Gone are the days when cyber awareness was a niche topic reserved for IT professionals and tech enthusiasts.
In 2024, cyber security is more important than ever, and increasingly, employees are becoming the target of malicious actors intent on gaining access to business systems or information.
Promoting a culture of cyber awareness is a great way to mitigate the risk of a cyber breach, but knowing how to instill this culture is a challenging and complex task.
In this blog, we'll address these complexities and showcase ten simple practices any business can implement to create a culture of cyber awareness.
What Is Cyber Awareness?
Cyber awareness is the practice of maintaining a constant understanding of the cyber risks that are faced in day-to-day interactions. These risks are pervasive and extend into all aspects of how an individual behaves in their professional and personal lives.
In other words, cyber awareness is akin to a human antivirus, which processes interactions in real-time and sends an alarm whenever anything seems out of place. Just like an antivirus, cyber awareness requires periodic updates to stay aware of the latest threats.
Why Is Cyber Awareness Important?
The key driver for cyber awareness is to protect the information and systems used in an individual's professional and personal lives.
Suppose this information or system access is compromised. There can be far-ranging consequences, from the business an individual works for being hacked to their personal information being sold on the dark web or money being stolen through blackmail or malware.
The Best Ways To Promote Cyber Awareness In 2024
Creating a culture of cyber awareness is an essential part of securely operating modern businesses. To help with this, we've outlined ten initiatives that you can use to instill this culture while retaining business agility and maximizing employee productivity.
#1 Encourage An Open Dialogue
Fostering an atmosphere of positivity and collaboration is by far the most important aspect of promoting a culture of cyber awareness. Through this, employees will feel that they have a forum to voice their concerns, ask colleagues for advice, and, importantly, share with others when they believe they've spotted or become victims of a cyber attack.
Conversely, if a culture of fear and isolation is fostered, employees will gatekeep knowledge, persecute individuals for their lack of said knowledge, and, worst of all, try and cover up if they've fallen victim to a cyber attack. This can significantly increase the frequency and impact of successful cyber attacks on a business.
#2 Create Cyber Mentors Or Ambassadors
Not everyone can be a cybersecurity expert. It takes time, dedication, and a willingness to learn in a constantly evolving domain. In saying this, there are those few who are always hungry to learn more. These few employees can act as your cybersecurity champions, upskilling the average employee and finding weaknesses that an attacker may exploit.
The best part? These employees can be something other than dedicated cybersecurity professionals. A great way to implement this initiative is to nominate at least one willing employee from each team or department to ensure cybersecurity is represented in all areas of your business.
#3 Personalize Mandatory Training Exercises
Nothing is worse than receiving generic training designed for the masses. This is the type of training that lets you tick compliance boxes but does little to actually train employees. Particularly when many employees simply speed-run the training, skipping all educational content and going straight to the answers.
A great way to ensure your employees actually gain meaningful content from mandatory training is to personalize the training based on an employee's role and relative skill level. When it comes to an employee's role, specialized training can be used for specialized roles, such as software developers receiving secure software development training. When it comes to an employee's skill level, employees can progressively receive training on more complex and interesting topics as they demonstrate their understanding of cybersecurity fundamentals.
By following this practice, you'll not only cover the basics but also improve engagement and, importantly, employee satisfaction.
#4 Introduce Friendly Competition Through Gamification
Competition can be a double-edged sword. Some individuals are naturally competitive, and they need a benchmark to assess themselves against their peers to maintain interest. On the other hand, if something becomes too competitive, it can begin to foster a culture of fear and negativity as employees try to one-up each other.
A great way to gain all the benefits without any of the downsides is to use gamification, which reinforces positive behaviors and highlights a small number of employees who exude these behaviors. These employees can be tracked on a leaderboard, with monthly, quarterly, or annual rewards for those placing highest.
The important thing here is transparency; employees must know what they can do or avoid to rank well on the leaderboard. It's also important to not unduly deprive any employee. For example, employees shouldn't be penalized in any future competition just because they didn't demonstrate positive behaviors in a prior competition.
Pro-tip: Read our detailed guide on how to gamify cybersecurity training.
#5 Send Monthly Cybersecurity Newsletters
Monthly newsletters are a great way to distribute the latest cybersecurity news, tips, case studies, policy updates, and upcoming initiatives to the entire workforce of a business. Monthly newsletters also help to keep cybersecurity fresh and top-of-mind.
#6 Capitalize On Cybersecurity Awareness Month
With the growing number and severity of cybersecurity breaches, Cybersecurity Awareness Month has steadily become a popular global initiative.
It's good to piggyback on this initiative to shake up the status quo and monotony of cybersecurity. Instead of following traditional practices, this is where you can introduce a variety of different one-time or annual events, such as hiring guest speakers, conducting internal audits, seeking employee feedback, partnering with cybersecurity firms, and engaging with employees over professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn to reinforce the importance of cybersecurity.
#7 Periodically Simulate Cyber Attacks
Simulated cyberattacks typically attempt to exploit vulnerable people, processes, or technologies in a real-world setting that cyber-criminals would otherwise attempt to exploit.
Periodically running these simulated exercises is great for a number of reasons, but it really comes down to the age-old quote - "You don't know what you don't know.". Without simulated phishing attacks, you don't truly know which employees are most vulnerable. Without penetration testing, you don't truly know whether your systems or applications are technically secure. Without red-teaming, you don't truly know whether the combination of your people, processes, and technologies is secure against advanced and persistent cyber criminals.
Pro-tip: Read our detailed guide on phishing simulation best practices.
#8 Use Visual Cybersecurity Reminders
Regardless of whether your employees work in a corporate office, on client sites, or at home, you can use visual prompts to help remind employees of their cybersecurity responsibilities.
If employees work from an office, you can use posters or flyers as visual reminders. If employees work from home, you can incorporate cybersecurity into the virtual backgrounds employees use on video calls. Finally, if employees work from client sites, you can equip employees with laptop stickers or other forms of corporate swag that remind not only your employees but even your customers!
Pro-tip: We've done the hard work for you! Download your free poster below.
#9 Lead By Example From The Top Down
Just like every other initiative in a business, it needs to be led from the top down, with employees seeing executives leading by example. This helps set the tone that cybersecurity is an executive-level concern every employee should follow.
There are a variety of ways this can be demonstrated, but the best way is to bring in the experts! A dedicated cybersecurity professional, such as a Chief Information Security Officer, should regularly present to the board of directors or another executive committee on key cybersecurity risks, activities, and upcoming initiatives.
#10 Clearly Define And Distribute Cybersecurity Policies
Policies are only as good as the people that follow them.
To ensure your cybersecurity policy suite is as effective as possible, you need to keep every policy up-to-date, achievable, and, most importantly, accessible. Employees should be required to sign off annually that they've read and accepted key cybersecurity policies and be tested on these policies through mandatory cybersecurity training exercises.
The initiatives mentioned in this blog are not exhaustive, and there will always be more you can do to promote a positive culture of cyber awareness in your business.
You should do what works best for your business based on your own needs, risks, and expected outcomes. This may involve adopting some but not all or doubling down on certain initiatives. One thing is for sure: it can't hurt to try. As an initial step, we recommend trialing each initiative and filtering out those that aren't sustainable or beneficial.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does Data Spillage Relate To Cyber Awareness?
Data spillage is an event that occurs when sensitive information is leaked from a secure to an insecure environment. More often than not, that happens through simple human errors, such as someone sending an email to the wrong recipient, uploading data to publicly accessible storage, or accidentally forgetting documents in a public location such as a cafe or train.
Cyber awareness helps minimize the likelihood and impact of data spillage events by reinforcing common and simple best practices that anyone can follow. It's akin to a mental alarm bell that stays at the ready and rings whenever you're performing potentially risky behaviors. This alarm bell can be as simple as double-checking an email before hitting send or thinking twice before taking work documents out of a work-approved setting.
How Do Insider Threats Relate To Cyber Awareness?
Insider threats are like a wolf in sheep's clothing. These are trusted individuals who have malicious intent and intend to inflict harm on you as an individual or the business you work for.
Cyber awareness helps to shed light on insider threats by equipping individuals with a security-first mindset, ensuring they have the mental tools available to raise the alarm when suspicious activity occurs. In many cases, insider threats aren't overt and attempt to blend in; in other cases, they can be in your face. In all cases, it's important to flag any of this activity with superiors who may have more information and can effectively respond to a potential insider threat situation.