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What Does an Effective Employee Cybersecurity Training Program Look Like?

Cybersecurity awareness training for employees can help you fortify your first line of defense. What should you include in your data and information security trainings for employees?

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What's Inside

The modern threat landscape is exactly as complicated as you’ve been hearing — zero-day exploits and other highly technical vectors of attack exist and can be used against your organization. But for the average cybercriminal, resources for acquiring code or technologies for these advanced threats can be hard to come by. A zero-day exploit might be saved for a particularly lucrative attack. A criminal isn’t going to burn all their resources at once. That’s why social engineering attacks remain the most common type of threat against organizations — most breaches are as simple as tricking employees into giving up their passwords. Building a modern cybersecurity awareness training program is still one of the most effective ways to protect your organization and help your end users filter out a majority of threats before they become a problem.

What Do Social Engineering Attacks Look Like Today?

Social engineering attacks involve any attempt to trick a user into giving away confidential information such as passwords or other system credentials. The tactics haven’t evolved much over the years – because the same types of attacks continue to work. Cybercriminals might set up a website that looks like one you’re used to using so that you enter your username and password on the illegitimate site. They might send along a fake link or an attachment in an email that runs malware or viruses on your computer. They might impersonate your organization over the phone and pose as a fake IT help desk that requires password resets or tries to trick users into giving away a multifactor authentication code.

Poor grammar, fake company emails and other obvious signs can be an easy way to filter out the less sophisticated attacks, but the main reason social engineering remains the number one vector of successful cyberattacks against organizations is that they’re not always that easy to spot. And many recent social engineering tactics like to keep pace with current events. The pandemic, for example, has yielded a lot of phishing lures from a fake CDC or fake company communications around vaccine mandates or return to office plans – the types of top-of-mind issues that will get many employees to click on links that turn out to be harmful. As social engineering tactics grow more effective, so should your cybersecurity awareness training program.

How to Build an Awareness Training Program

Having employees watch a short video every October for Cybersecurity Awareness Month isn’t going to cut it when you’re up against modern social engineering tactics. An effective cybersecurity training program bakes security into the culture of your organization – and addresses the different roles of your employees.

General Population Training

You should implement a basic cybersecurity awareness training that all employees complete regardless of role, but this component needs to be more robust than a video or a short quiz. Exercises that require engagement are key. You can gamify trainings on a point-based system, make a competition between departments, or hold training sessions in person if possible. You can also run internal phishing campaigns to help your teams learn to spot illegitimate emails (and remember mistakes they’ve made). No matter what, the more memorable the trainings, the more likely employees are to take the message to heart. Frequency is key as well – running a security training exercise at least once a quarter keeps cybersecurity awareness top of mind.

Scaling these types of programs can be difficult, especially when it comes to in-person engagements, or for professions with billable hours where a 30-minute training means significant investment. But you can help alleviate these issues by building out your program not just as a series of exercises, but as an always-on cybersecurity awareness campaign. Whether the messaging comes in the form of posters in your office elevators or through emails from company leaders, cybersecurity awareness campaigns can be customized to fit the needs of your organization and to fit the branding of your typical corporate communications, and are constant reminders of your organization’s commitment to cybersecurity.

Role-Specific Training

As social engineering tactics become more specific, so should your trainings. A general training program is necessary, but there are also cases where you’ll want to branch out into cybersecurity training that is specific to certain job roles. Executives, for example, are high-level targets that need highly tailored messaging in their exercises. Developers will need trainings that specifically address compliance needs, such as if your organization needs to stay HIPAA-compliant. Beyond that, your IT team will need additional trainings on emerging threats – how can you help your analysts, engineers and incident responders to keep up with trends and spot threats early or mitigate incidents? It’s important that your trainings go beyond awareness and dig into the responsibility that each individual role has toward maintaining the security of your organization. 

What Can’t a Cybersecurity Training Program Teach?

Cybercriminals are getting a little too good at what they do. Phishing emails don’t always have poor grammar or obviously fake links. Sometimes criminals can clone entire websites with enough accuracy that it can trick people into giving away their credentials. Awareness training of any level can help your employees weed out less sophisticated threats, but without advanced training, it’s becoming harder and harder to protect against slick social engineering attacks.

Technical controls and cybersecurity solutions are your second line of defense for a reason, and can help you mitigate most threats via AI or other next-gen levels of protection. But those controls are no good if your systems are overwhelmed — any level of security training can help you reduce the burden on your technical controls.

Cybersecurity awareness trainings need to go beyond simple videos or generic security certification classes. If you’re looking to build a role-specific training program and don’t know where to start, CDW can help you assess your teams’ current skills and create a custom training program for your organization. We can help you find gaps in user behavior, and even help you train IT employees into high-level cybersecurity analysts that can threat hunt or respond to incidents.