Tips for Creating a Security Awareness Training Program

Posted on December 10, 2019 - by Russell Radzikowski - in Building Your InfoSec Program

Are your employees trained on how to keep confidential information safe? Information security and privacy rely on employees taking the right actions to safeguard this valuable asset. An awareness training program may be just what your company needs to tighten its security and privacy strategy. 

In fact, clearly communicating your security policies and training your employees are among the most effective security controls that you can implement.

What is the least bang-for-your-buck security control that you see implemented?

“Training. Investing in your people will always beat your tools. It is a common misconception that you can buy your way secure. As you can see from common statistics, that idea isn’t working so well. There is nothing on this planet that can beat a dedicated and educated member of the team.”

Chris Nickerson, a co-founder of Lares with 20 years of experience in the infosec space, as quoted in the book Tribe of Hackers Red Team: Tribal Knowledge from the Best in Offensive Cybersecurity

However, not all awareness training programs are created equal! There are many different approaches and philosophies out there. Those can be more or less appropriate depending on your specific circumstances. Read on to discover what to consider when creating a security and privacy awareness training program to adequately cover all of your company’s needs.

3 Things to Consider When Creating a Security and Privacy Awareness Training Program

A strong security and privacy awareness training program will go a long way to supporting policies or wider strategies for keeping your company’s sensitive information safe. Training is also a topic that customers frequently ask about during vendor security assessments.

The best training programs consider your industry, business specifics and employee demographics, then craft a customized program around each of these features. Before you roll out a training program to your employees, consider:

1. How Your Industry Influences Your Approach to Security and Privacy

Security and privacy mean different things in different industries. While every industry handles data and sensitive information, there might be different best practices around how these assets are handled. Therefore, develop an awareness training program that considers industry-specific influences such as:

  • Compliance requirements. You may be legally required to do things in a specific way, such as in the case of HIPAA or financial industry compliance laws.
  • Unique risks. Your industry may be subject to unique security and privacy risks. For example, while both government offices and retail businesses need effective cybersecurity, a government entity will experience different threats than a private company.  
  • The role of technology. Highly digitized industries have different risks than those whose operations still occur largely offline, such as e-commerce versus manufacturing.

2. The Specifics of Your Business

Although business concepts are fundamentally the same, business operations tend to display many idiosyncratic features. You’ve spent time developing your business processes and curating the tools you need to make those processes work. Likewise, your business will have specific needs and priorities that a security training must address. For example, consider:

  • Whether your company is a data processor, data controller, or hybrid of both.
  • What type of confidential information your business handles?
  • Your business location. It might render you subject to specific data privacy laws.
  • What your company’s risk assessment has revealed.
  • Your current cybersecurity strategy.
  • The potential impact on employee workflow of new security or privacy policies.

3. The Skills & Limitations of Your Employees

Best practices are only effective if they’re actually practiced – employees need to be able to carry them out. Take into account your employee’s skills, limitations, and work environment. Often, best practices get sidelined for several reasons:

  • Lack of understanding. Employees may not see the need for a specific security practice, especially if it’s something that slows them down or is complicated.
  • Lack of time. In fast-paced, demanding environments, people will cut corners to stay on schedule. This can mean taking risks that otherwise wouldn’t be chanced if time wasn’t of the essence.
  • Lack of skills. Although the world has plunged into a fully digital reality, some 56 percent of employees lack the digital skills they need in the workplace.
  • Lack of recognition of user needs. While 90 percent of C-suite executives claim they pay attention to employee needs for technology, only 53 percent of employees agree. That suggests that many leaders don’t adequately understand the roles and responsibilities of their employees.

5 Tips to Develop a Security and Privacy Awareness Training Program That Works

Considering your industry, business, and employees will give you a framework for your security and privacy awareness training program. However, to maximize its success, there are a few other things you should do.

1. Explain the Why, Not Just the How

Why should employees care about adopting best practices? Make sure to answer this question instead of simply instructing employees to simply undertake new processes or behaviors. Doing so creates a space for conversation, thereby encouraging engagement.

2. Limit the Legalese and Technical Terms

If you’re adopting new security and privacy policies due to legal compliance requirements, it might be tempting to take up the jargon associated with the law. However, doing so might alienate and confuse people. Instead, explain things like compliance or security best practices in plain English, and define any concepts that cannot be efficiently communicated without using technical terms.

3. Stay Brief and Focused

Keep your training program action-oriented, focusing on what you need your employees to do. Don’t bog them down with background information, unnecessary details, or tedious philosophy lectures. Likewise, capitalize on employee attention spans by keeping the training short – no longer than 25 minutes.

4. Involve All Levels of the Company

Information security and privacy concern all levels of the company. Include everyone, especially senior management. This sends a strong message that the company is committed to developing a culture of security and that managers do indeed take security as seriously as employees are expected to.

5. Reward the Adoption of Best Practices

Positive reinforcement goes a long way to changing behavior – research generally agrees that we prefer rewards over punishment. Therefore, consider incentivizing the adoption of new security and privacy policies by rewarding instances where it’s noticed. These can be small incentives, such as public recognition or larger rewards for things like bringing a security risk to your IT department’s attention.

Security and Privacy Matter in the Age of Data

A security and privacy awareness training program can go a long way to making a company safer and more productive. However, it’s important to implement appropriate practices and training strategies to get the most out of a program. Each company is unique and therefore will have unique needs to consider when developing a training program. These tips can help you get started planning and carrying out a successful company training program to keep your most sensitive information safe.


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About the author

I’m a Customer Success Leader with over seven years experience in the implementation of networks, software, and database systems that process and store personal and confidential information. I have also worked in a wide range of technology environments including educational institutions, public infrastructure organizations, and startups. My diverse experience and skills enable me to deliver maximum value to customers.