Cybersecurity Glossary

Security Awareness

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What Is Security Awareness? 

Security awareness is a standardised process that provides employees, contractors, vendors, and other third-party stakeholders with cybersecurity education. Security awareness training is designed to prepare users to recognise and neutralise social engineering attacks and human error. It is a core pillar of proactive security operations. 

What Is a Security Awareness Training Program? 

A security awareness training program is the compilation of compliance training, phishing lessons, and any efforts (videos, quizzes, events, content) created to train employees to meet compliance requirements and grow in their knowledge and application of security best practices.  

Examples include annual HIPAA compliance training for an organisation in the healthcare industry, a video on phishing, or even a mandatory reading on common security issues in the workplace. Security awareness training programs take many forms and are commonplace in organisations that have a digital presence. 

Ultimately, the goal of a security awareness training program is to change behavior through education. These programs help employees identify risky habits and replace them with secure ones, as well as instruct users on how to both recognise the signs of an attack and how to react to an attack. The most effective security awareness training programs are long-term and utilise a variety of teaching methods to meet compliance and legal requirements of your industry as well as permanently change user behavior. 

Features of a Successful Security Awareness Program 

According to The State of Cybersecurity 2023 Trends Report, 90% of the threats Arctic Wolf responded to in 2022 actively targeted employees or users. With the vast majority of threat actors targeting the human element of cybersecurity, it’s crucial that any security awareness program be optimised for effectiveness. Here are five features of an effective security awareness training program. 

1. Greater Frequency 

People forget more than 80 percent of what they’ve learned in less than a month, making the need for frequent engagement a necessity for building a culture of security. Frequency is key in helping employees take in — and remember — what was learned in training, as well as making sure it’s actively applied, not just scanned and forgotten. Effective security awareness programs engage employees more than once a month to ensure they will retain the information better and for longer. 

2. Fully Managed Administration 

Because of the nature of traditional security awareness solutions, management and administration of the program typically falls to someone inside the organisation. This can often be an overwhelming role, as they will be tasked with building out campaigns, as well as reviewing and editing content and phishing simulations. More effective programs are fully managed by the solution provider, eliminating administrative tasks for the organisation. 

3. Bite-sized Content 

Having employees memorise every aspect of industry-specific compliance requirements during a single training session all but ensures the information won’t be retained. The human brain is best at absorbing four to seven pieces of information at a time, and if security awareness training is only happening yearly or quarterly, the amount of information employees are being asked to retain far exceeds their capacity to do so – leading to forgetfulness, learning loss, and a lack of engagement.

Effective security awareness training programs utilise microlearning, which teaches cybersecurity information in small chunks over short periods that are easy to learn and absorb and recall. Instead of taking employees away from their jobs for hours or days at a time with a fire hose full of information they soon forget, microlearning sessions are easy to digest, and can become a convenient part of an employee’s normal routine. 

4. Current Content 

The cyberthreat landscape is constantly evolving as threat actors unleash terrible new innovations to their tactics, techniques, and procedures on a perpetual basis. It’s why the frequency with which a security awareness training program engages with users is so important.

However, if the program’s content isn’t frequently updated to reflect the current threat landscape, the efforts will be wasted. The most effective programs utilise training content that is informed by real-world threat intel and industry trends, ensuring timely, relevant training that keeps your team from falling a step behind threat actors.  

5. Shame-free Behavior Correction 

Phishing simulations are often a part of a security awareness program. However, many programs attempt to influence behavior through negative reinforcement or shaming. When an employee falls for a phishing simulation it can lead to consequences like additional training, discussions with supervisors or even a meeting with HR. To be effective, security awareness training should be free of shaming or other negative consequences.

Instead, when a person clicks on a phishing simulation, they should be given specific information that helps them to build their skills in recognising real phishing emails. 

Topics Security Awareness Programs Should Include 

While the bread and butter of any security awareness training program should be education around the latest social engineering tactics and attack methods, there are additional topics that effective programs include. When evaluating security awareness programs, look for solutions that offer training on a robust, regularly updated suite of topics. 

Social Engineering 

Security Best Practices 

Physical Security 

  • Dangers of Device Sharing 
  • Dangers of Public Wi-Fi 
  • Dangers of Lost or Stolen Devices 
  • Threat of Shoulder Surfing 
  • Threat of Dumpster Diving 
  • Threat of Tailgating 

Compliance Training Content 

Requirements for compliance training topics vary depending on industry. It’s important to find a solution that offers a wide variety of compliance courses that will be helpful for your organisation.

Compliance-specific training can include topics like: 

  • PCI 
  • HIPAA 
  • Title IX 
  • FERPA 
  • Anti-Discrimination 
  • Sexual Harassment Prevention 
  • Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employment 
  • FMLA 
  • Security Essentials 

How to Implement a Security Awareness Training Program 

Security awareness is one of few programs that regularly interacts with employees, so proper implementation is crucial. Clearly defining and communicating security awareness goals and initiatives should be the lifeline of any program. Training that doesn’t engage with employees or doesn’t connect with the unique culture of a company will quickly fail.  

A key element to the success of any security awareness program, then, involves establishing a series of goals and initiatives that gain approval from a small, internal committee. The Complete Security Awareness Program and Strategy Guide outlines the steps to proper program creation, development, and implementation: 

  1. Choose a mission statement 
  2. Define roles and responsibilities 
  3. Establish an advisory board 
  4. Identify key users and roles 
  5. Build the training 
  6. Deliver it effectively 
  7. Implement awareness initiatives 
  8. Analyse performance metrics 

Arctic Wolf Managed Security Awareness® 

Arctic Wolf Managed Security Awareness prepares your employees to recognise and neutralise social engineering attacks and human error through microlearning content, shame-free automated phishing simulations, and awareness coaching — all delivered by our Concierge Security® Team.  

Discover the importance of fresh, relevant content in our on-demand webinar, Content is King: Creating a Strong Security Awareness Program. 

Experience a month’s worth of content, microlearning sessions, quizzes, and a look at a phishing simulation with our interactive Managed Security Awareness Journey. 

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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