You can have the most powerful, cutting-edge security technology in the world, but if a user clicks on the link in a malicious email, lets a stranger tailgate into your building or uses 1234 as their login password, they unwittingly open your organization up to a cyber security breach. The fact is that the human risk factor remains your greatest point of vulnerability when it comes to cyber security, with human error accounting for 90 % of all security breach incidents. In other words, your people are your “weakest link.”

Reduce the human risk factor through behavioral change

The best way to fix this situation is to create behavioral change and a culture of security across your organization. You need to find ways to encourage your users to reduce their high-risk behaviors so that security awareness becomes second nature—a mindset—and they become your “strongest link” and a key part of your cyber security defense strategy.

But how?

An ongoing methodical approach to behavioral change

Expecting them to follow a set of rules won’t work. Planning 15 minutes of cyber security training sporadically won’t work either, nor will asking them to sit down in front of their computers for an hour once a year and click on some buttons. Traditional cyber security awareness training may allow you to meet your compliance obligations, but may not keep your organization protected because there is no strategy designed to keep cyber security top of mind over the long term.

To effectively change behaviors and build a security culture, you need a comprehensive program that is carefully planned based on your organization’s specific needs and objectives. You can only achieve this by applying a framework consisting of a set of precise steps.

What makes a security awareness framework effective?

You will ensure success when you view security awareness not as a one-time project with a beginning and an end, but rather as a program and an ongoing process.

With this in mind, the most successful programs include multiple campaigns, which you release over time. Your program should have long-term strategic goals and each campaign should have its own specific objectives.

Most importantly, they follow a methodological framework built on a series of key steps:

  • Step 1 – Analyze
  • Step 2 – Plan
  • Step 3 – Deploy
  • Step 4 – Measure
  • Step 5 – Optimize

Without an evidence-based security awareness framework, it will be difficult to get people to change their risky behaviors. A framework is designed to take everything into consideration, especially how people learn, adopt and maintain new habits, which ultimately leads to a culture of security awareness and dramatically fewer human-related security breaches.

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Step 1 – Analyze

Each organization is different and yours is no exception. Everything about it is unique: your organizational culture, risk factors, staff motivation levels, compliance obligations, security awareness program maturity level and ability to deploy a program. So, when it comes to a security awareness program, it only makes sense to opt for a solution that can be personalized and adapted to the real-world needs of your organization.

What is your organization’s security awareness program maturity level? Find out here.

How do you determine your needs? Through analysis.

No matter how big or small your organization is, analysis is absolutely essential. It provides you with important insights, so you can create and implement a cyber security awareness program that addresses your current organizational culture and environment.

In your analysis, you should focus on 9 key areas:

  1. Strategic program goals
  2. Compliance obligations of your organization
  3. Your different target audiences (who will receive cyber security training?)
  4. Scope (cyber security training topics you need to cover)
  5. Level of knowledge (current human risk behaviors within your organization)
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  6. Motivation & culture (Are your people on board, indifferent or outright resistant to your program?)
  7. Support resources (Do you need to build a support team?)
  8. Globalization (Do you have to offer your program in more than one language? Will you have to customize content to reflect any geographic or cultural nuances?)
  9. Costs (resources and budget)

Human Risk Factor

Step 2 – Plan

After completing your analysis, the next step is to plan your cyber security awareness program.

Planning takes time. However, you need to put the effort into planning if you want your security awareness program to go off without a hitch. If you simply dive into building a security awareness program hoping for the best, your outcomes will be hit and miss, and you will probably fall short of creating real behavioral change in your organization.

Planning allows you to anticipate and address roadblocks, stay aligned with your objectives and stick to your timelines and budget.

 In your planning phase, you work out the logistics of your program and should focus on 6 specific planning essentials:

  1. Team (who will be on your security awareness team?)
  2. Roadmap (define your campaign objectives, plan your campaigns and activities for each)
  3. Product (i.e. select and customize online cyber security training courses, live presentations, reinforcement tools, LMS, phishing simulations, vulnerability assessments, surveys and quizzes)
  4. KPIs and metrics (Define KPIs and metrics in relation to each campaign’s objectives so you can measure your results against those baselines to optimize the next waves of your program.)
  5. Communications (i.e. communication plan, calendar, materials)
  6. Program presentation (for senior executives, team members or stakeholders)

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Step 3 – Deploy

You’ve crossed every T and dotted every I. Now you are ready to launch! Or are you?

You want your launch day to be as stress free as possible, so just before your kickoff, you should do all of your pre-testing to make sure there are no glitches. Once you’ve completed testing and any needed troubleshooting, go ahead and launch—and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done.

Remember though, deployment shouldn’t end there. You want to engage people and communicate with them in interesting ways to create a buzz about your program and maximize your participation rates. You therefore need to follow up with a reinforcement phase both during and after your deployment. Doing so will help you reach the security awareness campaign objectives you have set.

  1. Test
    Before you launch each campaign, test the technical functionality of your campaign, your content and the user interface.
  2. Launch
    Launch the campaign and communicate with participants.
  3. Reinforce
    Reinforce your security awareness messages using various communication tools (e.g. posters, newsletters, e-blasts and web banners, videos, etc.).

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Step 4 – Measure

Now that you have deployed your security awareness program, you want to know how it is performing. After all, if you don’t know if it is having any impact and effectively reducing risk behaviors, you are simply going through the motions.

This is where the KPIs and metrics you identified in your planning phase come into consideration. They allow you to:

  1. Gather data
    Measure your progress according to the metrics you defined in your planning step.
  2. Track progress
    Effectively manage and monitor your campaign/program.
  3. Report
    Communicate information about program performance to departments across your organization and demonstrate adherence to compliance requirements.

Then you can use all of this information to evaluate performance, evaluate if you are meeting the objectives you identified in your analysis phase and move on to the final phase: optimize.

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Step 5 – Optimize

The purpose of applying an ongoing methodological approach—a framework—is to reduce risk behaviors over the long term. The optimization step lets you determine what works and what does not, so you can tweak your next campaign to make it even better than the previous one.

It is important to act upon your findings. Keep updating. Keep improving. That is how cyber security awareness becomes and stays top of mind across your organization.

To optimize your program on an ongoing basis, you should:

  1. Analyze metrics from Step 4 – Measure
  2. Compare results with campaign objectives and program goals
  3. Identify improvement opportunities using your KIPs and metrics
  4. Identify new training and behavioral objectives for the next campaign.
  5. Conduct a postmortem meeting with your team

Need any help?

The idea of following a security awareness 5-step framework may feel a little daunting, especially if you are tackling a security awareness program on your own for the first time, or if you do not have access to the right resources. You may instead be tempted to launch a quick-fix cyber security training package you find online, or worse, take no action at all.  (Neither scenario will do!)

We at Terranova completely understand—and we are here for you.

We have developed the comprehensive Security Awareness 5-Step Framework to help you mastermind a blueprint for a security awareness program that actually makes sense for your organization.

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Free Webcast: Five Steps to Masterminding an Effective Security Awareness Program

Watch this webcast and learn how customers are leveraging the proven 5-step security awareness framework to design programs that deliver measurable improvements in security.

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The Human Fix to Human Risk eBook

You can also get a sneak peek of the book The Human Fix to Human Risk and discover how to leverage the Security Awareness 5-Step Framework for your organization.