User education is a central pillar of any cybersecurity strategy. It doesn't matter how effective your technology tools such as firewalls and antimalware software are - if your people aren't aware of the security risks, you might as well be leaving your front door wide open.
You can't rely on technology alone to keep the business safe from hackers. Your people are both your first line of defense and potentially your biggest weakness when it comes to cybersecurity, so it's vital employees at all levels of the business have the knowledge to spot suspicious activity and the confidence to respond effectively to it. And this means cybersecurity training is a must.
Why security awareness training for employees is essential
Users are undoubtedly the weakest link in any security strategy, with nearly nine out of ten data breaches (88%) resulting from human error. This can cover everything from IT workers misconfiguring servers to end-users inadvertently giving away critical login details or allowing malware into a business by clicking on an unknown attachment.
Hackers are well aware of these weaknesses and are keen to exploit them. For example, more than three billion spoofed emails are sent every day around the world. At these volumes, it only takes a very small percentage of people to fall for the fraudsters in order to see a positive return for criminals.
The pros and cons of the various types of security awareness training
One of the biggest challenges for any business is formulating a security awareness training strategy that employees actually engage with. Many people may think they've heard it all before or don't see the relevance of what you're saying. Yet even the most tech-savvy employees can be fooled by a sophisticated phishing attack.
Therefore, you need a strategy that works for everyone, from your dedicated IT staff to those whose technical knowledge doesn't extend beyond using Google. At the same time, you also need to account for different learning styles and fit training around people's schedules.
To kickstart your security awareness training program, being aware of the positives and negatives of each method will help you formulate a plan that works for your employees and reduce your risk of falling victim to cybersecurity threats.
1. Classroom-based learning
The most familiar form of training, classroom learning is exactly what it says on the tin. Placing people in a room with a live instructor with lectures, workshops or demonstrations offers a range of benefits. For starters, it ensures both participants and instructors can get instant feedback on the material, answer any questions in person and see where any gaps in understanding lie.
Physically taking people away from their normal roles also emphasizes the importance of the training and helps create a culture of security. However, the drawback of this is that it can be disruptive and costly, while some studies cast doubt on the overall effectiveness of this learning method in adults.
2. Computer-based lessons
Another alternative is computer-based learning, with online-based programs particularly popular. A key advantage of this is that lessons can be completed at a user's own pace, allowing it to fit around their work. Users are still able to submit questions and get feedback on their activities, and online lessons can quickly be updated to reflect any new threats, or adjust to the ways people want to learn.
However, if you're turning to one of the wide range of external providers of such services, the cost and quality of training can vary widely.
3. Visual and interactive tools
The majority of people - around 65% - are primarily visual learners, with people retaining about 80% of what they see, compared with 20% of what they read. Therefore, adding visual and interactive tools, such as infographics, videos and quizzes to your classroom or computer learning can be a great way to boost engagement.
These are often quick and easy to deploy, simple to understand and can be reviewed later if necessary. However, you need to make sure they’re being viewed and, as it's a one-way form of communication, you need to conduct follow-ups to answer any questions or gain feedback.
4. Attack simulations
Using simulations such as fake phishing emails or text messages provides you with a much better real-world view of who's been paying attention to the training and who hasn't. This enables you to test the effectiveness of your programs outside the classroom, which still offers a controlled environment, as well as learn more about the psychology of your employees, to see where any particular weaknesses lie.
This is one of the best ways to determine if your security awareness training is sinking in, but it does need to be handled sensitively. People don't like being fooled, and some employees might find it offensive. To reduce the risk of backlash, plan your messaging carefully and have a clear follow-up plan for those who fail the test.
Key tips for making cyber training engaging
Settling on an approach that uses the right combination of these methods is just the start. To really make sure your staff are engaged, you need to think about how you deliver it.
For starters, make sure it's personal and relevant to users. The biggest mistake many employees make is thinking they won't be a valuable target, so be sure to come armed with real-world examples that personalize the material and make it relatable.
Making it a social activity can also be useful and be a great way to integrate it into the wider company culture. This doesn't have to be competitive. Instead, get people in groups to work on the material as a team and act together to tackle cyberattacks. If employees have peers they can talk to about any suspicious activity they encounter, this helps protect the company and build knowledge.
Finally, make sure users have the confidence to put their education into action. Fear, uncertainty and doubt can often undermine security training by causing anxiety in users that dissuade them from coming forward if they have any concerns - or especially if they worry they've made a mistake.
Combat this by rewarding positive actions and having a clear, easy reporting mechanism in place to alert security professionals to any incidents or suspicious behavior.