Boosting employees’ security awareness

By designing security training tailored to employees’ behavior, agencies can quickly reduce risk -- and save time and money

Kris van Riper is a managing director at CEB and Dylan Moses is a research analyst at CEB.

Kris van Riper (left) is a managing director at CEB and Dylan Moses (right) is a research analyst at CEB.

President Barack Obama declared cybersecurity a top priority for 2015, which seems timely given the series of high-profile breaches in recent months. The infiltrations of the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Postal Service and IRS signal that cybersecurity has truly become an issue of both economic and national security.

With most of the media attention focused on external hackers and cyber criminals, it can be easy to overlook internal risks, yet accidental employee breaches of information security policies are a frequent and critical threat to data security. CEB research shows that employee error contributes to 48 percent of all security incidents, while malware contributes to 20 percent and hacking represents just 11 percent.

And according to a recent poll by SolarWinds, 53 percent of federal IT professionals say careless and ill-prepared employees are the greatest threat to their agencies’ security. Take, for example, the July 2013 IRS incident that started with simple human error and ended with nearly 100,000 Social Security numbers compromised in a public database.  

CEB research shows that although the average organization invests significantly in employee security training and communications campaigns, most fall short of achieving compliance. In fact, we found a complete lack of correlation between spending and compliance.

By not considering the mindset of their employees when creating campaigns, chief information security officers (CISOs) consistently capture the wrong metrics and therefore misdiagnose compliance issues. Our research shows that leading organizations that focus on employee behaviors tend to conduct more effective training campaigns, which can decrease human error by at least two-thirds.

In order to address and safeguard against risky end-user behaviors, CISOs should consider the following elements when designing and implementing a security program:

* Understand employees’ behavior. The most effective campaigns identify the “why?” behind employees’ lack of compliance, which can include a lack of awareness of policies or a lack of emotional commitment to information security. Capturing employee behavior requires a case-by-case assessment of how end users operate, what drives their actions and how they perceive the CISO’s awareness efforts.

* Craft different messages for different users. Employees have different patterns of risky behavior, with most of the variability based on role and seniority. Leading CISOs tailor their campaigns for different groups with different risk profiles. They pay special attention to the content being delivered and how it’s delivered. Recognizing a campaign’s “look and feel” can increase the likelihood that employees will remember and act on campaign communications.

* Create an incentive program. Detailed training and communications do not necessarily prompt a change in employees’ risky inclinations. Instead, the most effective CISOs incorporate incentives for adopting safer behaviors as well as consequences for failing to do so. Our research shows that incentives, which can be as simple as recognition from a manager, can be just as productive as more costly training or communication efforts.

* Benchmark employees’ current awareness level. Leading information security organizations measure compliance to trace the successes and failures of particular aspects of their awareness programs. Measuring employees’ behaviors helps CISOs understand employees’ perceptions and actions in order to address risky behaviors as soon as they arise.

Although the federal government faces many challenges in IT security, internal employee awareness is one area where agencies can quickly and effectively reduce risk. Keeping end users in mind when developing compliance campaigns can save agencies time and money while helping them better serve the public.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.