Security Awareness Training

Security Awareness Training: Strengthening your first line of defense

Ronan Grobler

Compliance Success Manager


Here’s the thing; you could have the most robust security system, implement all the proper security controls and pass your security audits with flying colors; however, these measures can fall short if you neglect the human factor – your first line of defense. Even the most advanced security systems can be compromised due to human error or lack of awareness. 

Regarding effective risk management, pretty much all compliance frameworks include regular security awareness training (SAT) programs as a basic requirement. Frameworks like ISO 27001, GDPR, and HIPAA explicitly require regular SAT to ensure staff are aware of and can respond to cybersecurity threats.

Considering the changing workforce dynamics, including remote and hybrid work models, their preferred learning methods, and their ability to retain knowledge are crucial in designing effective SAT programs. Sure, you may get away with implementing a SAT program that ticks off the right boxes in obtaining a certification. Still, you don’t have a fighting chance without influencing the day-to-day security culture of operating securely or without implementing a behavioral change.

But how do you know whether or not you’re choosing the right SAT for a younger, growing workforce that is more connected than ever? Here are the top things to consider to ensure your staff become your greatest asset in terms of security and not your most significant liability. 

Let me pause here for a second. Can your people truly be your most significant liability? Here’s a look at the stats. In 2023, 74% of breaches involved the human element, which includes social engineering attacks, errors or misuse. But before we go any further, it’s important to note that this isn’t a reflection on your employees.

Most people don’t have the proper knowledge, tools or support to protect themselves or their organization. Let’s face it – not everyone is a specialized cybersecurity expert. This is where SAT comes into play. 

Your Workforce Doesn’t Want to Learn the Hard Way

With the overwhelming frequency of cybersecurity attacks, employees are constantly faced with new threats (whether they’re aware of them or not). Fortunately, the modern workforce has a baseline understanding of cybersecurity, but without the right SAT program, cybersecurity knowledge can only go so far.

This is reflected in a recent study on Data Protection to Cyber Culture, which showed that approximately 79% of employees are interested in security awareness training, regardless of whether their company provides it or not. The willingness is there, but that can only get a company so far if they’re unsure which SAT is suitable for their organization. In addition, the wrong SAT program will inevitably dim the initial willingness and feel punitive, time-consuming and irrelevant, costing you valuable time, resources and money. So, what’s the solution? A needed shift away from traditional SAT programs. 

Traditional Security Training Doesn’t Cut it Anymore

Although SAT may not be anything novel to you or your organization, with the rise of sophisticated cyber attacks and the (very) fast-evolving threat landscape, traditional training programs just don’t cut it anymore. For starters, traditional security awareness training is often done on an annual or six-monthly basis, generally focusing on technical concepts. Although this may suffice from a compliance checklist perspective, it’s the bare minimum in terms of efficacy and due diligence. Traditional timelines perpetuate complacency regarding your security posture. They cannot engage people daily, nor does it teach them how to make security a part of their daily tasks and responsibilities. You need data-driven training that brings behavioral change throughout the organization with real-life scenarios and incident response exercises. The magic formula? Foster awareness, but don’t stop there. Turn that awareness into daily action. Here’s how. 

Training That’s Built for Your Workforce

It’s important to remember that your workforce includes people with different comprehension levels regarding cybersecurity, different learning methodologies and different attitudes towards the importance of SAT. To cater for all of the above, the right SAT (at the very least) should include the following: 

Different learner levels

Traditional training programs often focus solely on awareness campaigns. This doesn’t work anymore. In reality, a large majority may be aware of potential threats; they just don’t know what to do about it. Therefore, the right SAT program should accommodate all tech and learner levels within the organization, ranging from the unknowing, unsure, security-conscious, and well-versed in security practices.

Relevant training topics

If the topics are relevant, they will be more beneficial, as simple as that. Be sure that the topics covered within the SAT align with your specific threat landscape, security policies, and the scope of each employee’s job description. Include topics such as GDPR for data privacy, PCI-DSS for payment security, and HIPAA for healthcare information security, aligning with the respective compliance standards your organization must adhere to.

Recognize changing workforce needs

It’s projected that a significant portion of the workforce will be millennials by 2025, necessitating SAT programs to adapt to their learning preferences. What are those needs exactly? Digitization. For a compelling SAT that brings about a behavioral change, the solution needs to recognize that a digitally inclined workforce learns and retains knowledge better when an organization prioritizes the availability of good digital tools that enable continuous learning processes.   

Promotes learner autonomy

Studies show that when learners have greater autonomy over the learning process, motivation increases, knowledge retention and learning success. Therefore, it’s essential to gauge whether or not a training program gives users control over the learning process. This can include features such as completing the training at your own pace and interactivity.


It’s Not about Completing a Checklist

Ultimately, the way you approach SAT is up to you. However, settling for traditional and irregular training solutions hurts your organization. It perpetuates a culture of allowing critical security risks to slip through the cracks until your compliance slips along with it. Therefore, before tackling SAT head-on, keep the three core takeaways in mind:

  • Your people make or break your cybersecurity posture.
  • You must ensure you have the right tools and support to boost your security skills and knowledge. 
  • The right SAT program isn’t about awareness anymore; it’s about influencing a behavioral change, ultimately mitigating risk.  

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