The Achilles Heel of Security Awareness Trainings: Reasons Why They Often Fail
In the dynamic landscape of cybersecurity, organizations invest significant resources in fortifying their digital defenses against an ever-evolving array of threats. The statistics that 85% of successful attacks are due to human error has lead organisations across the globe to finally realise the importance of training their employees to turn them from targets to line of defense.
Security awareness trainings intend to educate employees on how to recognize and neutralize the most common threats emanating from different sources such as email, unsecured devices, mobile phones, URLs and online browsing, social media, etc. Alongside the threat channels, the trainings also cover the risks and best practices for protecting sensitive information.
Why Security Awareness Trainings often fail?
Despite the best intentions and efforts, security awareness trainings often fall short of their objectives. Let’s delve into the underlying reasons why these programs (regardless of whether organized internally or by external companies) frequently miss the mark.
1. Lack of Engagement
One of the primary culprits behind the ineffectiveness of security awareness training is the lack of employee engagement. Many programs are designed as mundane, checkbox exercises, failing to captivate the audience’s attention. When employees perceive the training as a tedious chore rather than a valuable skill-building exercise, they are less likely to retain and apply the information presented. Engaging content, delivered in an interactive and relatable manner, is essential to capturing the interest of participants.
2. Generic Content
Often, security awareness trainings adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, presenting generic content that may not resonate with diverse audiences. Employees in different roles and departments have unique responsibilities and face distinct cybersecurity challenges. Tailoring training materials to address specific job roles and potential risks within each department is crucial for relevance and effectiveness. A cookie-cutter approach can lead to disinterest and a lack of applicability, rendering the training ineffective.
3. Limited Practical Application
Theoretical knowledge alone is insufficient in the realm of cybersecurity. Many security awareness trainings focus on theory rather than providing practical, hands-on experiences. This explains why so many employees still open suspicious attachments despite training. The neurological connection has not yet been established in their minds. Employees need to understand not only the ‘what’ and ‘why’ but also the ‘how’ – actionable steps they can take to enhance security. Interactive simulations, real-life scenarios, and practical exercises can bridge the gap between theory and application, empowering employees to apply their knowledge effectively.
4. Failure to Address Human Behavior
Human behavior is a significant variable in the cybersecurity equation, and traditional training programs often overlook this critical aspect. Employees may inadvertently engage in risky behaviors due to lack of awareness, understanding, or a sense of urgency. Effective security awareness training should delve into the psychology of human behavior, exploring the reasons behind certain actions and providing strategies to cultivate a security-conscious mindset.
5. Inadequate Frequency
Cyber threats evolve rapidly, and a one-time or infrequent training session is insufficient to keep employees abreast of the latest risks. For example, the latest AI-generated phishing emails no longer have the same recognition characteristics as regular phishing emails. Continuous, ongoing training is essential to reinforce good cybersecurity habits and update employees on emerging threats. Regular, bite-sized training modules can be more effective than sporadic, lengthy sessions, ensuring that the information remains fresh in the minds of employees.
6. Lack of Leadership Support
For security awareness training to succeed, it requires unwavering support from organizational leadership. When leadership fails to prioritize cybersecurity and reinforce the importance of security measures, employees are less likely to take the training seriously. Organizations need a top-down commitment to creating a culture of security, where leaders actively participate in and endorse security awareness initiatives.
7. Failure to Measure and Reinforce Learning
Many organizations neglect the importance of measuring the effectiveness of their security awareness programs. Without proper metrics and feedback mechanisms, it’s challenging to gauge the impact of the training and identify areas for improvement. Regular assessments, quizzes, and follow-up activities such as dummy phishing emails to see who will click, can help reinforce learning, allowing organizations to adapt their training strategies based on real-time feedback.
Security Awareness Trainings done right is what GBS delivers together with partner G DATA. Take a look at our program and book a demo with us to test the training platform.
What discourages IT-managers from implementing Security Awareness Trainings?
A recent survey by cyber security provider G DATA confirms that a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of security trainings often discourages companies from conducting them. When asked what speaks against security awareness training in their company, the top answers from IT managers were:
People simply don’t feel like it
Someone always clicks
Antivirus or (M)EDR is enough
No ROSI (Return of Security Investment)
How valid are these arguments really? A training course that incorporates the above 7 points is capable of engaging employees effectively. Imagine a clever 5-minute video in which a masked hacker reveals how he steals sensitive data when a person enters it into contact forms on fraudulent websites. Much more exciting than listening to 2 hours of boring theory in a meeting room.
And yes, it is inevitable that someone will click on security threats, even well-trained IT professionals can succumb to fatigue and distraction. However, the likelihood of such incidents is significantly reduced through training. Moreover, trained employees can promptly report errors, enabling swift responses to contain malware spread and minimize damage.
Due to the constantly evolving high precision and accuracy of attacks, no company can rely solely on one security measure, be it antivirus or (Managed) Endpoint Detection & Response ((M)EDR). 100% security is not possible, but the higher the security maturity, the lower the risks. While not every company can afford an Security Operations Center (SoC), it is crucial to at least cover all attack vectors – end devices and infrastructure, email, cloud platforms for collaboration and employees. There’s a reason why criminals exploit human behavior – the weakest link in the security chain is often not the technology, but the people who use it.
Finally, the cost of security in terms of ROSI should be weighed against the cost of damage from a potential attack – including ransom for encrypted data, operational disruption losses, data theft and leakage, reputational damage and fines. Not to mention that cyber security maturity today serves as a competitive advantage. A more secure company is better positioned as a trusted partner in its business environment, capable of withstanding supply chain attacks. A holistic approach to security entails safeguarding both data and individuals, with security awareness training being an integral component of this strategy.