As organizations across the globe grapple with the growing issue of cyber attacks — 2023 cybercrime costs are expected to hit $8 trillion — organizations are realizing that more than technical tools are needed to stay ahead of mounting threats.
Even one mistake by an untrained employee can have serious consequences and result in a data breach. Many publicized security incidents during the past few years have demonstrated how clicking on a single malicious link can put a business at serious risk.
Threat actors increasingly target employees for good reason. Research shows that 74% of breaches involved the human element, of which social engineering is a major vector. That figure amplifies the importance of implementing effective security awareness training, which empowers employees to defend your organization against these attacks and adopt resilient security habits.
But how do you assign a dollar amount to the return on investment (ROI) of security awareness training if you’re measuring the effects of something that didn’t happen? There’s always uncertainty, and proactive security awareness training is like an insurance policy in the way it limits potential damages. You pay for something you might not need (although in today’s threat landscape, cyber attacks are practically a given), but when you do need it, you’re grateful.
What Security Awareness Training Does for an Organization
An effective security awareness program will improve and reinforce employee behavior. This has a positive effect on ROI, as it not only ensures your organization performs cybersecurity best practices, but also alleviates the amount you need to spend on cyber threat mitigation. According to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report, employee training has been shown to reduce the average breach cost by $232,867.
Ultimately, the main goal of a security awareness program is to build a culture of security. When employees are knowledgeable about potential threats they may encounter or vulnerabilities they may have accidentally exposed, they develop the skills needed to act appropriately to better defend the organization. This means the number of security incidents due to user error significantly decreases. And fewer incidents mean less time spent dealing with malware, ransomware, stolen credentials, and other costly cybersecurity issues.
Continuous security awareness education (meaning a program that is conducted weekly or monthly, not just annually) combined with regular phishing simulations significantly increases the ability of employees to make proactive choices that adhere to more secure standards.
It’s important to remember that strong culture building doesn’t happen overnight — it can take at least several months to see the full impact of effective security awareness training.
As a result, employees can’t be expected to learn everything they need to know about cyber attacks, best practices, and good cyber hygiene in just one afternoon of training. New threats, scams, and vulnerabilities emerge all the time which makes the need for ongoing security awareness training essential.
Are Security Awareness Solutions Worth the Cost?
The short answer is yes.
The longer answer is that determining the ROI of a security awareness program isn’t easy. It requires you to compare the cost of implementing a security awareness program against the cost of what will happen if you do nothing.
But, as many organizations know, to do nothing is to expand your attack surface and invite risk. That’s even more true when you consider that there’s a 50/50 chance your organization will experience a breach in the next 12 months.
Three Costs Associated with a Lack of Cyber Security Training
- The hours spent remediating a cyber incident or full-blown breach. While not all cyber incidents are extensive or turn into a full-fledged data breach, remediation costs add up quickly, especially if your team is stretched thin and you need to bring in outside assistance like an incident response vendor.
- Reputation damage to your organization. No business wants to make headlines because of a data breach — especially if your organization is in healthcare, the legal industry, or financial services, where keeping data safe is a baseline expectation.
- Downtime and loss of business functions. Just ask the City of Dallas, which was taken down by a phishing-initiated ransomware attack, how damaging downtime can be. Several city functions were knocked offline in May, which wreaked havoc that extends beyond the digital environment.
All those above factors lead to financial costs and revenue loss. IBM recently reported that globally, the average cost of a breach is $4.45 million. While that number may be considerably lower for specific organizations, like SMBs, it’s not an amount many organizations have on hand to just give to a ransomware gang.
The Value of Implementing a Security Awareness Platform
It’s clear that paying for the proactive step of security awareness training is cheaper than paying for the damage caused by a data breach. Of course, not all security awareness training programs are built the same.
Many security training solutions are priced by tiers, allowing you to access certain features or different amounts of content based on what you pay. Costs vary accordingly and depend on factors such as the size of your organization. As you collect quotes from different security training solutions, be sure you understand what you’re getting at that price point and consider how much work you will have to do to implement and continue to run those tools within your organization. It is also very important to understand what will be effective for your organization and its unique business and security needs.
It’s safe to say that purchasing a once-a-year training course will be cheaper, but it’s unlikely it will help your employees keep security top of mind, especially if your organization is prone to phishing attempts or has vast compliance considerations. Similarly, if you choose a solution that makes you do all the work, your invoice could be lighter. However, the number of hours required by your IT team to manage it can be costly and burdensome, so that aspect needs to be evaluated as well.
It’s important to be transparent about these costs, which can include administrative costs, content costs, and employee time costs.
What Is Included in Security Awareness Training
There’s a reason many restaurants offer value meals or tasting menus, it’s because adding each item a-la-carte can create cost, fast. The same is true for many security awareness tools, and it’s a trap you can fall into if you’re not careful in your evaluation.
For instance, there are many phishing simulation tools out there that also provide the ability to send security awareness training content, but don’t include security awareness training content in their base price because they don’t actually create it — they are licensing it from another vendor and passing that cost on to you or requiring you to go find content on your own that you need to then integrate into their system.
It’s important to understand if what you’re buying actually includes the features you think you’re getting.
What Effective Security Awareness Training Should Include
It’s important for your organization to evaluate and determine what you want in a security awareness training program and stick to your plan as you begin to evaluate security awareness tools. To achieve a culture of security, you can’t count on just phishing simulations or an annual security awareness training.
An effective security training program should include:
- New and relevant security awareness microlearning content. Outdated or irrelevant content is simply not effective. It’s important to keep your employees informed on the latest threats and attacks they need to be prepared for.
- Compliance-related content. Compliance and security go hand in hand, and depending on your organization, employees need to make sure they are staying compliant.
- Phishing simulations with specific and immediate follow-up training. Phishing simulations on their own are not enough to prepare employees for real-world attacks. It’s only when employees are immediately shown what they missed in a phishing simulation that they can become resilient identifiers of suspicious indicators that help them to identify an email as potentially malicious.
- A friction-free experience for employees. Of course, you want employees to participate in security awareness training, but seldom is the question asked, “Are we making it easy for employees to participate?” Even something small like removing the barriers of requiring a username and password can make a huge difference in employee participation.
- Positive content. It doesn’t matter how many features your training has, if it shames your employees, then it won’t be effective. Employees should be empowered, but if your tool calls them the weakest link, they won’t want to participate in the culture of security.
Implementing an ongoing security awareness program doesn’t have to be intimidating. Learn more about effective security training with Arctic Wolf Managed Security Awareness®.