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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