Keeping a business safe from the varied cybercrime threats requires buy-in across all staff. To ensure all employees and other stakeholders fully understand the cybersecurity threats facing your business and the active roles they can play in mitigating them, you’ll need to begin a robust onboarding, training, and awareness program. Workshop activities should occur annually, if not more frequently.
Read on to learn the best topics for security awareness training for employees.
Core Topics for Employee Cybersecurity Awareness Training
Given how critical a robust training program is to your company’s security, it stands to reason that the management should scrutinize the specific program topics.
This guide will break down four essential topics for cybersecurity training for employees:
- The fundamentals of information technology (IT) and cybersecurity literacy
- Preventative practices and measures for the most common types of cyber-attacks
- Requirements for regulatory compliance across pertinent governing frameworks
- The most advanced, preventative risk mitigation and threat management practices
We’ll also closely look at implementation strategies or synergies with other cybersecurity practices for each issue. First, let’s discuss some best practices for all training programs.
Best Practices of Cyber Security Awareness Training for Employees
As noted above, the ideal training regimen for your organization should entail workshops and other activities at regular intervals. These should occur at least once per year, but ideally much more frequently. Quarterly or monthly training sessions, updated with the most recent threat and risk intelligence, can help keep employees on guard and reinforce how serious IT security is.
We cannot stress enough that a one-time training is insufficient to ensure awareness and adoption of best practices throughout an employee’s career. Training also needs to be dynamic rather than static. Rather than requiring that employees read or flip through a slide deck, they should engage in active drills and assessments to gauge their understanding and practical application of their IT and cybersecurity intelligence in real-time.
Topic #1: Basic IT and Security Literacy, Tailored to Your Company
The first area of cybersecurity awareness training comprises the building blocks of all future training. This includes coverage of the following basic principles:
- Definitions of all existing IT and cybersecurity infrastructure personnel will interact with
- Detailed settings and configurations guidance for all hardware and software they’ll use
- All relevant rules and regulations related to their responsibilities and access privileges
- All policies, including both internal company policies and federal regulatory policies
- Best practices for device lifecycle management, such as power cycling and refreshing
- Potential short- and long-term consequences if a cyber-attack occurs
- Updated contact information and lines of communication for IT or security personnel
The first security training employees receive should establish baseline awareness of these fundamentals. This general training can then assist with all subsequent specific training workshops and assessments, reinforce critical takeaways, and build upon them with updated information. For example, it helps to understand what “phishing” is before isolating preventative measures for this type of attack. Knowing that phishing was the most common cyber-attack in 2020 can help prepare personnel. (Phishing incidents amounted to 241,342 attacks in 2020; the next highest was non-payment or non-delivery, which amounted to 108,869, according to the Internet Crime Report 2020 done by the FBI.)
Integrating Training into IT and Security Architecture Implementation
Your company’s IT and cybersecurity architecture needs to be covered in-depth throughout multiple training modules. Contrary to popular belief, this includes more than the physical hardware, programs, applications, platforms, software, and networks personnel use to access physical and digital resources. It also stretches out to the employees’ personal devices, whether or not they’re being used for work purposes.
The pandemic caused companies to become fully remote. Employees who work from home open up new vulnerabilities via their home networks and IoT devices connected to them. Cloud security and approaches like Zero Trust need to be critical components of staff IT training.
Synergies Between Training and Identity and Access Management
Another critical area of cybersecurity awareness involves the user identities employees manage on websites and other platforms at work. One of the essential elements of a robust identity and access management program is awareness.
Employees must understand the risks associated with faulty credentials and poor account management practices. By understanding the cyber threats, they’re more likely to adopt best practices, including:
- Reinforcing password strength (using letters, numbers, and symbols)
- Updating account information regularly
- Using multi-factor authentication for an added security layer
Companies must create strict account rules and then uphold them. IT teams should disable certain features or access altogether should the employee’s credentials be considered too weak. By training staff on both the best practices and the consequences of cyber threats, you can ensure all personnel are on the same team.
Topic #2: Top Preventive Measures for Common Cyber-Attacks
Establishing a robust understanding of your company’s IT and cybersecurity infrastructure across all staff is a critical first step toward teaching them how to protect it. But to reach full cybersecurity awareness, staff also need to be made aware of the risks posed by common attack vectors. For example, some of the most critical threats to cover are:
- Social engineering scams like “phishing” that target individual or groups of staff members
- Distributed delay of service (DDoS) attacks that delay or entirely halt systems’ functionality
- Hacks enabling remote use of staff members’ devices
- Covert malware that, once downloaded or installed, can compromise a device
To implement effective threat management, employees need to be aware of warning signs or potential red flags and what they need to do if an attack happens.
The Importance of Situational Awareness Specific to the Business
It’s essential to establish awareness of all common vulnerabilities and exposures across your staff. The most critical risk-based training modules should be explicitly focused on the threats and vulnerabilities most likely to impact your business. Cybersecurity decision-makers should mobilize data from comparable companies within the industry to predict the most likely attacks for the business.
However, cybercrime cuts across industries, so your direct competitors are not the only places to look for insight. Companies can also reference data from other organizations within the same geographic location and others that share similarities in size, workforce, resources, and other non-industry-related factors. This intelligence paints a more accurate picture of the risks your company faces. By extension, your IT team can be better prepared to block threats.
Benefits of a Cybersecurity Incident Response Tabletop Exercise
One way to assess your staff’s cybersecurity understanding is to simulate an attack on a small scale. Whether used as a testing procedure or as a baseline training module, a cybersecurity incident response tabletop exercise offers a low-risk, low-stakes method to drill skills needed in the most high-risk, high-stakes situations (actual cyber-attacks).
Unlike real-time simulated attacks leveraged on your existing systems (as in penetration testing discussed below), a tabletop exercise allows for far more flexibility. The training can be paused at strategic points to review a given scenario or address individual questions. Plus, activities can be centralized or distributed for employees to train at home or remotely. The more practice staff gets working on their responses in real-time, the better they’ll perform in a real emergency.
Topic #3: Requirements for Regulatory Framework Compliance
Compliance is another critical element of cybersecurity that needs to be addressed in training. Depending on the industry you work in, you may need to comply with regulatory frameworks. Some of the most common examples of these include:
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), governs most businesses working within and adjacent to the healthcare services industries.
- Companies seeking contracts with the US Department of Defense (DoD) must comply with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-171 and achieve Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), under the guidance of Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (OUSD-A&S).
Aside from these industry-specific guides, all companies that process credit card payments need to comply with the Data Security Standards (DSS) of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council (SSC). Training is essential to ensuring all requirements are met.
Satisfying and Exceeding All Regulatory Requirements for Training
Adequately training your employees is one of the only ways to ensure buy-in and adoption of required compliance practices. But most frameworks also require some form of cybersecurity training for employees. Consider the following requirements applicable to military contractors:
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-171 devotes an entire Requirement Family to “Awareness and Training,” including two Basic and one Derived Requirement governing specific topics and frequency of staff IT training.
- Likewise, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment’s (OUSD-A&S) Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) includes a “Domain” of the same name, comprising two Capabilities and five Practices for staff IT training.
If your company is seeking out contracts with the Department of Defense (DoD), implementing security training is not just a best practice; it’s also a core requirement for compliance.
Looking Beyond the Workforce: Contractors or Business Associates
In specific regulatory contexts, it may not be enough to ensure compliance across your internal staff. For example, one provision of HIPAA is that its Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules apply to covered entities along with their business associates. The comprehensive list includes:
- Healthcare providers, such as doctors, therapists, pharmacists, hospitals, or pharmacies
- Health insurance plans, including insurance companies and all other plan administrators
- Health clearinghouses, such as companies that process standardized health information
- Business associates, including vendors and suppliers than contact protected client data
Compliance across your strategic partners needs to be guaranteed through business partner contracts. Additionally, your company can provide training directly to your network of associates or include their personnel among your own for special in-house training.
Topic #4: Advanced and Preventive Risk Management Strategies
The final topic all cybersecurity training for employees should include is focusing on the most advanced strategies a company needs to take, commensurate with the most advanced cybersecurity threats. These are often referred to as “Advanced Persistent Threats” (APTs). To protect against these, companies need to move beyond baseline compliance and risk mitigation approaches and adopt robust analytical tools like root cause analysis and penetration testing (pen-testing).
Making First-Parties Active Participants in Third-Party Risk Management
As noted above, depending on the compliance obligations of your business, you may need to extend employee cybersecurity training beyond the confines of your internal staff. Another way your network of strategic partners should inform training is through the lens of third-party risk management (TPRM). A robust TPRM program accounts for and mitigates risks from vendors, suppliers, and other third-parties that regularly come into contact with your business.
A robust TPRM program needs to incorporate training across your internal staff to enable your employees to recognize third-party risks and navigate them accordingly. In turn, all training programs should incorporate intelligence from your TPRM programs.
Incorporating Penetration Testing Insights into Staff Training Programs
Finally, one of the best topics or subtopics to integrate into employee cybersecurity training is the practice of “ethical hacking,” known as penetration testing. This innovative practice mobilizes offense to inform defense, inviting a simulated attack on your systems to study attackers’ moves and behaviors. There are two primary categories of penetration testing most pen-tests fall into:
- External – Also known as “black hat” or “black box,” these tests begin from a position of relative ignorance, with no special access granted to the pen-tester. The goal is to study how quickly a hacker could breach your protection and “get inside” to do damage.
- Internal – Also known as “white hat” or “white box,” these tests begin from a position of privileged intelligence about your systems or access to them. The goal is to study how much damage a potential hacker can do once inside your IT infrastructure.
Concerning training, employees should be required to review reports generated by penetration tests or even participate in the testing when it occurs. These hands-on insights will best prepare them to handle a real cyber-attack should one occur, along with how to recognize it immediately.
Optimize Employee Awareness and Cybersecurity, Professionally
Security awareness training for employees is crucial for ensuring company security from the bottom up. Your training program needs to include basic IT and security literacy, preventive measures for common attacks, requirements for compliance, and advanced risk management practices.
Your best option to implement these focuses is by partnering with a managed IT service provider such as RSI Security. Our expert team is happy to help train your staff and implement all other practices needed to optimize your security. You’ll free up staff hours while accessing professional-quality training at appropriate intervals. Contact RSI Security today to get started!