7 Cybersecurity Awareness Best Practices for Employees 

Security awareness is getting more important than ever for businesses for several reasons:

  • In 2023, cyber threats are becoming more sophisticated. Cybercriminals use OpenAI and ChatGPT to develop malicious tools that can result in data breaches, loss of sensitive information, and financial losses for businesses. 
  • In this post-pandemic setting, workers have an increasing need for IoT (Internet of Things) devices: voice-enabled conferences, hands-free systems, and other devices that are more vulnerable than computers. Thanks to that technology, we don’t need to be physically together to work and meet with others. These devices are easy targets for hackers to access private networks. 
  • Jadee Hanson, CIO and CISO at Code42, mentions another important point that makes companies vulnerable to cyberattacks: the economic uncertainty and budget cuts. 

Each business has a responsibility to protect customer and employee data to maintain their trust and confidence, comply with legal and regulatory requirements, and avoid reputational damage and financial losses from cyber attacks. 

According to the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigation report, a human element was involved in 82% of security breaches. That’s why all employees, whether in-office, remote or hybrid, need security awareness training. It’s necessary for them to learn how to identify, prevent, and report cyber threats. 

The real question is: how do you perform effective cybersecurity awareness training that would deliver practical results?

7 Best Practices for Employee Cybersecurity Awareness Training

integrate security training into the onboarding process

Lack of awareness by new employees is a common cause of data breaches. Cybersecurity training can prevent these mistakes by teaching employees how to identify and prevent threats. During the initial orientation, you need to inform the new team members of the specific policies and guidelines regarding data protection and privacy that your business complies with. 

By making cybersecurity training an integral part of the onboarding process, your business can develop a culture of security. Each employee will have their role in protecting the organisation’s assets. 

If you check out the cyber security lessons provided by EdApp, you’ll notice they contain beginner tips that are useful to employees from the first day in the organisation. 

Screenshot source: https://www.edapp.com/course/cyber-security-15/

How to include security training in the onboarding process:

  • Clarify what cyber threats the employees could potentially face without complicating things. The training materials should use simple language that even complete beginners would understand. 
  • Make reporting easy! The moment someone boards onto the team, cybersecurity becomes their responsibility. They should have access to simple and fast reporting tools. 
  • Focus on the way cybersecurity is part of their common tasks. That’s how they will understand the matter in a more practical way. 

show employees to recognise suspicious activity

Your employees should know how to recognise unusual login attempts, unauthorised access to sensitive data, suspicious emails containing links or attachments, unexpected system crashes, and other types of activity that might be dangerous. You should also encourage them to make regular computer check-ups that involve removing junk files and potentially dangerous documents. 

Organisations should make this part of the training easy by showing practical examples. They may be obtained from their internal records. IT specialists can also show popular examples of cybersecurity issues that every employee should be aware of.  

In September 2021, the Irish healthcare system was hit by a ransomware attack that impacted several hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country. The attack caused significant disruptions to patient care, with some services being temporarily suspended or redirected to other hospitals. It is believed that the attack has been carried out through a phishing email that targeted an employee of the healthcare system. The attackers encrypted the healthcare system’s files and demanded a ransom payment in exchange for restoring access to the data. 

In response, the Irish government deployed cybersecurity experts to investigate and contain the attack, and worked with law enforcement agencies and international partners to track down the perpetrators. The healthcare system also implemented additional security measures and conducted employee training to prevent future attacks.  

This is the kind of example that organisations must share, so their employees can see how threats appear in practice. 

How to train employees to recognise suspicious activity:

  • Provide regular training sessions explaining the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices for preventing them.
  • Use real-world examples of cyber attacks and their impact to make the training engaging and memorable.
  • Whenever an employee notices unusual activity, increased system errors, or failed application logs, they should report them to the organisation’s IT specialists. 
  • Conduct phishing simulations, which test employees’ ability to detect and avoid phishing emails. 
  • Reward and recognise good behaviour from employees who show good cybersecurity practices. 

create a comprehensive programme

Proper training should be provided as an ongoing comprehensive program, which would educate employees about all aspects of information security. It should be provided through regular training sessions, simulations, and ongoing communication. 

The program should be company-wide. That’s especially important for organisations that rely on remote or hybrid work. Remote or hybrid workers are often excluded from some training sessions. That shouldn’t be the case with cybersecurity awareness training. According to the Cost of a Data Breach 2022 report by IBM, in companies where remote work was a factor, it led to a higher cost of data breaches by 24.2%. All these employees have different levels of understanding when it comes to cybersecurity. That’s why when successful organisations offer company-wide training sessions, they cover the basics before moving on to more complex concepts. 

As a leading tech company, Google is well-known for its strong cybersecurity practices. The company offers a comprehensive training programme that covers a wide range of topics, from basic password hygiene to more advanced topics such as network security and cryptography. In addition to traditional training methods, such as online courses and in-person training sessions, Google also uses gamification to make its training more engaging and interactive. For example, the company has created a game that allows employees to practice their cybersecurity skills in a fun and challenging environment.  

How to create a comprehensive cybersecurity training programme:

  • Clarify information-sharing procedures.
  • Offer Internet security training and email security training.
  • Include anti-social engineering training.
  • Separate all these aspects into modules.
  • Make each training session brief and easy to process.

keep reinforcing their skills

Cybersecurity awareness is not a skill you obtain once and have for a lifetime. This knowledge must be regularly updated to follow new standards and regulations. 

Take the US Department of Defense (DoD) as an example of continuous training with follow-up sessions. Its training security programs are among the most rigorous ones in the world. The DoD offers a wide range of resources and tools, including online courses, in-person training sessions, and simulated cyberattacks. Reinforcement is provided through role-playing exercises to help employees prepare for real-world scenarios. The DoD also conducts regular cybersecurity awareness campaigns to keep employees informed about the latest threats and best practices. 

How to reinforce employees’ cybersecurity skills:

  • See where each employee stands with their security awareness. You can get such an estimation through measuring. You can conduct quizzes and tests, but you should also collect employee feedback in a non-pressuring way.
  • Offer regular follow-up on all types of training. The follow-ups should be scheduled and planned in advance, so they can keep the employees informed of new threats and best practices. 
  • Your organisation should also provide online resources, such as videos and tutorials that your employees can access over and over again.

Encourage the use of security tools and techniques

Government agencies, banks and financial institutions, healthcare organisations, and technology companies regularly implement the latest tools and practices into their cybersecurity policies. But these tools are also important for educational institutions, non-profit organisations, retail businesses, and all other types of companies, too. In general, any organisation that handles sensitive information and data can benefit from using additional layers of security. 

JPMorgan Chase is a good example of an organisation that takes cybersecurity seriously. In addition to conducting regular cybersecurity training for employees, the financial services firm also offers a range of resources that help employees stay safe online. For example, the company offers a mobile app that provides real-time alerts and notifications about potential security threats, as well as online training courses that cover topics such as phishing, malware, and social engineering.

Security tools and techniques to encourage employees’ daily practices:

  • Strong passwords – They can use password managers to create unbreakable passwords that will be securely stored for automated logins. 
  • Virtual Private Network – This tool is especially important for remote and hybrid workers who access the company’s network from an outside location. 
  • High-quality antivirus and anti-malware software – Their device must be protected from malicious viruses, malware, and other threats. 
  • Secure browsers – You can recommend a browser you consider safe to be used by all employees. 
  • Multi-factor authentication – This measure requires employees to verify their identity with multiple pieces of evidence before they can access the company’s systems. 

Your organisation should provide ongoing training sessions that cover all these techniques in detail.

create emergency procedures and an incident response plan

No matter how trained your employees are, security incidents may still occur. In such situations, it’s necessary for an organisation to rely on emergency procedures and an incident response plan. Each employee should be aware of their role in case of emergencies so that the business can ensure a prompt and coordinated response. 

Let’s take the recent Google Fi high-profile data breach as an example. Google immediately notified its customers about the possibility of having their data stolen. The company is yet to precisely disclose how Google Fi customers have been impacted by the cyber attack. That delay of clear details and guidelines could cost it its reputation.  

Things to include in an incident response plan:

  • Precise steps for potential security incidents – They should enable the team to quickly and effectively respond by identifying, containing, and resolving all potential incidents.
  • Communication plan with the incident response team – All your employees should know who to turn to when they suspect a security breach. The communication plan should also include the stakeholders, partners, and customers. 

share success and failure stories

All cybersecurity incidents and success stories can help educate the company’s employees about the importance of the training. They also give practical examples of the threats they may face during their work. With that, the training will increase awareness and possibly prevent similar incidents.  

In April 2020, WHO reported a significant increase in cyber attacks targeting the organisation. The attacks were aimed at stealing sensitive information about the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as disrupting the WHO’s response efforts. That’s the kind of example an organisation would share in its cybersecurity training. 

The educators should explain how things happened and how the team handled the situation, highlighting all consequences and things learned. In this particular case, the WHO implemented additional security measures to protect their systems and sensitive information, including two-factor authentication for all staff and the implementation of advanced threat detection and response tools. 

This attack on the WHO highlights the critical importance of cybersecurity training for organisations involved in pandemic response efforts, as well as the need for increased vigilance and proactive measures to protect against cyber threats.   

How to include success stories in cybersecurity training:

  • Share stories in a way that motivates employees to focus on training and to adopt safer cybersecurity practices, because then they can witness the positive outcomes of doing so.
  • Follow each story by highlighting the importance of a co-ordinated approach with precise steps to follow.
  • Show how employees implement cybersecurity skills in practice, so you can make theoretical concepts practical and relevant.
  • Share stories about incidents and failures, too. These give direct examples of the kinds of damage you’d like to prevent and avoid in the future.

final Takeaway

In a consistently evolving business environment, comprehensive cybersecurity awareness training is an absolute necessity. It’s one of the best ways to protect an organisation from cyber attacks. By educating employees on safe online practices, your company can create a secure and reliable environment for its clients and stakeholders. 

The company’s security culture should rely on regular training sessions, which should be updated to comply with the latest developments in the field. The bottom line is: your investment in employee cybersecurity awareness training protects the company’s reputation in the long term.  

Author: Anna Lysiuk – Outreach Specialist, MacPaw Inc.

Photo credit: Cottonbro Studio

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