Benefits of security awareness training
Phishing is an attack vector that has been abused for a long time by hackers that exploit human nature. Along with exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities, phishing is one of the most common vectors that attackers use to penetrate the internal network. To make matters worse, with the emergence of ransomware, we see a rise in cases where phishing leads to a ransomware infection, causing considerable financial damage to companies.
While zero-day vulnerabilities are hard and expensive to find, deceiving humans is far easier, making employees one of the weakest chains of cybersecurity defenses for organizations. In an ever-changing cybersecurity landscape, with hackers advancing their phishing techniques and tools, keeping your employees up to date with these changes is crucial for your company's success. For example, according to recent statistics, the cost of business email compromise in the US alone was estimated at $2.7 billion in 2022.
Security awareness training is one of the best ways organizations can reduce the probability of an employee falling victim to a phishing attack. That’s because security awareness training strengthens the human “weaknesses” that hackers using phishing attacks attempt to exploit.
This article will cover seven benefits of security awareness training and how they can reduce the risk of a breach impacting your organization. We will also discuss common mistakes companies commit when performing phishing awareness training.
Summary of key benefits of performing security awareness training
The table below summarizes seven benefits of security awareness training (SAT) we will explore in this article.
Seven benefits of security awareness training
The sections below detail seven benefits of security awareness training that can help organizations reduce risk and empower employees to be proactive about cybersecurity.
Prevent financial loss
While cyber attacks have different goals, such as espionage, stealing intellectual property, disrupting service, etc., financial gain remains the prominent goal for many attackers. One of the favorite initial attack vectors is most certainly phishing due to the relatively high success rate and the ease of setting up phishing infrastructure for attackers.
According to IBM, the cost of a data breach with phishing as the initial attack vector is $4.91 million. Although SAT takes time and money, it also drastically reduces the risk of phishing attacks and costs far less than the price of a breach or data leak due to phishing.
Protect company reputation
A phishing-induced breach can significantly damage an organization's image. For example, Equifax’s reputation was severely damaged after the 2017 phishing attack that led to a data breach, exposing millions of consumers' personal information.
The successful attack raised serious concerns about the company's security practices, resulting in legal consequences and a negative public reaction. Other companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, have made the headlines multiple times when phishing attacks led to data breaches and financial losses.
A company dedicated to a strong security posture shows commitment to fighting cybercrime and is less prone to fall victim to attacks. It also helps protect an organization's reputation and makes it easier to attract investors.
Make employees an extension of the security team
Several sources indicate that most security teams are overwhelmed and suffer from the “burnout” effect due to the number of alerts and incidents during this challenging time. For example, according to a recent report, more than 70% of Security Operation Center (SOC) analysts suffer from burnout sooner or later, which leads to quitting, creating a gap between supply and demand.
While this problem has different causes, one is the lack of human resources to cope with phishing or proactively hunt for undetected phishing victims. Informed employees can become human firewalls that support the security team by reporting any suspicious email they receive before it is too late. Alerting the security team to a phishing campaign that was not detected by security tools, enables them to act quickly and eliminate threats before an attack leads to a breach.
Although the company's goal is to ensure that its employees are security-aware and harder to be deceived by phishing emails, this also benefits employees outside the workspace. Phishing is often opportunistic and (aside from spear phishing) does not distinguish between work or private email addresses.
Any email address holder can be a potential victim of the “spray and pray” tactic, which aims to reach as many victims as possible and hope one falls victim. This also includes email addresses of family members, teenagers, and elders, who are often not security-aware. By mastering SAT, employees can also assist their families in identifying phishing emails or educating them on common indicators of a phishing email, thus contributing to a safer community.
The phishing problem is not new. Phishing threats have plagued businesses for years and will continue for the foreseeable future. Although its cause, goal, and common strategies are known, completely preventing phishing is still hard. This is because while security tools and our knowledge of phishing improve, attackers also improve. They use newer tools, exploit weaknesses during stressful periods like COVID19 pandemic, and try to build trust by sending emails from a compromised account of someone the victim knows, to name a few. In this cat-and-a-mouse never-ending game, the need to remain up-to-date with the latest phishing trends is crucial for the success of phishing protection.
Promote a security culture
By training employees with security concepts and making them feel involved in protecting their company, employees are more likely to cooperate and contribute to the general goal of keeping the company secure. By emphasizing their role and importance for the success of the company, they are encouraged to incorporate security practices into their daily operations, thus creating and contributing to a healthy security culture.
Satisfy compliance and regulatory requirements
Aside from saving costs and protecting its reputation, a company has to satisfy different compliance and regulations requirements, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Consumer Privacy Laws, Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), etc. Failure to do so can result in huge fines or severe punishment from the government, which might go as far as to revoke the company’s licenses or right to operate. By making SAT part of the organization processes, a company can prove that it takes security measures seriously and aims for a secure working environment.
Common security awareness training mistakes
Effective security awareness training comes with many benefits. However, there are some common mistakes that can reduce SAT’s effectiveness. Here are four common security awareness training mistakes to avoid:
- Making the training optional. People are often busy and will only pay attention to something they are obligated to do. This is often the case for the C-level managers that are hard to reach or persuade. To avoid this, SATs should be made mandatory for everyone since everyone can be the victim or target of a phishing email, especially C-level managers who are hard to reach.
- Not holding training frequently. People tend to forget, especially if it is something that they only practice once a year. Therefore, training sessions should be planned and performed regularly.
- No tests. Employees who are required to perform a training session might scroll down or click through the text without reading its content. Conducting tests at the end of the session will encourage employees to be attentive during the training session since their knowledge will be tested at the end of the session.
- Outdated content. Phishing trends change all the time, and training content should, too. Failing to update the content will make employees more likely to fall victim to newer phishing schemes. The company should always consider the threat landscape and the latest phishing trends and reflect that in its training content.
However, it is challenging for many small-to-medium organizations to create frequent training sessions, keep up-to-date phishing content, create tests, etc. That is why your company should consider outsourcing such activity to companies specializing in phishing and security training and tracking progress and results.
Security awareness training is an essential component of an anti-phishing strategy. These trainings can lead to several benefits such as maintaining reputation, avoiding financial loss, and promoting a security culture. However, it is important to avoid the common SAT pitfalls that reduce the effectiveness of security training. And there is a considerable upside for organizations that get security awareness training right. While SAT is not a cure-all for phishing, it can reduce risk and make it harder for an attacker to use this popular attack vector against you.