In today's constantly evolving digital world, protecting sensitive information and digital assets has become essential for organizations worldwide. While advanced technologies and advanced technical systems play a crucial role in fortifying digital boundaries, there exists an often underestimated and invaluable layer in the security defense line – the employees. Beyond the complexities of firewalls and encryption protocols, the human element can be the key element for success or failure in safeguarding an organization's integrity.
This blog post explores the critical role of employees as frontline guardians in cyber defense. It covers the development of comprehensive information security guidelines and ensuring they are easily understood and memorable. We explore basic security principles and discuss strategies for spreading and communicating these guidelines throughout the organization. Furthermore, this post will show you the importance of monitoring the reading process. It concisely guides organizations to strengthen cyber defense through employee engagement.
Human error is at the heart of data breaches
Recent security stats clearly spotlight some big issues in how many organizations handle their cyber security. In 2023, a shocking amount of about 70% of data breaches happened because of human mistakes. From a financial perspective, this has a big impact on these organizations. Fixing these breaches cost a record high, nearly $4.35 million on average in 2022.
Surprisingly, only 11% of organizations bothered to teach their "regular employees" about cyber security in 2020, leaving most of them in the dark about any risks during their daily work. Phishing attacks for example caused 1 in 3 data breaches. Also, the rise in remote work caused security headaches for 20% of companies, showing that organizations need to step up their games in guidance and awareness training.
The significance of employee awareness in information security
In the world of keeping information safe, employees are basically like the first guards standing against your organization and the world of cyber threats. The training for your employees is not simply about following rules, but rather about being aware and ready to defend against online risks.
In many cases, the employees are not even aware of a mistake they make, which can have a big impact on the cyber security for the own organization and real-life examples show that exactly those simple mistakes by employees, like clicking on the wrong link, writing down a password on a sticky-note or sharing other important information by accident, can cause big security problems. Therefore, having employees who understand what they are doing and what they are handling, is crucial for keeping your organization safe.
By creating a culture where everyone stays alert at any moment and keeps learning, organizations help their employees play an active role in protecting against the always-changing world of cyber threats and building up their "human firewall", the most venerable and yet most valuable cyber security protection layer your organization has.
How to develop comprehensive information security guidelines?
In order to increase your employees' awareness, you can create a set of comprehensive guidelines for them to follow. Imagine these guidelines are like a guidebook for everyone in the organization.
It is important to create guidelines that are relevant for people's day-to-day responsibilities. Think of the guidelines as the building blocks to a secure online world and a basic protection wall around your organization. There are a lot of basic guidelines that will apply to all of your employees, but there may also be some that are only relevant to certain groups of your employees.
Here is a tip: Make sure not to simply hand out a document with hundreds of paragraphs and perhaps even tens of pages. The rules and guidelines you provide your employees should matter for their role and level of responsibility.
Another key aspect of making the following guidelines for your employees as easy as possible is actually keeping these rules clear, easy to find, and always up-to-date. In the screenshot below, you can see an example of a clearly defined guideline, in this case showing a lot of content in a comprehensive overview in the form of a bullet point list.
Making guidelines easy to understand and rememberable
As mentioned above, making clear and memorable guidelines ensures that employees can readily apply them in their daily activities. Using clear and simple language, avoiding technical jargon, and providing relatable examples can simplify complex concepts. Additionally, adding visual elements, such as infographics or diagrams, can your employees to better understand and remember the topics.
By breaking down complex ideas into small, digestible pieces, organizations empower their employees to fully understand security guidelines effortlessly and to transform the written guidelines into real-life habits that contribute to a more secure environment. Below, you can see an example of how you could use a real-life case example to better understand the "browser selection and updates" guideline the organization has set for their employees.
Covering most important topics in security guidelines
After discussing the importance of providing guidelines and rules for your employees to follow, here you can find some examples of some very basic ones that should not be missing in your employees' awareness training:
- Use strong and unique passwords for each account.
- Be cautious about clicking on unfamiliar links or email attachments.
- Keep work devices and software up-to-date with the latest security patches.
- Avoid sharing sensitive information unless it's necessary.
- Report any suspicious emails or activities to the IT department.
- Enable multi-factor authentication whenever possible.
- Be mindful of physical security, such as locking screens when away from the desk.
- Read your guidelines regularly or if provided by your employer, participate in regular information security training sessions to stay informed about current threats and best practices.
How to spread and communicate your guidelines throughout the organization?
Let us talk about how to share important security rules and guidelines with your employees. In this part of your "human firewall" project, the leaders also play a big part by showing how following these rules is important. This sets a good example for everyone else.
When it comes to how to share the rules and guidelines, you have many options to choose the most suitable one for your organization. Here are some potential channels:
- Training sessions: Conduct regular training sessions, either in-person or through virtual platforms, to provide detailed information on InfoSec guidelines. These sessions can include interactive elements to engage employees actively.
- (Personalized) Guidebook: Create a collection of rules and guidelines for your employees to follow. In this kind of rule collection, your employees can easily check the guidelines at any point again if needed. There are providers, where you can easily benefit from a ready-made tool, such as in the screenshot below:
- Emails: Send out regular email updates or newsletters that highlight key guidelines, share relevant news, and provide tips for a safer working environment.
- Webinars and workshops: Host webinars or workshops, which are focused on specific topics. This format allows for more in-depth discussions and Q&A sessions.
- E-learning: Develop (or buy from a suitable provider) engaging and interactive e-learning modules that employees can access at their convenience. This format allows for self-paced learning and can include quizzes or simulations to reinforce understanding and a better memory.
- Internal social media platforms: Benefit from the use of internal social media platforms to share small InfoSec tips, updates, and success stories. Encourage employees to share their experiences and best practices. There are for example many YouTube channels with tips and tricks around the cyber security topic.
- Regular reminders: Send out periodic reminders through various channels, reinforcing key cyber security guidelines. These reminders can be in the form of brief messages, pop-ups on company devices, or even text messages.
- Company intranet: Use the company intranet to create a dedicated section for guidance and rules. This can include documents, videos and much more, providing employees with easy access to essential information.
- Leadership messaging: Encourage leadership to promote cyber security awareness actively. This can include leaders sharing personal anecdotes related to security practices and emphasizing the importance of adherence to guidelines.
- Gamified learning platforms: Introduce gamified learning experiences where employees can participate in security-related challenges or quizzes. This approach makes the learning process enjoyable and increases engagement.
- Posters and visual elements: Create visually appealing posters and infographics that highlight key InfoSec guidelines. Display these materials in common areas like break rooms, hallways, or near workstations for maximum visibility. This of course does not work too well in organizations with a lot of remote work.
When choosing your employee awareness tool, you need to keep in mind factors such as the environment your employees are usually in, are they working in the office, are they working remotely, are they travelling a lot, what kind of information do they handle, are they handling a lot of sensitive information and so on. Make sure everyone not only gets the rules but really understands and remembers them. It makes the workplace a safer and more secure space for everyone.
How to monitor the whole awareness process?
If you want to ensure the success of your employee awareness training, you should monitor the actual progress. This will also be relevant for your organization if you for example plan to get ISO 27001 certified. Many internationally recognized cyber security standards and certifications require proof of employee awareness and training.
Just like the actual awareness training, you also have many options to consider and choose from here. Here is a list with some options for monitoring the employees' awareness training:
- Online training platforms (Track progress, completion rates, and quiz results through online platforms from specific training tool providers or create your own quizzes and assessments)
- Guideline acceptance tracking (use a tool that lets your employees mark guidelines as read and accepted to keep the overview)
- Phishing simulations (does simulated exercises to assess responses and monitor click rates)
- Surveys and feedback collection
- Workshops with feedback collection
- Employee participation metrics (Track attendance and engagement levels during live sessions)
- Scenario-based training observations (Implement and observe practical scenario-based training sessions)
- Social engineering tests (Create tests to evaluate susceptibility to manipulation.)
- Regular audits (to assess the organizations overall cyber security posture)
These interactive tools serve as checkpoints, ensuring that the information is sinking in and being applied. Emphasizing the need for continuous monitoring and reinforcement becomes key to maintaining a high level of awareness over time. Regular check-ins, updates, and additional training sessions act as key components, strengthening your defense against potential cyber security threats.
It is not just about reading the rules once – it is more of an ongoing process of learning, practicing, and staying motivated to keep our organization secure.
Employee training as a strategic investment
One important question for you may be why spending time and resources on training employees is so important. To make it very simple, it is like making a smart investment in the security of the whole company, rather than just about teaching them things. The investment is about making your organization stronger against potential security problems.
You need to understand that if your team knows how to handle things, it helps you save money in the long run by lowering the risks of security issues and incidents resulting in high costs. As you may remember from the beginning of the article, incidents can be very costly due to spendings like for example for repairing systems, recovering lost data and making sure your organization is following the legal rules.
When sensitive information gets exposed, it can harm your organizations reputation, leading to a loss of customer trust and customers or future business opportunities. There are also fines and legal consequences to deal with.
Besides the direct costs, your organization may see higher cyber security insurance premiums and need to invest more in preventing future incidents. Therefore, the whole investment in security awareness is finally about building a strong and safe future for your company.
In summary, keeping your organization safe in today's digital world requires more than paying for "protective technology". This blog post highlights the important role employees play in your organization's cyber security posture. It is easy to overlook how crucial they are in protecting the organization. Whether it is understanding security guidelines or creating a culture that values security, employees are the unsung heroes.
The numbers show that human mistakes often lead to data breaches, outlining the need for awareness. By clearly communicating guidelines and investing in employee training, organizations empower their staff to contribute to a safer environment.
Developing easy-to-understand security guidelines and investing in training are the foundation for defending against cyber threats. Monitoring the reading process and keeping employees engaged ensures they not only get the information but also make it part of their habits, creating a strong human firewall.
Ultimately, investing in employee awareness is an investment in the long-term security of the entire company.