Providing security awareness training for employees helps to eradicate risky behaviors that could potentially lead to a network compromise. Training programs should cover all the major threats faced by your organization, including web-based attacks, phishing emails, malware, and social engineering scams via the telephone, text message, or social media channels.

All too often, businesses concentrate on securing the network perimeter with firewalls, deploying advanced anti-malware solutions, and implementing other technological controls such as spam filters and endpoint protection systems, yet they fail to provide effective security awareness training for employees. Even when security awareness training programs are developed, they are often once-a-year classroom-based training sessions that are forgotten quickly.

If you view security awareness training for employees as a once-a-year checkbox item that needs to be completed to ensure compliance with industry regulations, chances are your training will not have been effective.

The threat landscape is changing rapidly. Cybercriminals often change their tactics and develop new methods to attack organizations. If your security program does not incorporate these new methods of attack, and you do not provider refresher security awareness training for employees throughout the year, your employees will be more likely to fall for a scam or engage in actions that threaten the security of your data and the integrity of your network.

Many Businesses Fail to Provide Effective Security Awareness Training for Employees

One recent study has highlighted just own ineffective many security awareness training programs are. Positive Technologies ran a phishing and social engineering study on ten organizations to determine how effective their security awareness programs were and how susceptible employees are to some of the most common email-based scams.

These include emails with potentially malicious attachments, emails with hyperlinks to websites where the employee was required to enter their login credentials, and emails with attachments and links to a website. While none of the emails were malicious in nature, they mirrored real-world attack scenarios.

27% of employees responded to the emails with a link that required them to enter their login credentials, 15% responded to emails with links and attachments, and 7% responded to emails with attachments.

Even a business with 100 employees could see multiple email accounts compromised by a single phishing campaign or have to deal with multiple ransomware downloads. The cost of mitigating real world attacks is considerable. Take the recent City of Atlanta ransomware attack as an example. Resolving the attack has cost the city $2.7 million, according to Channel 2 Action News.

The study revealed a lack of security awareness across each organization. While employees were the biggest threat to network security, accounting for 31% of all individuals who responded to the emails, 25% were team supervisors who would have elevated privileges. 19% were accountants, administrative workers, or finance department employees, whose computers and login credentials would be considerably more valuable to attackers. Department managers accounted for 13% of the responders.

Even the IT department was not immune. While there may not have been a lack of security awareness, 9% of responders were in IT and 3% were in information security.

The study highlights just how important it is not only to provide security awareness training for employees, but to test the effectiveness of training and ensure training is continuous, not just a once a year session to ensure compliance.

Tips for Developing Effective Employee Security Awareness Training Programs

Employee security awareness training programs can reduce susceptibility to phishing attacks and other email and web-based threats. If you want to improve your security posture, consider the following when developing security awareness training for employees:

  • Create a benchmark against which the effectiveness of your training can be measured. Conduct phishing simulations and determine the overall level of susceptibility and which departments are most at risk
  • Offer a classroom-style training session once a year in which the importance of security awareness is explained and the threats that employees should be aware of are covered
  • Use computer-based training sessions throughout the year and ensure all employees complete the training session. Everyone with access to email or the network should receive general training, with job and department-specific training sessions provided to tackle specific threats
  • Training should be followed by further phishing and social engineering simulations to determine the effectiveness of training. A phishing simulation failure should be turned into a training opportunity. If employees continue to fail, re-evaluate the style of training provided
  • Use different training methods to help with knowledge retention
  • Keep security fresh in the mind with newsletters, posters, quizzes, and games
  • Implement a one-click reporting system that allows employees to report potentially suspicious emails to their security teams, who can quickly take action to remove all instances of the email from company inboxes