Tips for security (risk) awareness in information security

Written by Ivar van Duuren

July 4, 2024

security island

One of the most important aspects of effective information security is security awareness – employees’ awareness and knowledge of security risks and how to prevent them.

In this article, you’ll discover more about what security (risk) awareness is, who poses the greatest risks, what measures are effective, and how to train employees in this area.

What is security (risk) awareness?

Security awareness refers to employees’ awareness and understanding of the potential security risks and threats to an organization’s information and systems. It involves employees knowing what risks exist, how to recognize them, and what to do to prevent or report incidents.

Security awareness is a crucial part of any organization’s security strategy. The goal is to create a security-aware culture in which employees proactively identify and mitigate security risks.

Examples include following security policies and procedures, recognizing suspicious activity, and reporting incidents. Strong security awareness significantly reduces the risk of data breaches, malware infections, phishing attacks, and other security breaches.

Who poses the biggest risks in information security?

While external threats such as hackers and cybercriminals certainly pose a major risk, it is often in-house employees who unknowingly cause the greatest security risks.

For example, through lack of knowledge, inattention, or failure to follow security policies. Some examples of risky actions by employees are:

  • Clicking on links or attachments in phishing emails
  • Using weak or the same passwords over and over 
  • Sharing sensitive information unsecured
  • Connecting unsecured devices to the corporate network
  • Installing unauthorized software
  • Using a digital business environment over an unsecured network

In addition to employees, executives, external partners, and even customers also pose security risks if they are not sufficiently aware of proper measures. It is therefore essential to promote security awareness throughout the organization and beyond.

Which measures are effective for increased security awareness

Organizations would do well to take the measures below to increase security awareness among employees:

1. Regular training and education

Offer employees regular training and education sessions on information security. Cover topics such as recognizing phishing, strong password management, safe use of the internet, and incident reporting.

2. Phishing simulations

Send fake phishing emails to employees to test their ability to recognize and respond correctly to them. Provide feedback and additional training to those who fall into the trap.

3. Policies and procedures

Establish clear security policies and procedures and communicate them to all employees. Make sure they understand what is expected of them regarding information security.

4. Motivation and commitment

Encourage employees to be proactively security conscious and set goals for this. Reward good behavior and create a culture where security awareness is valued.

5. Visual aid

Use posters, screensavers, newsletters, and other visual aids to remind employees to take proper security measures.

By implementing a combination of these measures, you will build a strong security awareness culture as an organization and reduce the risk of security incidents.

ISO 27001 and security awareness

ISO 27001 is the international standard for information security. This standard provides a framework of requirements and guidelines to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information. Although the emphasis is often on technical and organizational measures, security awareness is also an important part of ISO 27001.

Chapter 7.3 of the standard deals specifically with “Information security awareness, education, and training”. This states that the organization must ensure that employees are aware of the information security policy and their own responsibilities in this regard.

They must also receive relevant training and education regularly. In addition, ISO 27001 requires that the effectiveness of the awareness program be measured and evaluated.

By meeting these requirements of ISO 27001, you lay a solid foundation for all security awareness activities. It provides structure and ensures that awareness becomes a permanent part of your organization’s information security approach. Moreover, an ISO 27001 certification shows customers and other stakeholders that you take security seriously.

5 Tips on training employees on security awareness

Training is an essential part of promoting security awareness. Here are some tips for effectively training employees:

  1. Make it relevant: Use examples and scenarios that connect to employees’ daily work and risks. Show how security risks affect them personally.
  2. Keep it interesting: Avoid boring, technical presentations. Use interactive elements, games, quizzes, and hands-on exercises to keep the training engaging.
  3. Repeat regularly: One-time training is not enough. Schedule regular refresher courses and updates to keep the knowledge fresh and respond to new threats.
  4. Evaluate effectiveness: Measure employee security awareness and behavior before and after training. Use these insights to improve training.
  5. Provide support: Make sure employees know where to address questions and reports on security issues. Offer tools and support to help them implement good security practices.

Organizations can create a human firewall by training employees effectively – a powerful line of defense against security threats.

Conclusion

Security awareness is thus critical to any organization’s information security. By making employees aware of risks and training them in good security practices, you significantly reduce the risk of costly security incidents.

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