How to Balance Low Investment Cost and High Risk Reduction in a Security Initiative

April 15, 2016
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2 min read

Every organization allocates finite budgets to its key functions and expects a good return on investment (ROI) to operate its business successfully. The information security function is no different. With cyberthreats growing and related cyber risks increasing along with those threats, security executives are challenged to stretch their budgets and meet many competing priorities that result in risk reduction for the organization.

Cybercriminals are using innovative attack vectors such as social engineering, spear phishing and others to target employees, launch sophisticated attacks and breach security defenses. Employees are the best assets any organization has when fighting these threats. Using those assets to combat cyberthreats should be a key component of information security strategy and investments. However, this requires changing organizational culture and training employees.

User Awareness Campaigns and Training

Changing the culture requires business leaders to acknowledge and communicate the importance of information security across the organization. They must make safeguarding enterprise information assets a shared responsibility.

Information security should work with HR and internal communication teams to create and execute specific awareness campaigns on a regular basis, reinforcing leadership’s message. Running frequent campaigns — whether it is via email, posters, games, videos or fliers — will aid in building a risk-aware culture.

Metrics indicate that well-informed and trained employees do not easily fall prey to cyberattacks, whether it is responding to an email from an unknown sender, clicking a link in a suspicious email or opening an unknown attachment. Developing generic security training focused on enterprise policies and making it a part of the new employee onboarding is a good start.

In addition, security teams should work with HR to develop targeted training that changes employee behaviors and reinforces the shared responsibility each individual has in protecting enterprise assets. Mandatory periodic training focusing on relevant topics will strengthen the required behaviors.

Evaluating Risk Reduction Practices

Information security teams should collect metrics to determine the effectiveness of the training and to constantly improve it. One of the key metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the training is to determine whether there is a rise in the number of declared security incidents due to employee behavior. Other metrics can be collected by launching simulated targeted attacks against selected employees and capturing the results of those exercises. The conclusions can be used to encourage specific employees to retake the training courses or to tailor the training curriculum to be more effective.

Furthermore, information security teams can organize periodic lunch and learns to present new topics or discuss recent breaches. This works to reinforce and reiterate the important role every employee plays in protecting and managing the organization’s cyber risks. Security champions can be nominated for each department or business function to continue strengthening the message. Fostering a risk-aware culture and building a sense of shared responsibility among employees will have a direct impact on improving risk reduction and limiting the number of security incidents.

The End Result

Most of the time, implementing best-of-breed security technologies or re-engineering existing security processes takes significant effort and time. However, improving security awareness does not require significant investment or dramatic changes to existing business processes or technologies. It can be planned within a few weeks and quickly rolled out in a phased manner.

Information security teams can use an enterprise learning management system to create or refresh existing training material and establish communication processes to develop campaign materials. Making employees part of your cyber defense strategy requires low investment but provides the highest immediate return.

Umesh Yerram
Cybersecurity Strategy, Risk and Compliance Leader for North America, IBM

Umesh Yerram is an information security senior executive with over 16 years of progressive experience. He has a proven track record of building efficient and...
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