Essential Topics For Mastering Cybersecurity Awareness Training

Taylor Karl
/ Categories: Resources, CyberSecurity
Essential Topics For Mastering Cybersecurity Awareness Training 655 0

More and more companies are making it a priority to train employees in cybersecurity awareness. With nearly three-quarters of all breaches resulting from human error, it’s not hard to see why. Phishing and misuse are on the rise, and the number of social engineering attacks has nearly doubled since 2022. Between the volume of these attacks and the fact that they are becoming increasingly sophisticated, security awareness is of the utmost importance.

As companies embrace remote and hybrid work environments, we’re seeing an increased reliance on digital platforms and cloud-based services across every industry. While incredibly valuable for business operations, these technologies are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the security gaps in remote work environments, such as weak passwords, unsecured networks, and using personal devices for work purposes.

The primary purpose of cybersecurity awareness training is to educate employees about threats and best practices to mitigate these risks. It's about creating a knowledgeable workforce that understands the importance of their role in maintaining cybersecurity and can recognize and prevent potential threats. In this article, we will explain which topics you should include in your corporate security awareness training program, how to tailor training to specific roles, and how you can make sure your training is always up to date on the latest threats and the best ways to combat them.

On this page:

Designing a Cybersecurity Awareness Training

Here are the essential topics to include in your organization’s security awareness training:

Phishing Attacks

Just about everyone has received a text, email, or robocall attempting to trick you into giving away your personal information. These scammers usually try to steal your passwords, credit card or bank account information, and social security number. Once an attacker gains access to your personal data, they can use it to steal your identity, make fraudulent purchases, or just outright steal from you.

It’s not just the individual that can be harmed either. Phishing attacks can be a precursor to large-scale data breaches. If an attacker obtains an employee's access credentials, they can gain entry to broader systems or networks, compromising a larger pool of sensitive data. What began as an attempt to steal financial information from one employee can quickly put your business, employees, and customers at risk.

Cybercriminals are constantly updating their tactics, which means your training needs to include current strategies for identifying, reporting, and responding to phishing attempts.

Password Security

Weak passwords are among the most common ways malicious actors infiltrate your network. Cybersecurity training should always teach employees how to create strong passwords and manage them effectively. Safe passwords should have a minimum of eight characters and include a mix of letters, numbers, and special symbols. Employees also need to be trained on password etiquette, such as never sharing their passwords (including your helpdesk) and giving each device and application a unique password.

Safe Internet Browsing

Internet safety requires knowledge of the nature of the potential threats that you could face on the Internet. From regularly updating browsers to recognizing secure websites and avoiding risky online behaviors, you could produce an entire curriculum just on the best practices of internet safety.

Email Security

Many cyber attacks, including phishing, begin with deceptive emails, and all it takes is one person making one mistake to open up your entire company to a security breach. And few things are more vulnerable than email. If you want to turn your employees into a human firewall, you need to train them to detect suspicious emails and handle them safely.

Mobile Device Security

Phones, tablets, and laptops have long since become the standard communication tools. However, many people remain surprisingly ignorant of how to protect their devices against cyber threats. The fact is, your organization’s once-secure perimeters may no longer be relevant, especially as more organizations embrace remote working. Because mobile devices often contain sensitive information, including personal data, corporate emails, and business documents, no training program is complete unless you incorporate best practices for securing smartphones and tablets.


Advanced Cybersecurity Topics

The world of work is getting increasingly digitized and complex. As cyber criminals adapt new methods of attack, companies need to keep pace with defensive protocols. Here are a few advanced cybersecurity topics to include in your organization’s training program:

Network Security

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly a third of workers in the U.S. work remotely at least part-time, and some academic surveys suggest that the number is closer to half of all workers. While remote work offers benefits like better work-life balance, employees sometimes have to use public Wi-Fi, whether on trains, in coffee shops, or in other non-secure locations. To prevent breaches in these situations, employees need a solid understanding of Wi-Fi security and the safe use of public networks. Organizations should also teach individuals how to remotely access the company’s Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and secure authentication methods.

Data Protection and Privacy

Companies collect a tremendous amount of sensitive and private information. When there is a breach, everything from employee financial information to customer data can be stolen. Comprehensive cybersecurity training should teach employees to handle sensitive information and understand privacy laws properly.

Data protection and privacy laws, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe or CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) in the United States, are becoming increasingly prevalent across the globe. Every employee has a role in adhering to these regulations and protecting precious data. Proper training should educate workers on these laws and their responsibilities in maintaining compliance.


Malware and Ransomware Awareness

Malware and ransomware are malicious software programs that cybercriminals use to steal sensitive data from individuals and organizations. More than 72 percent of businesses worldwide were affected by ransomware attacks in 2023, making it one of the most highly-used cyber attacks. Training should teach employees methods for recognizing and preventing malware infection by avoiding suspicious activities, links, or attachments.

Role-Specific Cybersecurity Training

Customizing training based on the audience always makes it more relevant and effective. And because different roles have unique access and responsibilities, the training should be designed specifically for those positions. For example, IT staff might need detailed training on network security, while those in HR may need to focus on protecting personal data. Another example of role-specific training involves executive leadership, who often have access to highly sensitive information and need training on high-level cybersecurity strategies, risk management, and the importance of setting a security-aware culture throughout the organization.

Behavioral Aspects of Cybersecurity

Many organizations believe employees who are inattentive or do not have the necessary knowledge are the principal vulnerabilities of cybersecurity. Phishing emails and ransomware attacks are designed to exploit unknowing individuals, and all it takes is one mistake to allow malicious actors into your network. Understanding why employees act in a way that makes your company more vulnerable to attack is crucial to building a defense.

Here are some common behaviors that can impact your organization’s security posture:

Security awareness: If human error is the primary driver of cybersecurity breaches, understanding the behaviors that cause them is imperative. Employers can mitigate the likelihood of breaches by encouraging safe cyber habits and fostering a security-conscious culture. The level of awareness individuals have regarding cybersecurity threats and best practices directly impacts their behavior.

Risk perception and cognitive bias: Everyone has a different perspective on acceptable risk. Too often, a company’s decision-makers neglect security initiatives simply because they do not believe hackers will target them. They may understand the importance of cyber security but still underestimate the potential impact of a cyber threat on their organization.

Insider threats: Sometimes, employees misuse their access to an organization's IT infrastructure and open it up to attack. Often, it's unintentional and the result of carelessness. But an insider attack can be executed on purpose, whether by a lone wolf or an employee collaborating with an external entity. An example of this behavior is an employee, contractor, or business partner stealing intellectual property, trade secrets, or research and selling it to competitors or starting a competing business. Insider threats are the most common cause of a cybersecurity breach, whether intentional or not.

Cybersecurity in Remote Work Environments

Perhaps the biggest change to the world of work in recent years is the rise of remote and hybrid work. The pandemic made it the norm and many companies have made it a regular perk for their teams. Love it or hate it, nearly everyone who is able to has opted to work remotely at one time or another. But while there is plenty of good to be said about the flexibility, remote work introduces unique challenges like securing home networks and remote access to company resources.

Cybersecurity training must adapt to these changes by including secure Wi-Fi use, information for accessing VPNs, and best practices for remote data access and storage in its modules. Always encourage employees to update devices, including running current operating systems and regularly using anti-virus software. Many employees are adamant that the benefits of remote work outweigh the negatives and will likely be very receptive to learning how to protect against threats while working remotely.

Continual Learning and Keeping Training Up-to-Date

Cyber criminals are only getting more sophisticated. They understand that compromising employees is their best chance of infiltrating your organization and gaining access to critical data. Companies need to adapt as quickly as they do to protect their assets by strategizing regular updates to security training and Incorporating new threats into the program.

To keep your training up-to-date, focus on providing smaller, continuous, targeted training modules rather than larger seminars. You can deliver it gradually rather than inundating employees with too much information in an extensive training curriculum. Running training over time will keep participants informed about the latest threats, best practices, and security updates without overwhelming them with lengthy sessions.

Using the most effective training methods is also important to ensure your employees are absorbing the information. Keep training engaging by using interactive elements like simulations and quizzes. Gamification also makes learning fun and more effective; you can use real-world examples to demonstrate the impact of security breaches and offer rewards and recognition to employees who excel in training exercises.

Conclusion: Reinforcing the Importance of Continuous Cybersecurity Awareness

Establishing strong security practices in your company should not be considered a destination. It is a collective journey that requires collaboration and education with your staff. Your training, security policies, and controls should be constantly updated. Securing your business is just as reliant on monitoring user activities as fostering a positive organizational culture that encourages reporting and addresses concerns.

Cybersecurity is an ever-changing discipline. New threats and attack tactics seem to emerge every day, forcing organizations to adapt new tools and training methods to ensure their workforce is prepared to resist infiltration. Cybersecurity awareness is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. You can not simply build a training program and expect it to remain relevant forever. Instead, it is a commitment to ongoing education about the latest security best practices so employees can detect the signs of a potential cyber attack.