Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/23/2017
10:30 AM
Eyal Benishti
Eyal Benishti
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Security Training & Awareness: 3 Big Myths

The once-overwhelming consensus that security awareness programs are invaluable is increasingly up for debate.

Organizations of all sizes continue to invest heavily in security awareness training, hoping to transform employees into a primary defense against email phishing and other cybersecurity threats. But such an endeavor, which historically has been positioned as an inexpensive solution, is today proving costly. A recent report commissioned by Bromium discovered that large enterprises spend $290,033 per year on phishing awareness training.

Even more telling, according to security experts quoted in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, security awareness initiatives often fall short of their intended purpose because the training is a "big turnoff for employees." Unfortunately, such sentiment is frequently ignored by security awareness training vendors with three claims that can easily be dispelled as myths.

Myth #1: Employees must participate in numerous hours of security awareness training for it to be effective.

The Facts: While many reporters and analysts explore how to create security awareness training programs that employees "won't hate," few experts would argue for allocating more time than absolutely necessary. That's because training adults on cybersecurity is a lot like training children in math or science — more time spent does not typically equate to better results.

Experiential learning techniques, such as gamified quizzes and interactive sessions in which attacks are simulated, can provide the mental stimulation required to capture attention spans of all generations that lead to measurable improvement in employee cybersecurity aptitude. For example, the state of Missouri in 2015 implemented a cybersecurity training program that required employees to participate in short, 10-minute learning sessions each month, leading to "end users [who] have become one of the best 'intrusion detection systems' as a result and have alerted us to many sophisticated attacks," according to Missouri Chief Information Security Officer Michael Roling in GCN.com.

Myth #2: Content leads to behavior change

The Facts: Changing behavior is one of the most difficult human undertakings, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary. In fact, psychologists have estimated that the average person requires 66 to almost 300 days to form a new habit. Can you imagine the backlash of mandating 66 or more days of cybersecurity training?

Instead of forcing employees to consume a plethora of content, organizations should remain focused on communicating their main security messages and repeating those messages over and over and over again. This concept of "less is more" is sometimes referred to in the corporate world as micro-learning, an educational philosophy that "allows companies to make their training relevant to the needs of their workers, easily accessible, and interesting enough to grab their attention and keep it." While not all organizations subscribe to this way of thinking, micro-learning has been shown to increase knowledge retention, which is exactly what cybersecurity awareness training is supposed to be all about. 

Myth #3: Extensive training modules are necessary to reduce risk

The Facts: Modules, which can help employees learn how to classify and analyze data, do very little to prepare workers to identify and act on cyberattacks. Instead, the oversaturation of modules frequently confuses and frustrates employees who can't see how such education benefits them. Organizations serious about reducing risk must mute themselves from the background noise and prioritize direct employee feedback and experiential learning techniques in order to train a truly cyber-aware workforce.

As evident by the continued escalation of successful phishing attacks, it is a myth that security awareness and training requires significant time investment, an abundance of content and modules to successfully educate workers and in turn significantly minimize risk. What is true — if done correctly — is that security awareness and training is a necessary part of the increasingly complex cybersecurity puzzle.

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Eyal Benishti has spent more than a decade in the information security industry, with a focus on software R&D for startups and enterprises. Before establishing IRONSCALES, he served as security researcher and malware analyst at Radware, where he filed two patents in the ... View Full Bio
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jenshadus
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jenshadus,
User Rank: Strategist
11/1/2017 | 7:25:23 AM
Re: Module oversaturation
TEll me about it.  I was SOOOOOO bored by the end of the semester.  I enjoyed the concentrate summer school terms much better.  I guess educators figure that we're all really dumb or something.  It's gotten worse I bet.
eyalbd1
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eyalbd1,
User Rank: Strategist
10/31/2017 | 5:15:03 PM
Re: It's not whether companies will administer InfoSec awareness training, it's when and how.
I bet those microlearning episodes will stick with your colleagues, even if they do some complaining about them. Could you imagine asking them to watch long form video throughout the year? 
jenshadus
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jenshadus,
User Rank: Strategist
10/30/2017 | 1:24:20 PM
Re: It's not whether companies will administer InfoSec awareness training, it's when and how.
We're doing microlearning episodes.  I find them entertaining, some find them simplistic and demeaning (I guess they want to show off their high IQ) and have complained about that.  I don't care, as long as the message is simple and obvious.  For example, don't open emails from senders you don't know.  How simple is that?  I open Darkreading emails because I know who they are.  Now, I hope the link isn't spoofed ;)
eyalbd1
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eyalbd1,
User Rank: Strategist
10/24/2017 | 2:07:28 PM
Re: It's not whether companies will administer InfoSec awareness training, it's when and how.
I don't really disagree much with what you're saying and if you reflect on my argument you can probably see that. What we're seeing - and what i wanted to shed light on - is that there is a misguided push towards unnecessary amounts of training, despite evidence that more class times/simulations doesn't always equate to a more cyber saavy workforce.Certainly there needs to be some level of training and it should differ from organization to organization. But a lot of the narrative that's out there about how much training is needed and how much content workers should consume each month is simply not factually accurate. 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
10/24/2017 | 1:59:48 PM
Module oversaturation
"Instead, the oversaturation of modules frequently confuses and frustrates employees who can't see how such education benefits them."

It'd be nice if the primary and secondary education institutions in this country could also realize this.
cybersavior
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cybersavior,
User Rank: Strategist
10/23/2017 | 11:53:54 AM
It's not whether companies will administer InfoSec awareness training, it's when and how.
Regardless of opinions about tedious, boring and repetitive security and privacy training, it is requisite.  Most controls frameworks (some regulatory) require security awareness training for end users and to demonstrate evidence annually.  It's the same with Sexual Harrassment and Anti-Money Laundering/Insider Trading/Ethics.

Just as the pre-flight demonstration of the seat belt and oxygen masks in the aisle of the plane, infosec awareness training isn't going anywhere.  It's success is in how you administer the message.  The endeavor should be on the delivery and uptake of the concepts.  In our media-saturated society, you had better have something live-action, animated and interest-holding or as the author says, the trainees are going to hate it.  Make awareness training interesting, memorable and most of all personal.  Make it real.  Use real-world, real-workplace examples.  Above all, place the accountability on the individual for the protection of data assets.  Put teeth into your policies.  For example, where I have worked, senior leadership enforced a "three-strikes" mandate.  If a staff member was causal to a security or privacy incident or a phishing incident (synthetic or otherwise), you were out.  Now the class is listening!  Anything less and your awareness training is an annoying, box-ticking, clickthrough time-soak.
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