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End User Security Awareness Gap Remains Wide, Experts Say

Enterprise-driven security education programs continue to fall short of the mark

PHILADELPHIA, PENN. -- (ISC)2 World Congress 2012 and ASIS International 2012 -- End user awareness programs often fail to teach users much about security, and they frequently don't do much to improve enterprise security, experts said this week.

In a new survey on security training, Trustwave found that while 56 percent of security professionals claim they train new users during orientation, only 32 percent of employees say they have been educated on enterprise security.

This training gap has resulted in serious problems for some companies, according to the Trustwave study. Enterprises experience some 14.4 incidents of data loss per year due to employee negligence, and 15 percent of them have reported an insider breach executed with malicious intent.

Here at the annual meeting of (ISC)2, one of the world's largest associations of security professionals, members and other experts agreed that so-called "security awareness programs," while often required to meet human resources guidelines or compliance mandates, are often poorly conceived or poorly executed.

"One of the most frequent mistakes in putting together a program like this is to look at employees as one big clump of people, without differentiating between them," said (ISC)2 Foundation Director Julie Peeler, who led a panel on awareness program development at the conference.

"If your awareness program is going to work, you need to understand who you're educating," Peeler said. "Users have different skill levels, they are at different levels within the organization, and they have different time availability. Your program needs to take those differences into account."

Many users are still not aware of even the most basic security rules of thumb, according to Trustwave. In the study, respondents said 60 percent of users would plug in a USB stick found in a parking lot -- that number went up to 90 percent when the USB stick had their company logo on it.

One of the problems with user awareness programs is that they are geared toward giving users information, rather than changing their behavior, said Rohyt Belani, CEO of the security firm PhishMe, in a session here yesterday.

"Giving users information is not very useful if it doesn't cause them to behave in a more secure way," Belani said. "They need to see the potential impact of insecure behavior and change what they do."

Peeler agreed. "Sometimes awareness programs are developed by people who understand security, but don't know very much about learning theory," she said. "A lot of people don't learn very well with PowerPoint and an instructor. They might do better with a hands-on course, or more visual or auditory training. People learn in different ways."

Ideally, training programs should be developed by a security professional and training professional working together, rather than relying on one or the other, Peeler suggested. "You want somebody who knows security and what you're trying to teach, and you also want somebody who understands learning theory," she said.

The Trustwave study suggests that some organizations still don't have a policy in place to train users on. Some 87 percent of breached businesses did not have a security policy program that included user awareness when the breach took place, the study says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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etyrrell021
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etyrrell021,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/13/2012 | 7:24:28 PM
re: End User Security Awareness Gap Remains Wide, Experts Say
In my experience their is lack of interest from users - In their minds most feel they have better things to do. That is a big hurdle to the assimilation process. -Have you ever seen the episode of the Office about Safety Training? It is hilarious and could easily be substituted for security awareness training.
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