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Risk reduction is the new gold standard for cybersecurity awareness training.

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Cybersecurity awareness training is a risky business. And the importance of measuring risk before and after training is growing day by day as customers look to measure training's impact while cyber insurers seek to lower the chance that they'll have to pay out claims for a breach. Taken as a whole, changes in how (and whether) risk is measured are being translated into changes in how cybersecurity awareness training is justified, purchased, and conducted.

A Changing World

Risk is a universal presence in business. Whether economic-, geopolitical-, or cyber threat-based, risk must be recognized, acknowledged, and dealt with in one of three ways:

  • Accept: The risk posed is acceptable to the business; if the risk comes to pass, it can be dealt with.

  • Mitigate: The risk as it exists is excessive, so changes are made to reduce the level of risk until it is acceptable to the business.

  • Transfer: The risk as it exists is excessive, so transfer all or part of the economic impact of the risk to a third party. This is the role of insurance.

To know which of these paths to take, the business must find a way to quantify the risk, ultimately in terms of the economic risk posed by the threat. The major change now underway in the cybersecurity industry is the increasing sophistication with which risk can be measured and that risk articulated in terms executives across the business can understand. This change is turning awareness training from something of a "tick box" item for the cybersecurity team into something corporate leadership up to the board level is tackling.

Moving Goalposts

The changing understanding of risk is also changing how cybersecurity awareness training is purchased and how its results are measured. Where the classic understanding of cybersecurity awareness training leaned heavily on the "training" model, the industry is now evolving to an understanding of cybersecurity awareness training as a risk mitigator, with predictable changes in how training's impact — and the definition of success — as well.

Training tends to be understood as something that is taught to trainees, with impact measured in terms of how well lessons are retained over time. The measurement mechanism is generally tests or quizzes, with pre-training scores measured against post-training scores at the conclusion of lessons and at regular intervals following. When the exercise is risk reduction, the assessment mechanisms are different.

Better Behavior

Risk reduction tends to be understood as a function of employee behavior, independent of the precise learning that results in the changed behavior. Pre-training measurement is conducted through simulated threats presented to the employee, with their response to those threats captured and assessed against best-practice behavior. Training might still be presented in a "classic" lesson format, but assessment will take the form of additional simulations and additional behavioral measurements.

If the behavior post-training does not show a complete shift to best practices, reinforcement is frequently presented at the time, and in the context, of the faulty behavior. The combination of microlessons provided during discrete training and microlessons provided when a behavioral mistake is detected means that employees tend to be in a state of constant training and behavior reinforcement — training is not something separate from daily productivity work.

Risk reduction through cybersecurity awareness training can translate directly into lower cyber-insurance premium costs, making it a process that contributes to the company's bottom line rather than a simple expense. In Omdia's Enterprise Security Management practice, we're tracking the converging trends of risk quantification, cybersecurity awareness training, and cyber insurance. Subscribers to the service can read analysis in reports like "Cybersecurity awareness training evolves toward behavior modification, spurred by risk quantification."

About the Author(s)

Curtis Franklin, Principal Analyst, Omdia

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Principal Analyst at Omdia, focusing on enterprise security management. Previously, he was senior editor of Dark Reading, editor of Light Reading's Security Now, and executive editor, technology, at InformationWeek, where he was also executive producer of InformationWeek's online radio and podcast episodes

Curtis has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He has been on staff and contributed to technology-industry publications including BYTE, ComputerWorld, CEO, Enterprise Efficiency, ChannelWeb, Network Computing, InfoWorld, PCWorld, Dark Reading, and ITWorld.com on subjects ranging from mobile enterprise computing to enterprise security and wireless networking.

Curtis is the author of thousands of articles, the co-author of five books, and has been a frequent speaker at computer and networking industry conferences across North America and Europe. His most recent books, Cloud Computing: Technologies and Strategies of the Ubiquitous Data Center, and Securing the Cloud: Security Strategies for the Ubiquitous Data Center, with co-author Brian Chee, are published by Taylor and Francis.

When he's not writing, Curtis is a painter, photographer, cook, and multi-instrumentalist musician. He is active in running, amateur radio (KG4GWA), the MakerFX maker space in Orlando, FL, and is a certified Florida Master Naturalist.

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