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4 traits of highly effective security awareness training

Most of the cybersecurity statistics you’ll read about are gloom and doom.

The websites and reports aggregating this information may include adjectives such as “terrifying,” “alarming,” or “scary” to get their point across. The digital world is a risky landscape.

Amid the negativity, here is a new positive statistic, from the Ponemon Institute and IBM: Employee training, on average, reduces the cost of a data breach by $270,000. In other words, employee cyber security training is a cost mitigator if a breach occurs. Yet there’s bad news: The report found that the average cost of a data breach in the U.S. for FY2019 was $3.92 million, a 1.5 per cent increase over the previous year. Cybersecurity threats are becoming more nuanced and sophisticated, and the consequences are expensive.

That said, this training finding shows that employee security awareness education can make a difference. You can never fully eliminate risk, but effective cybersecurity training reduces that risk and helps close the knowledge gaps employees might have.

Is your security awareness training effective and robust in protecting your organization while also instilling best practices and avoiding human error? Here are four traits of programs that thrive:

1. Highly effective training is relevant

Most employees are practical—if something at work doesn’t directly apply to them, they’ll show less interest and enthusiasm. Security training is no different: Dry, abnormally expansive courses that cover everything make little impact with employees who require focused learning they can apply to their day-to-day digital responsibilities.

Valuable security awareness training uses role-based learning to identify which course of training an employee should experience, then presents those users with relevant scenarios that teach proper cybersecurity best practices. The emphasis of this training is on behavior rather than legalese and technical terms. IT will understand those terms, but the rank-and-file employees will tune out—and not learn.

2. Highly effective training is complemented by a training ecosystem

Quality security awareness training delivers learning and best practices to employees who need such skills to protect company systems and customer data. A compliance ecosystem of additional training resources is the metaphorical cherry on the sundae, making employees even smarter while further reducing risk with digital activity.

Microlearning and job aids are two elements of this ecosystem that offer significant boosts to employees’ security awareness. Microlearning incorporates short training modules that are sent to people’s inboxes and can reinforce key best practices, shore up topics that training data revealed as weak, and introduce new concepts—which is great if a new threat emerges that employees shouldn’t wait until the next round of training to learn about.

Job aids operationalize compliance by filling in gaps and giving employees references and information when a cybersecurity situation presents itself. For example, if employees are unsure whether to open an unknown yet rather convincing email, they could consult the job aid for extra guidance before they make their decisions. This and other parts of the compliance ecosystem support training, while effective training provides a solid base for the ecosystem.

3. Highly effective security training has buy-in from the C-suite

Security awareness training is often more effective and more respected by employees when it is supported, both financially and philosophically, by leadership executives. When the C-suite prioritizes the prevention of cybersecurity incidents, execs incorporate it into the organization’s priorities, decisions, and mission. Moreover, when that mission is customer-centric, security training takes on greater importance because no company wants to put their customers’ data in harm’s way.

Of course, getting buy-in can be a challenge, especially from executives who wonder why training can’t be done in-house or think that it is employees’ individual responsibility to learn about cybersecurity. It helps to explain the ROI of a solution you are considering, as well as show off the features of the platform—how it connects with users and makes them smarter. And of course, demonstrating how it protects end customers also goes a long way in impressing the C-suite.

4. Highly effective security training embraces the data

Without data and metrics, training may only be measured a success or failure after a cybersecurity incident occurs—and you obviously don’t want a massive system breach to be the sign that maybe you need better training. Analyzing the numbers from security awareness training provides deep insight, establishes benchmarks, tells you which teams and offices may need more pointed training, and even predicts future problems. Studying the data and applying what you learned to compliance strategy is due diligence as important as what IT does to protect the organization’s systems.

Highly effective security awareness training doesn’t need to be highly difficult. The best third-party platforms deliver impactful training, robust data, ease of use, and years of expertise behind their solutions. With a trusted partner, your employees train smarter—and your company becomes more secure.

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