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Why cyber awareness training is essential for your employees

Cyber awareness and security training for employees can protect your business. Here's how to implement a training plan.

Published April 28, 2023
Why cyber awareness training is essential for your employees

The World Economic Forum names cybercrime and cyber insecurity as a top 10 global risk in 2023. As cybercriminals become more sophisticated with their attacks, it’s tempting to point fingers at who, or what, seems responsible.

The reality is more nuanced. We need to treat these threats as a business-wide risk for which everyone takes responsibility. Nearly every breach traces back to some part of the golden triangle: people, processes, or technology.

It’s important to create a culture of security awareness, focusing on three vital elements:

  1. Cybersecurity training: Implement and review regularly to alert everyone to the latest scams and security risks.

  2. Company processes: Identify the right workflows and responses to attacks.

  3. Technology solutions: Leverage the right technology for your organization.

Here, we’ll take a look at the first point: cybersecurity training. Keep in mind that for some organizations, cybersecurity training is not only advisable but a legal requirement.

The role of training in meeting compliance

Meeting compliance standards drives many to put in place formal cybersecurity training for employees. From regulations such as GDPR to sector-specific rules and regulations, there’s clearly a place for employee training to mitigate the risks of a breach and stay compliant.

In particular, IT managers in the legal, healthcare and finance sectors will want to pay close attention to security measures, such as:

Penalties for data breaches

Almost two-thirds of legal professionals are not aware of the penalties they could face for data breaches. Data protection, from company data to customers’ sensitive information, is essential for law firms. The IT department needs to make all employees aware of how data could be leaked, from phishing scams to unauthorized device access.

Healthcare background checks

The healthcare sector is bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which regulates the safe use and storage of health information. Additionally, many healthcare organizations perform background checks on prospective employees. IT teams should communicate the benefits of this, for example, preventing insider threats.

Secure passwords in finance

In the finance sector, almost two-thirds of all professionals do not enforce strong passwords, while less than one-third use MFA. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) or the Financial Services Modernization Act imposes strict standards on information security. IT managers need to consider cybersecurity risks such as customers’ payment details being leaked through malware.

The role of your employees in cyber security

While IT departments may be responsible for running training, every team member needs to appreciate the importance of cybersecurity. Every individual’s behavior, whether on-site or remote, can impact the threat level for an organization.

Again, you can encourage a culture of user security awareness by giving each team member a role.

Following the implementation of security policies and procedures

Every employee has a responsibility to follow effective security policies, from social media to email security. First, it’s essential to have a robust set of policies that combine training, processes, and technology to mitigate attacks.

These should be reviewed regularly, looking at both micro developments and macro changes. The best risk prevention strategies include:

Use strong passwords

Passwords alone do not provide effective protection they need an additional layer of security, such as two-factor authentication. Even so, it’s important to follow best practices for strong passwords:

  • Monitor for password reuse or leaks

  • Use a minimum of 12 characters, including upper case, lower case, and punctuation marks

  • Avoid any personally identifiable information such as date of birth or pet names

Keep software up to date

It’s not enough to invest in cybersecurity technology we also need to make sure it’s kept up to date. For example, training can help employees understand why it’s important to check for updates or follow a schedule for downloading security patches.

Practice caution when opening files

Phishing simulations can help users to identify when an email attachment or other kind of file could be suspicious. These files may contain malicious code that infects a system and steals data or corrupts it. Phishing emails are likely to pretend to be somebody else, such as a legitimate financial institution.

When accessing files, employees should ask themselves:

  • Am I expecting this email? This can help employees realize that an email is not normal.

  • Do I know the sender? The domain may look suspicious, such as

  • Does the message make sense? Often, emails of this type have spelling or grammar errors.

  • Is the email asking me to do something unreasonable? Legitimate institutions will never ask for your password, pin codes, or other credentials.

  • Does the file look suspicious? It may have an unfamiliar file extension, such as .exe, or it may have a sneakily suspicious filename such as “WinFreeMoney.”

If in doubt, employees should know to notify the IT team immediately.

Report cybersecurity incidents

Whether someone clicked on a phishing email or an SQL injection gained access to the network, incidents do happen. The next steps are absolutely crucial to mitigate the effects of a cyber attack. Your cybersecurity awareness training program can lay out specific steps for employees to take when an attack has happened, for example:

  1. Alert IT teams as soon as possible.

  2. Report the attack to relevant bodies to maintain compliance.

  3. Investigate the depth of the attack how many people’s passwords have been compromised, for example?

  4. Try to contain the breach lock all access to systems and try to recover any data that may have been lost, for example, to ransomware.

  5. Assess the risk, including financial damage and loss of customer data.

  6. Inform all stakeholders who may be affected, such as customers or employees.

  7. Advise all stakeholders on the next steps to take, such as resetting passwords. Assure customers of the steps you’ve taken to protect them in future and mitigate lasting damage.

The two worst things to do during a cyber attack are panic and stay quiet. It’s important to address the attack head-on before it impacts your reputation and finances.

Protect sensitive data

All employees should follow strict policies to protect consumer and company data. Best practices to prevent cybercrime include using strong passwords, implementing MFA, and controlling user access. Your teams should also, where possible:

  • Protect physical documents: never disclose passwords or other credentials in physical form.

  • Use encryption when sending and sharing sensitive data: For example, keeping SSL certificates up to date.

  • Regularly review who has access to which files: Closely monitoring file access is particularly pertinent for managers and is effective to preventing insider threats, or risks like ex-employees accessing sensitive data.

Use secure communication channels

All employees should only use trusted, reputable, and secure communication channels. Whether this is project management software, instant messaging, or even websites and email, channels should be:

  • Encrypted, for example, using encrypted emails.

  • Secure file transfers, such as using HTTPS for websites.

  • Protected from data theft.

The benefits of cyber security training for your teams

The importance of cybersecurity training cannot be underestimated. Human error is, after all, responsible for 74% of all cybersecurity attacks.

But even the best training is only effective when combined with the right processes and technology. Effective technology can dramatically reduce the risk of human error, and training teams on the proper use of technology takes that risk even lower.

Cybersecurity training can help mitigate risks before they become attacks (ultimately saving your organization lots of time and money!). Your workforce will also benefit from:

Improved awareness and knowledge

Cybersecurity awareness needs to be business-wide, not just restricted to IT teams. Training helps make senior management aware of risks, which may help secure buy-in for protective practices long-term.

By making teams aware of the latest cybersecurity risks, you can convince them all to follow the latest guidelines. From job loss to financial setbacks and reputational damage, the risks affect everyone. Awareness helps employees identify threats.

Better in-house security practices

A well-outlined security training program will include policy to prevent attacks and to investigate their causes should the worst happen. If everything is recorded, you can more easily identify potential vulnerabilities and act on them in future before they turn into a business risk.

Reduce the risk of cyber attacks on businesses

Cyber training alone is not enough to stop all attacks on a business. Where it’s crucial is to minimize the risk of human error. For example, by having employees ask themselves those key questions before opening an email attachment.

Save money on cyber attack recovery

According to IBM, in 2023, the average cost of a U.S. data breach was $4.45 million. Prevention is always better than the cure, and an investment in data security training can:

  • Reduce recovery costs and legal fees in case of penalties

  • Improve productivity, so employees can focus on their work rather than working on recovery

  • Protect your organization’s reputation, ensuring customers will feel assured that their data is safe

Cyber security training best practices for IT managers and teams

The best cybersecurity training plan takes into account your organizations unique needs and balances risk mitigation among people, processes, and technology. While every organization is different, IT teams often follow these best practices:

  • Make cybersecurity training mandatory and regular.

  • Keep the training relevant to the business, for example, following sector compliance.

  • Use a diverse range of training formats, from training sessions led by security professionals to e-learning.

  • Keep training engaging by testing employee knowledge and highlighting real-life risks.

  • Provide necessary resources such as e-guides or instructions on how to use tech.

  • Promote a culture of security by assigning everyone individual ownership.

  • Make training convenient to everyone, whether they are remote or have accessibility needs.

  • Reward employees with incentives such as gamification or other workplace perks.

Prevent attacks with secure user access

The threat of cyber attacks is the top business risk for organizations today. No business is immune to an attack, and while technology is the only way to truly mitigate the risk of human error, training your teams to on general best practices and proper use of technology will help lower your organization’s risk profile.

Without the proper cyber attack training in place, businesses risk financial losses, reputational damage, and harm to stakeholders. The key to protecting businesses is to give each team member personal responsibility for their cyber practices. Remember, though, that mistakes happen – and implementing the right technology is the only sure way to protect access to your critical systems.

Learn more about why securing user access is key to prevent attacks.