While looking through old notebooks, I found this piece that I wrote in 2014 for a book that never got published. Reading it through it surprised me how much we are still facing the same challenges today as we did four years ago. Security awareness and security training are no different…
So, you have just been given responsibility for your company’s information security awareness programme and you have rolled out an off the shelf training product to the company. Job done? Probably not unfortunately, because like so many things in security, there is far more to an education and awareness programme than meets the eye. The following nine areas presented here are intended to give you guidance when establishing or improving your programme. Some may not be relevant to your organisation, some will be very relevant, but all of them are intended to provide ideas and insight into what is often a very emotive and personal subject.
Start at the Top
No business programme, least of all a security awareness one, is going to have any ongoing impact in an organisation if it doesn’t have the full support the senior leadership. Depending upon the type and size of organisation this could be the Board, the senior management team or even the C level executives.
Be wary of them just paying lip service as well, as they are crucial for the ongoing engagement of the company and your programme’s success. If they are the ones that haven’t taken their training then they are not committed to your programme. Senior leadership should be helping to not only communicate the training, but also reinforcing key messages and certainly leading by example.
Finally, make sure you can report back the senior leadership on the value of the training on a regular basis, be it every three, six or twelve months. However you choose to do this, bear in mind that the key purpose is to ensure your awareness programme is aligned with the business goals, and that is seen as a part of your organisations continued success.
Don’t Rely on Compliance
Using compliance as a key driver for acquiring investment for an education programme does work, but it is a short sighted approach that will limit what you can do in the future. This is because compliance is a very specific business problem that awareness addresses, and when the compliance requirement has been met there is no reason for the business to invest more money, investigate alternative approaches or expand the programme. That tick in the box limits the future of your programme.
Instead, use compliance as just one of the many drivers to build your programme, along with profit retention, reputational damage control and a protection against lost billable time for instance. These drivers will help your programme, again, align better with the company’s goals.
Teach Them to Fish
Now onto the content! No training is going to be able to put across the correct response to every single threat, every single implication of regulations and laws, and every single type of social engineering approach. The goal of the training is to arm people with a mindset, not all the answers.
Educating people on the implications of their actions, and not their actions alone is key here. By understanding that clicking on a link could result in something bad happening is more effective than just telling them not to click on links. Helping them appreciate that social engineers use an array of techniques to build a picture of the environment is more important than telling them to mistrust every interaction with every person they interact with.
In your position as an InfoSec professional, how do you know when a link or a question is dangerous? Try to put that across, and you should end up with an awareness programme that educates people not programs them.
Make it Relevant
Off the shelf awareness programmes are often seen as a quick, cost effective and easy approach to educating people. Many of the courses are very good too. However, you should be aware of your own organisational culture. Large, regulated organisations probably couldn’t effectively train through regular lunchtime briefings, and smaller organisations probably wouldn’t receive too well being in a room for three hours and having a PowerPoint shouted at them.
Additionally, there are going to be activities, lexicon and even teams and roles that are unique to your organisation. Try and avoid people having to “translate” the training they are taking to be relevant to their daily lives as much of the impact of the training will be lost.
Make it Useful
Not only should the training be useful in someone’s working lives, but also in their personal lives. In a world of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) the lines between the workplace and home are increasingly blurred, and home networks, tablets and computers are increasingly being used to deliver into the workplace.
Educating people on how to secure their home network and WiFi, how to use a VPN in a cafe with their personal laptop, and even how to manage their own online lives not only helps secure the workplace, but also gives them a sense of being valued for the contributions they are making to the organisation.
Don’t be Too Serious
Humour is always an awkward subject when it comes to education and awareness, as it is rarely a universally agreed topic. However it is worth bearing in mind that given the often large amounts of “compliance” training often required these days (ethics, anti bribery, harassment etc training) making your course stand out is important.
Wherever possible draw upon the culture of the organisation, use in-house references (so everyone understand them) and try and avoid obscure internet humour as many people in the workplace may not understand it. Never, ever use offensive humour, or even anything that comes close to it. If your grandparents are unlikely to laugh then don’t use it!
Taking a leaf out of the book of the marketeers and advertisers, your awareness program should be multichannel and use a number of different approaches to ensure the message gets across. Consider using videos wherever possible, leaflets, internal blogs, â€œsponsoringâ€ internal events, using town halls and company meetings to present on specific security awareness projects. Poster campaigns are also a useful method of putting core concepts and points across, although a key part to their success is that they get changed on a regular basis to avoid becoming blind to them over time.
Also consider branding items like stickers, pens and pencils with a tagline or advice that ties in with your overall campaign in order to keep your security message in regularly being reviewed. Again this depends very much on the culture of your organisation as to what may seem like a cheap gimmick versus a good idea.
The core concept with this is to constantly engage with people through different means to maintain their attention and recollection of your security training.
Confirm Their Understanding
Making sure people actually understand the fruits of your hard labour goes beyond asking ten banal and blindingly obvious questions at the end of the training. These questions are table stakes when it comes to meeting compliance requirements but do nothing for actually confirming understanding. Conducting social engineering tests, sending false phishing emails (a whole topic in of itself) and even leaving trackable USB sticks lying around are valid ways to test peoples knowledge. The results of these tests can be written up providing even further educational opportunities in articles for the intranet and email updates.
Get Feedback & Start Again
The only way your awareness programme is going to improve over time is to ensure you gather open and honest feedback from all of those that you engage with throughout every phase of your involvement in your security awareness programme. Feedback from all of the recipients of the training, after every talk or awareness session and certainly feedback from the overall programme on an annual basis is an important way of ensuring good elements are enhanced and bad elements are removed.
Gathering feedback however is only half of the story; providing feedback on the effectiveness of the security awareness programme to senior leadership is also important. Consider metrics and the correlation of elements of the training as they roll out over the year to reported security incidents. Wherever possible do you best to monetise the incidents in terms of cost to the business so that over time, as security incidents decline (which they should do!) you can demonstrate the value of the programme and its contribution to the business.
Not all of these may be applicable to you and your organisation, but they should provide some guidance and ideas for you and your security awareness programme.