Careers & People

8/21/2018
02:30 PM
Ira Winkler
Ira Winkler
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

How to Gauge the Effectiveness of Security Awareness Programs

If you spend $10,000 on an awareness program and expect it to completely stop tens of millions of dollars in losses, you are a fool. If $10,000 prevents $100,000 in loss, that's a 10-fold ROI.

Back in 2013, I was perhaps one of the most visible defenders of awareness programs during a time period when many in the industry questioned the need for their presence as a security strategy at all. I still firmly defend awareness programs, and the arguments are still relevant.

To reiterate one of the stronger justifications: the measure of any countermeasure is if it provides a greater return on investment than what you are spending. If you spend $10,000 on an awareness program and expect it to completely stop tens of millions of dollars in losses, you are a fool. If that $10,000 prevents $100,000 in loss, it is a 10x return on investment.

On the other hand, most awareness programs are set up poorly. But just because a single firewall can be misconfigured and is, therefore, ineffective, it doesn't mean that all firewalls are ineffective. The reality is that few organizations know how to implement awareness programs effectively. Awareness is not about throwing phishing simulations at people until they recognize the simulations or forcing them to watch videos. That may be a piece of it, but awareness requires an ongoing program of reinforcing desired behaviors, well beyond phishing.

However, the underlying problem is not that awareness programs are poor but that users exhibit behaviors that are insecure. The point of my recent article was that the most effective security awareness effort occurs when security professionals examine business processes and attempt to proactively prevent or mitigate the problematic behaviors. The article offers two methods for that: specifically defining behaviors in governance to eliminate options, and the implementation of technologies to remove, prevent, or mitigate insecure behaviors.

You can never downplay the importance of governance, which is more than simply placing documents on the shelf. Good governance should define specific actions that are implemented throughout the organization. While individuals may not follow defined procedures to the letter, if you do not have such defined procedures, harmful actions on the part of users are again your fault.

Ideally, technology prevents users from making insecure decisions, such as creating bad passwords or perhaps removing the need for passwords at all. The implementation of technology should be determined in the context of an organization's business processes and the likelihood that the technologies will mitigate a user's failures to properly implement governance.

I will continue to argue that defining user actions within business processes is as important as an awareness program. That is true with any security countermeasure. An effective awareness program is still critical, however. The ultimate goal of awareness is to reduce the loss from areas where governance and technology eventually will fail.

Related Content:

 

Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable CISOs and IT security experts in a setting that is conducive to interaction and conversation. Early bird rate ends August 31. Click for more info

Ira Winkler is president of Secure Mentem and author of Advanced Persistent Security. View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: "Now, we come here to play Paw-ke Man Go!"
Current Issue
The Year in Security 2018
This Dark Reading Tech Digest explores the biggest news stories of 2018 that shaped the cybersecurity landscape.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Data breach fears and the need to comply with regulations such as GDPR are two major drivers increased spending on security products and technologies. But other factors are contributing to the trend as well. Find out more about how enterprises are attacking the cybersecurity problem by reading our report today.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-6497
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-20
Hotels_Server through 2018-11-05 has SQL Injection via the controller/fetchpwd.php username parameter.
CVE-2018-18908
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-20
The Sky Go Desktop application 1.0.19-1 through 1.0.23-1 for Windows performs several requests over cleartext HTTP. This makes the data submitted in these requests prone to Man in The Middle (MiTM) attacks, whereby an attacker would be able to obtain the data sent in these requests. Some of the requ...
CVE-2019-6496
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-20
The ThreadX-based firmware on Marvell Avastar Wi-Fi devices allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (block pool overflow) via malformed Wi-Fi packets during identification of available Wi-Fi networks. Exploitation of the Wi-Fi device can lead to exploitation of...
CVE-2019-3773
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-18
Spring Web Services, versions 2.4.3, 3.0.4, and older unsupported versions of all three projects, were susceptible to XML External Entity Injection (XXE) when receiving XML data from untrusted sources.
CVE-2019-3774
PUBLISHED: 2019-01-18
Spring Batch versions 3.0.9, 4.0.1, 4.1.0, and older unsupported versions, were susceptible to XML External Entity Injection (XXE) when receiving XML data from untrusted sources.