What is Security Awareness Training?

Published July 27, 2020 • 3 min read

Security awareness training is an education process that teaches an organization’s workforce about information technology (IT) best practices, cybersecurity, and regulatory compliance. A comprehensive security awareness training program should train employees on the current processes and policies to protect the organization’s data, physical and technical assets, and the most important asset, its people.  

The topics for a security awareness program should include how to avoid phishing and other types of social engineering cyberattacks as well as how to report possible cybersecurity threats and how to identify potential malware. 

Security awareness training should also include information to ensure employees understand how to follow their organization’s IT policies and best practices for both physical and logical security. In addition, security awareness training should instruct employees on how to meet regulatory requirements.

While many organizations don’t believe that their employees will be fooled by phishing attempts, bad actors still use phishing attacks because they continue to be successful. In fact, 93% of successful cybersecurity breaches start with phishing, according to the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

Organizations should provide regular security awareness training for employees that includes phishing simulations, interactive courses on IT, and cybersecurity best practices, along with data protection and compliance training. 

Conducting regular security awareness training can help organizations reduce risk, cut down on malware infections, and protect their reputations by helping to prevent security breaches. The first line of defense is the end-user community. 

Delivery methods for security awareness training

Classroom security awareness training

This type of security awareness training enables instructors to see whether learners are participating throughout the process and adjust their training if necessary. Classroom security awareness training also lets participants ask questions in real-time.  Depending on the organization’s location, facilities, and workforce distribution, this option may not be the most efficient or cost-effective.    

Online security awareness training

This type of security awareness training is able to accommodate more employees than classroom security awareness training. Online security awareness training is also less disruptive to employee productivity since employees can work through the content at any time, from anywhere. They don’t have to take time out of the workday. Online security awareness training also lets employees work through the security awareness training material at their own pace.

Visual aids

Posters in the break room can serve as helpful reminders of security awareness training—although they must be used in addition to actual security awareness training programs, not as substitutes for security awareness training.  Posters reinforce the topics covered within the training program.  

Simulated phishing campaigns

Employees who fail the simulated phishing test should be automatically enrolled in additional security awareness training as a refresher. 

Best practices indicate that a combination of delivery methods for security awareness training are the most effective way for individuals to learn.  

It’s also essential for an organization to have a formalized process in place to measure the effectiveness of its security awareness training program. For example, quizzes provide a metric on the quality of the content.  Conduct one quiz before the security awareness training as a baseline measurement, then another after the security awareness training is completed to gage the improvement. 

Organizations that regularly conduct phishing exercises should track whether employee response to these drills improves after they’ve undergone security awareness training.

Companies can also try to determine the impact of their security awareness training programs by looking for trends over time in the numbers and types of cybersecurity incidents that occur as they add more employees. 

Depending on an organization’s internal security resources and expertise, it might make sense to bring in a third party to assist with security awareness training. There is a multitude of security awareness platforms to explore.  

But whether a company decides to seek outside assistance or use internal resources, business leaders have to understand what goes into planning and creating a security awareness training program, get involved in the communication and rollout of the security awareness training program, and offer feedback throughout the security awareness training process.

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