10 Elements of Employee Security Awareness Training

10 Elements of Employee Security Awareness Training

A security awareness training program should cover the cyber threats that an organization is most likely to face. This blog outlines the ten critical areas your security awareness training programs should focus on.

Human error is the beginning of over 90% of security breaches

Human error is one of the major threats to an organization’s cybersecurity and cyber resilience. Because of this truth, your IT department implements different security systems, patching vulnerabilities, etc in vain. For example, despite your effective anti-phishing defenses, an untrained unsuspecting employee will still go ahead and click a suspicious link. He or she could simply download a suspicious invoice loaded with malware. Just like that, this compromises your systems. Now your IT department must spend hours, days or weeks putting out these fires.

What is employee security awareness?

Employees security awareness refers to;

  • Employees understanding cybersecurity threats that face businesses daily
  • Their ability to identify these threats
  • Effectively responding to cybersecurity threats
  • Possessing the knowledge of different compliance regulations and how to observe them. For example, GDPR policies

With the above, you can reduce the cybersecurity risk that is your employees. They stop being a cybersecurity risk and become part and parcel of your organization’s cyber resilience.

What does security awareness training mean for businesses?

Hackers would rather spend days crafting the perfect spear-phishing email and make it appear to be from one of your business managers. They always go for the biggest payout that will cost them the least effort. That means your weakest links, your employees.

Consequently, it is critical for a business to invest in training its employees continuously. Additionally, businesses should identify individuals who pose the greatest risk to cybersecurity and design programs accordingly. For example, employees in your finance department.

Now that we agree that security awareness training is critical to your cyber resilience, let’s look at how to create effective training programs.

10 critical areas your security awareness training programs should focus on

employee security awareness training

1. Email security threats

Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind is phishing attacks. If there’s any type of threat whose success depends on human nature, it’s phishing scams. Additionally, phishing scams have become more sophisticated. This means that they have fewer signature mistakes that we use to identify them. Moreover, email spoofing has made phishing attacks more targeted and personal.

Read more on the threat email spoofing and phishing emails

Therefore, phishing awareness should be part of your security awareness training programs. This includes;

  • Phishing scams explained
  • Common types of phishing scams
  • How to spot phishing emails
  • Do’s and don’ts when dealing with phishing emails
  • Creating a comprehensive reporting system
  • Simulating phishing attacks to test your employee’s vigilance

A phishing awareness program that continuously educates your employees on the above areas will greatly increase your organization’s cyber resilience.

2. Password security

For many years, passwords have been the easiest way to authenticate access to different systems, applications, etc. On the other hand, many cybersecurity threats and malware try to acquire your users’ passwords. For example phishing emails and keyloggers. Training your employees on password hygiene best practices go a long way in protecting modern enterprise security. They include;

  • Changing passwords regularly
  • Using different passwords for different accounts
  • Creating passwords using a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols
  • Using password managers to generate random strong passwords
  • Implementing multi-factor authentication in case of compromised passwords
  • Using app passwords

You probably don’t use half of these practices, do you? Well, you should. Everyone in your organization should. For the safety of your network.

3. Malware

Malware is malicious software that steals sensitive data among other purposes. Hackers use different methods to deliver malware to your network. This includes phishing emails, fake websites, and removable media. When it comes to malware, here are some tips for your training program;

  • Keeping anti-virus software up to date
  • Downloading unverified applications and other downloads
  • Following a comprehensive incident reporting system
  • Always being suspicious of attachments, websites, and files

4. Removable media

You may find your colleague who always asks if your flash drive contains a virus annoying but this is something everyone should probably do.

Removable media such as USBs, CDs, etc enable malware to bypass an organization’s network-based security defenses. Commonly, hackers install malware on removable media and configure it to execute automatically with Autorun. Furthermore, they can also create a convincing filename to trick employees into opening them. Compromised removable media steal data, install ransomware, or even destroy the computer they’re inserted into. So, it goes without saying;

  • Disable autorun on your users’ PCs
  • Never plug in media you are not sure about
  • Always have removable media scanned by your IT team before plugging

5. Social networking threats

Most organizations use social media to create and build brands. Unfortunately, social media phishing has become a popular cybersecurity threat. Cybercriminals use social media to launch phishing attacks. Social media phishing is not that different from phishing emails.

  • You could click on malicious links, land on a fake website, and provide your login details
  • A scammer can pretend to be someone or a brand you trust. They could befriend you in order to trick you into divulging sensitive information
  • Fake customer service accounts where scammers disguise themselves as known brands. This makes it easy for them to get sensitive information

Just like email phishing, social media phishing also preys on human nature. This makes it an important threat that employees should be aware of.

6. Internet habits

Training employees on safe internet habits is a critical part of security awareness programs. Here are some areas this section should cover;

  • How to identify spoofed domains
  • How to differentiate between secure and unsecured websites (HTTP and HTTPS)
  • The dangers of browsing suspicious sites and downloading software
  • The risks of divulging credentials on suspicious sites
  • Watering hole attacks; the attacker targets a specific group of end-users and the websites they frequently visit. The goal is to infect a targeted user’s computer and gain access to the network at the target’s place of employment.
  • Drive-by download attacks; are malicious programs that download onto computers without your permission. Disguised on all corners of the internet, cybercriminals can also use legitimate sites to spread these drive-by downloads

7. Data management

Employees within an organization need training on how to properly manage the businesses’ sensitive data. Equally, to protect data security and customer privacy. Important areas to cover include;

  • Approved storage locations of business data
  • Different classifications of business data, how to access and manage data at each classification
  • Using multi-factor authentication and strong passwords to sensitive business data

8. Bring your own device policies (BYOD)

Bring your own device policies in a workplace

While BYOD policies can improve productivity, they are a significant threat to your network security. Under this training, topics should cover;

  • Using strong passwords on all devices
  • Downloading applications from major stores such as Google Play
  • Using a VPN when using wireless networks outside the premises. This is especially important for remote workers
  • BYOD using approved antivirus on all devices, among others

Not to mention, IoT device hacking has become rampant in both homes and organizations

9. Clean desk and desktop policies

Clean desk policies control information visible on an employee’s desk at a given time. This information can be in form of sticky notes, memos, and other printed out documents. It also ensures employees clear their desks before leaving the office. Similarly, desktop policies ensure that employees properly turn off their computers before calling it a day.

10. Physical security and enviromental controls

An effective security awareness programs go beyond devices. It includes physical security and other threats lurking within the premises. Such as,

  • Unauthorized access to restricted areas
  • Malfunctioning of physical security systems
  • Shoulder surfing; visitors, new employees, or unauthorized personnel looking over your shoulder while keying in passwords
  • Leaving sensitive data such as passwords lying around on desks
  • Leaving organization-issued devices unprotected, etc.

Extra tips: How to make your employee security awareness training programs less boring and effective

Training programs can be boring. Additionally, employees’ attitude towards training programs may be anything less than enthusiastic. This can affect their retention and the success of any training program.

So how can businesses make employee security awareness programs engaging? Here are a few tips that Pepea Email Security Awareness Training uses;

  • Be brief. Break down your program into short engaging modules over a continuous period of time
  • Use humor. You have an opportunity to use humor to address the severity of cybersecurity threats. You can create sitcoms or have other employees act out different scenarios using comedy
  • Get rid of the one for all styles of training. Employees pose different levels of risk. Essentially, customize training programs to suit the day to day activities of different groups.
  • Use engaging content. More visuals such as videos, simulations, and role-playing exercises

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