Regardless of the maturity and sophistication of your cybersecurity infrastructure, your IT environment’s safety depends on your employees’ threat awareness and cultivated habits that provide a critical element of deterrence. Following the best practices for implementing a security awareness program will help you develop employees’ cyberthreat intelligence and good habits.
Best Practices for Implementing a Security Awareness Program
Fostering security awareness requires a conscientious, organization-wide approach and employees who actively adhere to established policies. That said, for employees to understand policies, why they exist, and the practices that support such, they need to receive dedicated training.
While there are many different resources and tools that you can provide for your organization, implementing a security awareness program relies on following a general set of steps for the most effective results:
- Understanding your organization’s security awareness maturity
- Establishing your security baselines and Awareness Program
- Conducting training effectively
- Testing employees to further their training
- Revisiting training to educate employees on the most current and emerging cyberthreats
These steps are cyclical, as your trainers will need to brush up on the latest cyberthreats, methods, and patterns and revisit organizational policies before making necessary adjustments. Once revised, trainers can provide employees with updated training that refreshes their memories and notifies them of any changes. To simplify management, consider partnering with a third-party expert, if not outsourcing it entirely.
#1 Understanding Your Organization’s Security Awareness Maturity
Developing a roadmap for where you want to end up always depends on where you start. One method for determining the starting point is using the Security Awareness Maturity Model designed by the SANS Institute, which helps organizations identify their program’s sophistication and guides improvement efforts.
The Security Awareness Maturity Model comprises five distinct levels:
- Non-existent – Organizations at Level 1 have no awareness program and do not attempt to educate their employees on policies or cyberthreats and the best practices to mitigate them.
- Compliance focused – Organizations at Level 2 primarily focus on educating employees about the compliance requirements they must adhere to during their job activities. While employees receive compliance-related training, they often do not understand security policies and incident reporting and response procedures. A false sense of security poses the most significant danger.
- Promoting awareness and change – Organizations at Level 3 actively provide security awareness training for their employees to improve their habits. Achieving Level 3 represents a substantial progression in maturity and requires purposeful planning. Employees at Level 3 organizations understand the established policies and receive periodic education on the most relevant cyberthreats and prevention tactics.
- Long-term sustainability – Organizations at Level 4 take a proactive approach to regularly update their security awareness programs annually at a minimum. Achieving Level 4 requires dedicating budgeted resources towards updating training content and delivery methods.
- Metrics – Organizations at Level 5 have identified metrics used to measure their security awareness program’s effectiveness and continually improve it. Metrics used at the highest maturity stage provide insight on employees’ behavioral changes rather than merely track who has completed training. Potential metrics include data regarding:
- Correlations between training topics and behavioral changes
- Business segments that demonstrate specific cyberthreat vulnerabilities
- Detected incidents
- Prevented attacks
The majority of organizations fall into the Level 1 and 2 categories. Achieving Level 3 represents the most significant (and challenging) maturity jump, as Levels 4 and 5 target long-term program goals and further refinement. Once you’ve identified your maturity, the best practices for implementing a security awareness program—or improving one—include determining what separates your organization from the next Level and how to progress.
#2 Establishing Your Security Baselines and Awareness Program
While most organizations will already have some degree of mapped compliance efforts, codified security policies, and outlined response procedures, it’s wise to review them before implementing a security awareness program. Doing so ensures that you’ll be training employees with the most current information.
You don’t want to have to revisit training immediately and complicate employees’ understanding because the awareness program’s information was already out-of-date. To establish your security baselines:
- Map regulatory compliance efforts – Most organizations must comply with regulations overseeing their industry or activities and specifying minimum standards for their cybersecurity infrastructure and processes. Before codifying the security policies your employees will be trained on, identify and map the various requirements across all applicable frameworks to ensure their proper and complementary inclusion.
- Codify security policies – Once you’ve mapped your compliance requirements, you can establish (or update) organizational security policies. Determine the most strict requirements among those that overlap, setting them as the minimum standards to follow.
- Outline response procedures – Pragmatic training doesn’t stop at reiterated security policies. Here are some incident examples that would need a response procedure:
- If you must restrict data access according to employees’ “need-to-know,” how are employees supposed to act on their training after discovering that someone has been granted non compliant authorization?
- If an employee recognizes a phishing attempt, are they provided with alert buttons to notify your security teams?
- If an employee believes their account credentials have been compromised, do they know who to inform and the mitigation actions they should undertake?
Determine Training-Initiating Events and Corresponding Checklists
Employee or organization events—such as onboarding, departures, or following a breach incident—should initiate specific training. The team managing your security awareness program must design these, supported by topic and materials checklists.
For example, a new hire may have to complete an automated training campaign in their first week or receive and review the following materials:
- A security handbook (or direct them to a dedicated section in their employee handbook)
- Role-based security processes
- An incident response action plan and checklist
Your security team should also determine the frequency of regular training. Partnering with an expert, such as RSI Security, can help you automate aspects and the frequency of your security awareness program.
#3 Conduct Security Awareness Program Trainings Effectively
Implementing a successful security awareness program requires effective, engaging training. While your program will likely include sending resources (e.g., security policy documents or videos) to employees for their perusal, it should also periodically conduct group training and encourage active participation.
For example, your organization could provide a quarterly lunch, gathering everyone for staff awareness training to review the latest security policy updates and cyberthreats. However, consider alternatives to sitting them down for a PowerPoint presentation that leads their minds to wander.
Perhaps you set up a contest the week prior for people to find and submit articles about topic-relevant cybersecurity incidents and give prizes for categories such as “the most bizarre.” Employees will be incentivized to do their own cybersecurity research leading up to the discussion and, thus, will be more likely to prepare questions and contribute thoughts.
#4 Test Your Employees to Further Their Training
The best security awareness program you can provide your employees will test their knowledge. For example, automated training campaigns may provide interactive quizzes at the end of lessons.
One standard testing method is to send employees fake phishing emails randomly using varying disguises. If they fail to recognize the fake phishing attempt, you can log this for assessing security awareness program metrics and send them additional training materials to review. RSI Security’s awareness services suite includes KnowBe4 testing solutions, such as:
- EZXploit – Fully automated “human pen-testing”
- AIDA (Artificial Intelligence Driven Agent) – Multi-vector social engineering attacks (e.g., email, text, voicemail)
You can gamify training testing by rewarding the employees with the highest scores. However, avoid any disincentives or public shaming lest you foster a negative culture or paranoia.
#5 Revisit Your Security Awareness Program and Repeat Training
Staff awareness training must be evaluated periodically to integrate new information. Cyberthreats continually evolve, and so should your security awareness program. Achieving Level 4 on the SANS Institute’s maturity model requires annual updates at a minimum. Achieving Level 5 requires program adjustments based on collected incident and employee behavioral data.
However, program revisions depend on your security team’s awareness, so providing them with forefront cyberthreat intelligence training will keep them well informed.
Implement a Top Security Awareness Program
When implementing a staff awareness program, you may want to consult with cybersecurity experts. RSI Security provides advisory services to help you develop your security awareness program as well as outsourcing services for its management and execution.
Whether you’re looking to start from scratch, automate training delivery, conduct fake phishing tests to evaluate training, or improve your existing security awareness program’s maturity, contact RSI Security today!