For a long time now, people (employees, users) have been touted as ‘the weakest link’ because of the tendency to make mistakes or try to bypass cumbersome processes, with no malicious or criminal intent in mind,” says Anthony Lim, Senior Cybersecurity Advisor, Asia Pacific, for Frost & Sullivan and Vice-Chair for (ISC)2 Application Security Advisor Council. “Secondly, with the increasing proliferation of increasingly powerful mobile hand-held smartphone or tablet devices which are highly connected in this BYOD age, the employee/user element is becoming even more of an important element. Thirdly, hackers have increased their focus on trying to enter an enterprise network through ‘soft’ targets (i.e. users and employees) rather than just trying to attack the servers, switches and networks directly by using techniques such as phishing, malware, social media-borne attacks and social engineering.”

He adds, “Hence, it has always been paramount that employee awareness and education be first in mind in the fight to maintain enterprise cybersecurity and minimize risks therein.”

Cybersecurity is a universal task, and it needs a champion to keep security concerns and awareness in the minds of employees throughout the enterprise.

According to Cisco’s chief security and trust officer, John N. Stewart: “Success in cyber is impossible if it is just ‘the security team’s job’ – everybody is a natural target for social engineering, and all organizations are targets for our adversaries. With the evolution that all companies need IT technology to operate, the stakes are high, and it’s all hands on deck.” The key to gaining buy-in, he says, is making cybersecurity personal, interesting and relevant.

One popular approach to link cybersecurity to employees’ experiences is social media, says Sean Mason, Vice President of Incident Response for Syntricate. By connecting cybersecurity with social media or even online banking best practices – password security, sensitivity on what information to share – employees will better relate to the information that security is providing them. Furthermore, he says, you can tailor your messaging around holiday seasons, when companies can stress the importance of careful monitoring of accounts, for example. CSOs and CISOs can even work with in-house communications teams to tweak messaging.

Mason suggests a continuous, multifaceted cybersecurity awareness campaign, with timing based around events (including news events, holidays, company events, etc.), joining department meetings to impart a few moments of cybersecurity advice, posting signage around the office and testing engagements on a routine basis. This helps to get cybersecurity into the DNA of the enterprise, he says.

Testing or auditing can be done either through in-house tests or through a third-party company like PhishMe, which sends out fake phishing emails to test employees’ susceptibility to an attack. This creates metrics to show how well the awareness campaign is working.

Enterprise security leaders can also make education into a game, by “gamifying” cybersecurity awareness training. Similar to getting a reward on a Starbucks card or earning a badge from your FitBit, gamification rewards good cybersecurity awareness and behaviors, providing an incentive for employees to pay attention and do well. A sample points structure, as presented at the 2015 RSA Conference, suggests giving an employee 50 points for correctly identifying and forwarding a phishing email to IT, 100 points for stopping a tailgater from entering a facility without badging in and 200 points for discovering a security vulnerability and reporting it.

Lim adds: “The challenge (of awareness training) is to ensure that after a few weeks or months, this positive practice is kept up, without having to conduct another workshop, issue threats or make motherhood statements, although some recapitulative follow-up ‘mini-audits’ (with no penalty, but maybe fun rewards for good compliance, such as a latte, a t-shirt of a bag of cookies) would be useful. What is also important is to try and reinforce the sharing of the learning so that users can support each other day-to-day in ensuring a culture of cybersecurity awareness in their workplace.”

Mason adds that while awareness training doesn’t need to be too technical, making sure an employee can recognize the difference between malicious emails and simple spam is an easy starting point for an awareness program.

In addition, the C-Suite and other executives should get more in-depth training and materials, says Lim. “Cybersecurity training for senior executives should have two components: a) a summarized package of the contents which would form the workshop for the rest of the staff and b) the ‘exclusive’ parts, with regard to confidential and secret documents, data protection regulations and other legislation and audit matters, fiduciary and executive responsibilities, escalation leadership, etc.”

These higher-level meetings can impress upon executives the need to carry cybersecurity awareness throughout the supply chain, says Joe Jarzombek, Director, Software and Supply Chain Assurance in Cyber Security and Communications, for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Upward of 80 percent of last year’s high-profile data breaches were because companies were not patching their software – they weren’t paying attention to known software vulnerabilities that were more than two years old,” he says. “This is low-hanging fruit, and these breaches were all preventable.”

He suggests questioning software and hardware manufacturers more closely when making purchases, especially to learn what software is being used (especially if it’s open-source software) and how to find patches. He also recommends scanning existing products and equipment for known vulnerabilities.

“CISOs are in the best position to bring this up,” he says. “They should not be blamed when software isn’t patched, but they should raise the question: ‘Why didn’t the supplier step in?’” Especially for smaller organizations, he adds, suppliers are in a much better position to help mitigate risk.

“There are a lot of incentives for organizations to buy the product with the lowest price, but they should pursue products that meet technically acceptable standards for that business,” Jarzombek says. “The fact that it was cheap can cost your enterprise huge in liability and compromised data after an incident. Your C-suite needs to understand – the lowest price on the front end can be a huge cost in the long run.”

In this respect, keeping the entire organization abreast of cybersecurity developments and risks can help address potential vulnerabilities years down the road by making sure the whole enterprise is on the same cybersecurity team.

Looking for More Cybersecurity Education? Cisco has partnered with San Jose State University for the introduction of a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security. According to Stewart, “The program incorporates virtual classroom learning, hands-on individual and group projects, and experience testing scenarios in a virtual lab environment. This online course prepares our students with a working knowledge of, and hands-on experience with, best-in-class cybersecurity tools and techniques.”