Build a Culture of Holistic Risk Awareness Throughout Your Workforce

May 11, 2020
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4 min read

Employee training programs have changed little over the years, and mandatory compliance training modules aren’t widely renowned for their entertainment value. Your employees know this, which is why the annual email titled “URGENT: Mandatory security training” is only opened by a fraction of the workforce.

Security awareness is important year-round. But aside from training employees on how to spot phishing emails or recognize social engineering attempts, how can organizations train employees to be risk-aware at all times?

Here are several strategies for building a culture of security and risk awareness throughout your workforce in such a way that employees aren’t just looking for specific threat indicators, but are also thinking holistically about risk in their everyday work.

Develop Continual, Engaging Security Awareness Training Campaigns

Once-per-year general security training sessions to meet compliance requirements aren’t going to be enough to build a culture of security. Instead, consider presenting engaging content that covers typical threats like phishing, but also factors in how an employee’s behavior can affect the whole organization. Ongoing cybersecurity training tends to be a more effective means of developing risk awareness.

One effective approach to security awareness training is to treat it like brand marketing rather than mandatory compliance training. Approaching each awareness campaign as its own marketing campaign with a clear call to action and messaging around general principles or specific cyberattack methods can help focus the intended outcome.

This strategy for tackling cybersecurity awareness training can help your organization cover both existing and emerging cyberattack methods and train employees to evaluate potentially suspicious activities on their own.

Present Tailored Content for Varying Stakeholder Groups and Technological Aptitudes

General cybersecurity training that assumes a baseline understanding of business processes and technical aptitude will likely fail to meet the needs of employees who lack that specialized knowledge. The training’s focus would be too narrow in this case, as it is important to account for your entire workforce and consider the differing levels of risk awareness across your organization.

Tailored training content for each stakeholder group is critical, as it can better address issues that directly affect the group’s members. For example, executive groups tend to have differing levels of access to business systems and information. They also fall into a demographic that could be targeted by cyberattacks like spear phishing due to their deep access.

Training for all technology proficiency levels is essential to bringing employees up to speed. Cybersecurity training without considering technology proficiency gives employees relevant information without the necessary context.

Provide Regular, Transparent Communications From IT and Cybersecurity Groups

Transparent communications from these groups is essential to building a culture of security and resilience. You can remove barriers between teams with clear communication. Delivering straightforward and professional communications from a place of authority instead of sending employees to an awareness website with goofy cartoons will likely do more to foster a culture of security within your organization.

Regularly encourage reporting of potentially suspicious content such as phishing, and provide a safe and easy way to report that content. Be sure to communicate the importance of reporting and remind employees how to do so regularly.

It’s also important to present a unified message that reinforces the reality that cybersecurity is everyone’s job, not just the job of security and IT departments. Every employee, no matter where they are presently working, is part of the organization’s security posture. Furthermore, messaging around cybersecurity should be delivered through a variety of media, not just computer-based training.

Address the Challenges of Remote Work in Your Security Awareness Campaigns

Working remotely begets new challenges for employees and organizations alike, and cybersecurity is one of them. Addressing these unique challenges in your regular security awareness training campaigns can help engage your remote workforce.

Remote work can be difficult for organizations to implement safely because they no longer have direct control over all equipment and networks involved in the work. Employees are increasingly responsible for the security of connected devices and network environments, but maintaining networks and devices at home can be particularly demanding. Remote workers often access company resources from home Wi-Fi networks without the benefit of network standardization, and work devices can vary widely when employees are using personal mobile phones and computers.

The number of network-attached devices can also vary at home. Myriad internet of things (IoT) devices are likely connected, as are multiple other devices from family members, which may or may not be updated at regular intervals. The age and capabilities of employees’ home modems will also be different from the enterprise wireless network at the office.

Office-centric security awareness training can focus mainly on protecting common enterprise systems and equipment. Training for remote employees, on the other hand, should also cover broader issues, and it should start with basic network and device security for those who need it. Transitioning to home security training can occur more smoothly if the entire security awareness training program already includes helpful points that inspire greater situational awareness, like descriptions of typical attacks and how to avoid and/or prevent them at home and in the office.

Training Your Workforce to Be Risk-Aware at All Times

Security awareness training should focus on how individual decisions can affect the whole organization — for example, how connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi at home can endanger enterprise systems. Illustrating the relationship between these smaller decisions and organizational security can help users understand that cybersecurity is their job too.

Accounting for technical experience is crucial as well. Since not all employees will have the same baseline knowledge, personalized training that reaches all levels will be necessary. Providing users with a framework for evaluating suspicious activities and their potential outcomes can empower them to make the best decision in the critical moment.

In addition, relying solely on computer-based training modules is a missed opportunity to build a culture of security across departments. In-person, video and interactive training sessions that give employees the opportunity to ask questions can provide additional value that might be lost in traditional training.

Lastly, continual engagement with your workforce can help solidify the material far better than a one-and-done compliance-based session that employees can see coming in their inbox from a mile away. By combining the above strategies in a way that works for your specific organizational needs, you can start increasing risk awareness among workers, regardless of their work location or role, to boost your overall security posture and resilience ahead of the next security incident or business interruption.

Michelle Greenlee
Freelance Technology Writer

Michelle is a freelance technology writer. She has created technical content for a range of brands and publications, including Business Insider, DICE, GE Dig...
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