Cybersecurity Awareness Training Topics and Tips

If you want to develop a security culture in your organization where every employee understands they have a role to play in cybersecurity, they always work securely, and report any threats they encounter, you will need to provide cybersecurity awareness training. In this post, we will explain why cybersecurity awareness training is important and provide some tips to help you achieve your goals and explain some of the common training mistakes that need to be avoided.

Why is Cybersecurity Awareness Training Necessary?

The IT department will put multiple technologies in place to secure systems along with alarms that will trigger if suspicious activity is detected. However, that does not mean that no one will be able to break in, nor does it mean that the alarm will sound or be noticed. What is needed is a strong last line of defense that will add an extra layer of protection if your technical controls fail because it is inevitable that they will.

Technologies will provide a good level of protection, but they will not block all threats. Phishing emails will sneak past email security solutions, employees will land on malicious websites, and voice phishing calls (vishing) and text message scams (Smishing) will be received. If you do not prepare the workforce for these threats by providing cybersecurity awareness training, you will have a gaping hole in your security defenses through which malicious actors will be able to enter and gain access to your internal network.

There is a common view that cybersecurity is the sole responsibility of the IT department when that is not the case. Everyone has a role to play in maintaining the security posture of a company, as the actions of any single employee can easily allow malicious actors to gain entry to systems and access sensitive data.

A recent survey by Tessian highlighted just why it is so important to provide cybersecurity awareness training. 30% of employees said they do not believe they personally play a role in maintaining the cybersecurity posture of their company, and only 39% of employees said they would be likely to report a security incident. Out of that 39%, 25% said they don’t care enough about cybersecurity to report it, and 42% said they couldn’t be sure if it was their fault.

Data breaches are now occurring at record levels and resolving those data breaches has never been more expensive. According to the IBM Security 2022 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost in 2022 is $4.35 million a breach globally and $9.4 million in the United States. Breach costs as high as that naturally will have an impact on employees and could even threaten their jobs.

Cybersecurity awareness training teaches employees the importance of cybersecurity and that it is in the best interests of all employees to take security seriously.

Important Cybersecurity Awareness Training Topics

Cybersecurity awareness training is concerned with raising the overall level of threat awareness in an organization. You need to explain that cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and that cyber threat actors are actively targeting employees of businesses. You need to teach employees how to identify threats and explain how certain IT practices can put the company at risk. While teaching employees how to recognize and avoid phishing emails should be a big part of training, you should cover a wide range of topics.

Some of the most important topics to cover in cybersecurity awareness training are listed below:

  • Threats: Phishing, Smishing, social engineering, CEO Fraud/BEC attacks, voice phishing, malware
  • Physical security and clean desk policy
  • Passwords and password security
  • Working securely at home/remotely
  • Safe use of public Wi-Fi networks
  • Information security
  • Mobile device security
  • Safe use of the internet
  • Removable media risks
  • Shadow IT
  • Safe use of social media networks
  • Multifactor authentication

Tips for Effective Cybersecurity Awareness Training

Many studies have been conducted to determine whether cybersecurity awareness training is effective at reducing risk and those studies have confirmed the value of providing training to the workforce; however, how effective your training is at reducing risk will depend on several factors. We will therefore provide some tips to help you get the best return on your investment in training and then cover some of the common training mistakes to avoid.

Make the training course interactive and fun

Training will be a chore for many employees. Surveys suggest most people believe they can identify a scam, but phishing simulation data suggests otherwise. You need to make training engaging, interactive, and fun, and the easiest way to do this is to use a training vendor. Computer-based training is usually the easiest, although classroom-based training may be preferred by some employees.

Provide training regularly in small chunks

There are a lot of topics to cover in training, but don’t try to cover everything in one go. Break up the training into shorter sessions. This will help to keep people engaged and they won’t get overloaded with information. Modular training courses make this easy.

Vary the training materials to appeal to the widest audience

Use a variety of training materials, as not everyone learns in the same way. Consider group training, individual training, computer-based training, videos, games, infographics, and cybersecurity newsletters to get the message across to the widest audience.

Tailor the training and make it relevant

A one-size-fits-all approach to training is best avoided. There will be general topics that everyone will need to be trained on, but tailor the training to different roles. There is no point in training sales staff on phishing emails that target the HR department. Keep the training relevant to each role and apply it to their actual job.

Update the training content

A cybersecurity vendor will do this for you, but if you choose to go it alone, you need to update your training in response to emerging threats and new cyberattack tactics, as well as changes in technology, policies, and procedures.

Test knowledge after training

After each training module, conduct a quiz to check whether the course has been understood. If there are questions that are often failed, this indicates a problem with your training course. Adjust the content accordingly.

Conduct a gap analysis

A gap analysis is useful for identifying any aspects of cybersecurity knowledge that are not well understood at the individual level. A gap analysis can help you identify specific aspects of understanding that need to be improved in individual employees and the company as a whole. You can then address those specific areas in further training modules.

Conduct phishing simulations

Phishing simulations are an important way of finding out how employees apply their training and whether they will actually be fooled by phishing emails. There are potential pitfalls, but when done correctly, weaknesses in individuals and the training course can be identified and then be proactively corrected.

Mistakes to Avoid with Cybersecurity Awareness Training

It is important to explain that everyone has a role to play in the cybersecurity of the company and that it is not the sole responsibility of the IT department, as is the case with health and safety in the workplace. An employer can create a safe working environment, but accidents can still occur due to the actions of employees. It is vital to get this message across.

Explain that training is an investment in people and that it has important benefits outside of the workplace and will help to protect employees from personally falling victim to scams, fraud, and identity theft outside of work.

Phishing simulations are important, but they can backfire. You need to explain, in advance, that phishing simulations will be conducted as part of the training process. Take care when sending emails and be sensitive to how employees may feel. Don’t send a phishing email offering a salary increase to trick employees into responding, and don’t name and shame employees for failing simulations. Provide real-time intervention training in response to a failure.

One important study highlighted the importance of frequent training. The USENIX study found that cybersecurity awareness training was effective at reducing susceptibility to phishing emails immediately after training and four months after training, but there was no significant difference after six months. Training must be provided at least every six months. Consider monthly training modules for maximum effect.

Cybersecurity awareness training should be provided to all members of the workforce, including the business owner and C-suite. Anyone can be targeted by malicious actors – in fact, the higher up in the company a person is, the more important training is. Those individuals will be targeted as they have the most access to valuable information and IT resources.