Security Awareness Training Without Tech Awareness Can Leave Employees in the Dark

Security awareness training is a necessary component to any cybersecurity plan. It’s also commonly one of the weakest points of a plan because security education often doesn’t stick. There are many reasons for this: the training program isn’t engaging enough, the educational framework isn’t well-defined, or it happens too infrequently or inconsistently. Whatever the reason, failed security awareness results in cybersecurity breakdowns. It’s no wonder chief information security officers (CISOs) and other IT decision-makers are on the lookout for more effective programs.

The problem may not be with your training program, however, but rather that your employees don’t understand the business technology they are using.

More Than Fluffy Clouds in the Sky

There’s an expectation that because we all use technology, we all understand technology. For some, that’s true. They like to do a deep dive into the software and hardware they’ll be using on a daily basis, making it easier for them to recognize when something isn’t working properly or where the vulnerabilities might be. Those people are often found in IT or security departments.

But for most in the business, our interactions with tech don’t extend beyond our actual use. For example, every person reading this article has used cloud computing, and yet a Lastline survey from RSA Conference 2019 found that a surprising number of users think the cloud is “literally in the sky.” While some respondents may have just been having fun, it has become increasingly difficult to stress the importance of cloud security best practices when a portion of users only thinks of white puffy objects overhead.

With the advent of digital transformation, it becomes even more important — and urgent — that business technology awareness be stressed right along with security awareness training. As the internet of things (IoT) becomes ubiquitous in the workplace, we must understand how it can both benefit the organization and increase risks to networks and data.

A study by Ponemon Institute and the Santa Fe Group found there is a serious lack of awareness surrounding the IoT — what it is, where it is on the network, and everything and everyone it is connected to. If your employees can’t identify that basic information, you are bound to be hit with an IoT-based cyberattack.

Your Users Can’t Secure What They Don’t Understand

Security awareness training is supposed to teach employees how to recognize potential threats and prevent or mitigate cyber incidents. But if you don’t understand the technology you’re protecting, it’s difficult to put that security training into action. This leads to holes in cybersecurity best practices that can result in data breaches, ransomware attacks or even sharing of privileged access information. In other words, if your users don’t know what they’re protecting, it’s awfully hard to keep it safe.

Understanding the technology goes beyond security benefits too. When an employee is familiar with the tech they are using, their productivity and efficiency improves. Their calls for assistance should go down, and as they are more adept with the software and hardware, they can not only troubleshoot their way through a problem, but figure out new shortcuts.

Adding a business technology awareness portion to any security awareness training would be hitting two birds with one stone. Employees would learn both about the business tools they use every day and how cybersecurity behaviors impact the production of the technology. As they see how technology and security need to work in tandem, you’ll expect overall cybersecurity efforts within the organization to improve and for security training to be more insightful. On paper, this is clearly a win-win for everyone in the organization.

Overcome Your Security Awareness Training Challenges

In actual practice, however, there are challenges to adding tech know-how into awareness training. Digital transformation has raised expectations that we are all at the same skill level — or, at the very least, that we know cloud computing doesn’t mean working on your laptop in the rain. And we all have different personal feelings about our understanding of technology. For some people, being called a Luddite is a badge of honor. For others, not being familiar with specific technologies or even the terms bandied about makes them feel ostracized and unwilling to admit they don’t understand something.

So you don’t want to dumb down the technology portion of security awareness training, but you also don’t want to assume that every employee has the same knowledge base. CISOs and IT decision-makers should develop a baseline for each employee within the organization to see what they know and what they need to know. This could be something incorporated directly into each security training module, with questions directly related to a specific technology, or it could be a simple questionnaire designed for specific departments based on the tools they use and how well each employee knows how to use them.

Security education focuses on inherent risks and human behaviors surrounding those risks. But you can’t know if your behavior adds risk if you don’t really understand how the application or hardware operates. Basic primers on what cloud computing is and how its security can be compromised, or what devices constitute the IoT and what makes the IoT a security problem, can go a long way toward a more security-aware and technology-savvy staff.

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I began writing within the branded content/content marketing space in 2011, including articles, blog posts, SEO,...