Cybersecurity is now battling a human problem just as much, if not more, than a technical one.
According to Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report, 85% of successful cyberattacks now involve a human element. Combine that with the fact that even the very best technology can only thwart about 93% of attacks, and that leaves a large hole in an organization’s basic security hygiene. This gap forces employees to make split decisions that can affect security, and failure to choose correctly puts disaster just a click away.
With cybercrime now estimated to cost more than $6 trillion annually, the adoption of cybersecurity training is no longer optional. In fact, a growing number of new regulations now require many businesses to add ongoing education to their security programs, causing a boom in so-called “awareness training” programs.
However, security officers say these generic, one-size-fits-all training systems often fall short, particularly as it relates to delivering a change in online employee behavior. Without this proof point, what is the true return on investment (ROI) of security training?
“Current training programs are very one-dimensional because they don’t take the human element into account,” says Marc Leckman, Director of IT for Wesdome, a Canadian gold mining company with about 500 users often in remote locations. “You can’t truly solve the problem unless you account for the fact that people react differently to the same type of threat.”
Challenges in security training
“The weakest link is always people; what I call the ‘human firewall,’” stated Kin Lee-Yow, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Canadian Automobile Association Club Group (CAA), one of the country’s largest not-for-profit associations. As such, they have thousands of employees across the country, including those in retail stores, call centers, corporate offices and accounting, any of which could be an entry point resulting in a serious breach. “We’ve been focusing on how we increase the level of awareness and education for a while now.”
This “last mile” frustrates even the most vigilant of organizations. In fact, while this 7% to 15% typical firewall gap may seem small, it leaves a 100% statistical probability that every employee will eventually come across some form of novel threat — be it in an email, chat or hyperlink. They will not only need to identify it as such, but be properly trained on how to best act upon it.
This presents a need for security professionals to further buttress their efforts in embedding a sustainable, security-aware culture among employees. This has led to a growing demand for ongoing educational programs that rely on behavioral science to measure and manage cybersecurity risk as a distinctly different solution from generic training programs. These programs aim to focus on training the right person at the right time about their specific risk profile to generate and sustain a change in behavior.
Lee-Yow trialed a training program from cyberconIQ which merged behavioral psychology and technology to measure and manage cybersecurity risk. By utilizing machine learning to develop a customized approach for each employee, CAA Club Group could then correct factors that drive underlying online employee behavior. This reduced the chances of an employee becoming the victim of a cyberattack that could devastate a company’s reputation, not to mention its bottom line.
Changing behavior, increasing mindfulness
“We are now attacking it from a completely different angle,” says Leckman. “Beginning with the personalized risk assessment provided by cyberconIQ and their accompanying dashboard, we can ascertain the risk makeup of our employees and strategically plan our next investments based on those results.”
“I liked the fact that every employee is given a 40-question assessment, kind of like a Myers-Briggs personality test,” says Lee-Yow. “This gave us a tool that assessed every individual from their own risk standpoint, and from there we could show them how to better protect themselves. And going one step further, how to create good online habits.”
Lee-Yow concedes that good habits are not formed overnight, which is another reason he has found the ongoing education — which includes delivering new materials regularly — and simulation drills to be effective for the CCA Club Group.
“We can actually measure improvement,” says Lee-Yow. “For example, we conduct regular phishing tests and if someone fails, we can follow that up with a program that reinforces and rejuvenates that employee on best practices.”
Cybersecurity return on investment
Wesdome, on the other hand, is still in the early stages of its cyber training journey. Leckman was looking for a consulting partner who could first help him determine his existing corporate risk profile. After this assessment was complete, he was able to demonstrate to his executive peers and the company’s board of directors that improving their cybersecurity practices was critical.
“From a director standpoint, breaking down the results of that assessment showed me where we were at a higher risk, where we had lower risk, and where our budget was best spent,” explains Leckman.
For Wesdome, the key was finding something that was going to deliver a return on their investment. As part of that, both Leckman and Wesdome have decided to further enhance security measures, and thus lower their risk profile, by utilizing cyberconIQ’s risk advisory team.
Lee-Yow also realized that raising awareness through targeted education is crucial for reducing risk and therefore saving an organization from the monumental costs associated with a cyberattack.
“When the massive amount of costs, compliance and other aspects of an attack are taken into account, it is obvious that personalized intervention is what the industry needs,” concludes Lee-Yow.
Time is of the essence on addressing these matters given the constant escalation of new threats and techniques being deployed to hack organizations globally.
In fact, according to IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, a successful cyberattack now costs an average of $4 million per incident. Mimecast, meanwhile, reports ransomware demands on U.S. businesses now eclipse $6 million on average. For small businesses (under 250 employees), this type of attack results in bankruptcy 60% of the time.
Even though technology enables cybersecurity incidents in the first place, the vast majority of organizations still rely solely on technology to mitigate cyberattacks. Yet, technology alone is unlikely to solve what the human aspects of cyberattacks.
Given the shift in working and learning remotely, combatting situational distractedness should now be a critical component of any security awareness training. Knowing what to do to avoid risk and successfully applying that tactic when an actual threat appears is the key to keeping an organization and its employees safer online.
“We are all human. We all make mistakes,” Lee-Yow said. “However, we believe that mistakes can be greatly minimized with the proper employee education and effective follow-up.”