. This integration involves receiving an alert when an employee clicks a phishing message, automatically signing them up for training, and delivering a short (2-3 minute) refresher on email security. Of course contextual training requires flexibility, because an employee might be in the middle of a critical task. But you can establish an expectation that a vulnerable employee needs to complete training that day. Similarly, if an employee navigates to a known malicious site, the web security service sends a trigger, and the web security refresher runs for that employee. The key is to make sure the interruption is both contextual and quick. The employee did this, so they need training immediately. Even a short delay will reduce the training’s effectiveness. Additionally, you’ll be running ongoing training and simulations with employees. You’ll perform some analysis to pinpoint the employees who can’t seem to stop clicking things. These employees can get more intensive training, and escalation if they continue to violate corporate policies and put data at risk. Overhaul Onboarding After initial triage and integration with your security controls, you’ll work with HR to overhaul the training delivered during their onboarding process. You are now training employees continuously, so you don’t need to spend 3 hours teaching them about phishing and the hazards of clicking links. Then onboarding can shift, to focus on establishing a culture of security from Day 1. This entails educating new employees on online and technology policies, and acceptable use expectations. You also have an opportunity to set expectations for security awareness training. Make clear that employees will be tested on an ongoing basis, and inform them who sees the results (their managers, etc.), along with the consequences of violating acceptable use policies. Again, a fine line exists between being draconian and setting clear expectations. If the consequences have teeth (as they should), employees must know, and sign off on their understanding. We also recommend you test each new employee within a month of their start date to ensure they comprehend security expectations and retained their initial lessons. Start a Competition Once your program settles in over six months or so, it’s time to shake things up again. You can set up a competition, inviting the company to compete for the Chairperson’s Security Prize. Yes, you need to get the Chairperson on board for this, but that’s usually pretty easy because it helps the company. The prize needs to be impactful, and more than bragging rights. Maybe you can offer the winning department an extra day of holiday for the year. And a huge trophy. Teams love to compete for trophies they can display prominently in their area. You’ll set the ground rules, including

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