How To Create A Security Awareness Training Policy (Template Included)

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Sebastian Salla, Chief Executive Officer at CanIPhish
Sebastian Salla Published: January 23, 2024

What Is A Security Awareness Training Policy?

A security awareness training (SAT) policy is a formal document that establishes a framework for educating and empowering an organization's workforce in understanding, recognizing, and effectively managing information security risks.

SAT policies should align with an overarching information security strategy and address an organization's unique regulatory, compliance, and educational needs.

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What Is The Purpose Of A Security Awareness Training Policy?

A security awareness training policy aims to ensure there is a consistent educational baseline across an organization's workforce as it relates to information security. In particular, organizations use SAT policies to:

  • Reduce risk by educating employees on detecting and responding to common cybersecurity threats.
  • Ensure compliance with regulatory and cybersecurity frameworks that outline minimum training requirements based on employee responsibilities and data processed.
  • Empower employees by fostering a culture that prioritizes security and integrates it into all aspects of work.
  • Enhance reputation and trust among an organization's customers, partners, and stakeholders.

Why Is A Security Awareness Training Policy Important?

Security awareness training policies are a crucial aspect of minimizing cyber risk and meeting the requirements of regulatory and popular cybersecurity frameworks.

The importance of SAT policies needs to be recognized. They define success criteria, outline employee educational needs, and address the overall benefit to an organization for implementing a security awareness training program.

By creating, regularly updating, and adhering to an SAT policy, organizations can ensure they implement fit-for-purpose tools and processes that maximize benefits while minimizing human and financial costs.

How To Create A Security Awareness Training Policy In 7 Steps

A security awareness training policy needs to outline the purpose, scope, objectives, and unique educational requirements for employees based on the data they process and the role they perform. Each of these elements should be specific to your organization, and over the following steps, we'll outline how to do this.

Image depicting the 7-step process of creating a security awareness training policy.

Step 1. Define The Purpose

Outline the purpose of your security awareness training policy and why it's a crucial aspect of your overall information security strategy. Notably, this section should cover why the policy is important, how the policy helps to address information security threats, and how the policy can help your organization comply with regulatory or cybersecurity frameworks.

Step 2. Define The Scope

Specify who this policy applies to and who it doesn't. It can be tempting to say this policy only applies to full-time permanent employees, but that can expose potential weak points in your information security posture.

Instead, when developing the scope, carefully consider whether contractors or other third-party personnel have access to organizational information systems and data and then use this to make a risk-based decision on whom this policy should apply.

Step 3. Outline General Training Requirements

General training is training that every employee should receive, regardless of their roles or responsibilities within the organization.

General training is great for creating a baseline of information security knowledge that every employee should be expected to know. There are a variety of security awareness training topics that can be included, but we recommend only picking those that are relevant to your business. Topics that should be considered include:

  1. Phishing Awareness: Training on recognizing and responding to phishing attempts.
  2. Cyber Security Fundamentals: Basic principles of information security, including password management, data protection, and secure browsing.
  3. Ransomware Awareness: Understanding ransomware threats and preventive measures.
  4. Remote Working: Best practices for securing information while working remotely.
  5. Physical Security: Guidelines for protecting physical access to information systems and data.
  6. Situational Awareness: Training to be vigilant and recognize potential security threats in the work environment.
  7. Defence-in-Depth: Understanding layered security strategies and their importance.
  8. Ransomware Awareness: Reinforcing knowledge on ransomware threats and response strategies.

It can be tempting to go on the risk-averse side of things and select every training available. Still, you want to consider the human and financial burden associated with training employees and also consider the diminishing returns of overtraining employees on similar topics.

Step 4. Outline Specialized Training Requirements

Some domains are too specialized for the general employee, but it's essential to understand the information security implications for those who work in them. Some of these domains and the accompanying training include:

  1. Secure Credit Card Handling: For employees handling credit card information, focusing on compliance with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).
  2. Privileged Users: For IT administrators, covering advanced security practices, system monitoring, and incident response.
  3. Secure Software Development: For software developers, focusing on secure coding practices, vulnerability assessment, and code review processes.

Step 5. Define The Training Frequency

How often training needs to be completed is just as important as choosing the training topics themselves.

A lot of organizations fall into the trap of once a year, assigning every training all at once. This can result in diminishing returns, and while it does tick boxes, it's not the most efficient approach. Instead, training should be broken into tranches such that smaller bite-sized allotments are assigned once a month or once a quarter. By following this approach, training can be staged based on difficulty, so the more difficult training modules are assigned later in the year after employees have had a chance to complete fundamental and intermediate-level training.

Step 6. Define The Training Methodology

Training can be delivered through a variety of mediums, but the most popular forms of delivery are e-learning modules and instructor-led training. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and it's important to consider which best suits your organization carefully.

  • E-Learning Modules: This is web-based training that includes interactive elements like quizzes, simulations, videos, images, and pop-up walkthroughs. This type of training is particularly popular because it's self-paced and can be done whenever best suits the employee, minimizing interruptions in the workday.
  • Instructor-Led Training (ILT): This is in-person or virtual training that's led by a trained instructor. This type of training often involves group discussions, role-playing, or other forms of scenario-based learning. Because of the high level of interaction, ILT is often more impactful than e-learning, but it's also more disruptive to an employee's workday.

Step 7. Outline Employee Responsibilities

What are an employee's obligations to uphold their compliance with this policy? A policy without any enforcement will quickly become disregarded, ultimately negating the benefits it would otherwise provide

In this section, it's important to call out the organizational expectations for each employee and the disciplinary actions that may occur if an employee refuses to comply with their training obligations.

What Policies Should Accompany A Security Awareness Training Policy?

An SAT policy should be one part of an information security policy suite. Some of the other documents that should be created are as follows:

  1. Access Control Policy: Defines the rules for who can access specific resources and how access permissions are granted and managed.
  2. Asset Management Policy: Defines the procedures for managing the organization's assets (hardware, software, intellectual property) throughout its lifecycle.
  3. Business Continuity Plan: Defines strategies and procedures for maintaining essential functions during and after a disruption in normal operations.
  4. Change Management Policy: Defines a structured approach for managing changes to IT systems and processes to minimize risk and disruption.
  5. Code of Conduct: Sets forth guidelines for ethical behavior and professional conduct expected from all employees within the organization.
  6. Data Classification, Handling, and Retention Policy: Defines how to classify, handle, and retain data based on its type, sensitivity, and value to the organization.
  7. Disaster Recovery Plan: Defines the steps to be taken to quickly resume business operations after a catastrophic event.
  8. Incident Management Policy: Defines the procedures for identifying, analyzing, and managing incidents that affect the organization's IT infrastructure.
  9. Incident Response Plans: Defines a detailed plan for responding to security incidents, including roles, responsibilities, and procedures for mitigating threats.
  10. Information Security Governance Framework: Defines the structure, responsibilities, and processes to ensure information security aligns with organizational objectives.
  11. Information Security Policy: Defines the overall approach to information security, including principles, guidelines, and procedures for protecting information assets.
  12. Network Security Policy: Defines the rules and guidelines for securing the organization’s computer networks against unauthorized access and other cyber threats.
  13. Risk Management Framework: Defines the process for identifying, assessing, and addressing risks to the organization's information assets and technologies.
  14. Vendor Governance Framework: Defines the processes for selecting, managing, and monitoring third-party vendors to ensure compliance with the organization's security standards.
  15. Vulnerability Management Program: Defines the process for identifying, evaluating, treating, and reporting vulnerabilities in systems and software to reduce security risks.

It can be a significant undertaking to get all of these policies created, but fortunately, there is a wealth of resources online and within the CanIPhish website that can help you get started. Are you eager to see CanIPhish's internal policies? View our Security & Compliance Page for more information.