Security awareness is the process of providing your workforce with cybersecurity training and education so that they understand the importance of security in their daily work routines. It’s a critical part of cybersecurity overall.

That security awareness training includes examining a variety of information security threats and demonstrating your organization’s security policies and procedures for addressing them.

Why Information Security Awareness Is Important

Cyber criminals know that employees are often an organization’s weakest link. So they target your employees and use any means possible to trick employees into sharing sensitive data or access credentials.

The goal of security awareness training is to empower your employees. Once they understand the threats and how to identify them, they’re less likely to be duped. This means that your training should include examples of what practices or scenarios your organization considers risky versus acceptable, what clues employees should look for, and how employees should respond to a threat when they see one.

Ultimately, security awareness helps everyone in an organization have a consistent, unified view of cybersecurity. It reduces security risks and incidents and allows your workforce to protect the organization (and themselves) from real-life cyber threats.

The First Step in Security Awareness

The first step your organization should take is to measure baseline security awareness. By assessing cybersecurity awareness before you begin any actual security training, you can understand what the training program needs to include.

You can assess employee baseline awareness by, for example, performing simulated social engineering attacks on employees, soliciting employee feedback, and reviewing incident and event logs.

More detailed results should include the following:

  • Effects of simulated phishing assessments and social engineering assessments.
  • Documented employee opinions and surveys covering their thoughts about existing security awareness programs and how engaged they feel.

Requesting this information from diverse departments and employees across the organization is essential.

Other Steps To Take for Security Awareness

Once you’ve established the baseline for your security awareness program, you can take other steps to build security awareness within your organization’s departments and employees.


Design your training based on your company’s most significant security risks. So for example, perform a cybersecurity risk assessment identifying the most significant threats to your organization. Your training should reflect those priorities. First educate employees on the most important risks, and then work down to second-tier concerns.

Course structure

Break the learning objectives into smaller goals rather than covering all the material at once. For example, if phishing attacks are your most significant risk, start with a short training focused on phishing for all employees. Then include a phishing simulation test to see who takes the bait, and then distribute more detailed levels of phishing training based on test performances.

Effective content

To keep employees engaged with the material, your security awareness training should resonate with them. Training should be based on their roles and the types of sensitive data and access they will encounter while performing their work. Organizations should also allow employees to “test out” of material they already understand.

All organizations should consider several “leading issues” when conducting security awareness training:

  • Phishing
  • Social engineering
  • Safe internet habits
  • Safe use of social media
  • Mobile computing
  • Insider threats
  • Incident reporting
  • Data privacy practices
  • Remote work best practices
  • Laws and regulations governing your business

Monitor the results of your training to see what works and what doesn’t. Whether you’re just beginning to establish security awareness in your organization or are interested in upgrading an existing program, setting measurable goals for improvement is crucial.

Types of Security Awareness Programs

Security awareness training is most successful as an ongoing practice within a more effective security awareness program. It should provide concise, actionable, and memorable advice about reducing cybersecurity and information technology risks. The best security awareness training programs are tailored to individual organizations and cultures, covering the most pertinent risks.

You can implement a security awareness training program in several ways, including:

  • Online security awareness training
  • Emails, newsletters, or blogs
  • Print materials, such as pictures or posters
  • Formal or informal briefings
  • New employee onboarding packages
  • Intranet communication
  • Computer banners or screensavers

Effective security awareness programs should:

  • Comply with laws and regulations
  • Be sponsored by senior management
  • Include a compelling message tailored to different types of learners
  • Include phishing and social engineering campaigns
  • Be engaging and entertaining
  • Diversify content and methods
  • Be reinforced
  • Be monitored

The benefits of a successful security awareness program include the following:

  • Reduced risk of cyberattacks
  • An extra layer of defense
  • Incident response experience
  • Increased likelihood that employees will become cyber-aware

Measuring the Effectiveness of Security Awareness

To continue to get funding for your security awareness training program, you’ll need to demonstrate a return on investment – to show the board or managers that it works. Review the frequency of reported incidents before training begins. If these reports increase as training progresses, it’s likely because employees have gotten better at spotting suspicious activity.

You can also test employee knowledge as a direct way to measure what they know about security and privacy best practices. For example, include quizzes in training materials to see whether their knowledge increases.

Finally, if a data breach has previously harmed your organization, calculate the costs of remediating that incident. Record that number as a baseline before you begin your training program. If a repeat incident occurs, you’ll be better equipped to determine whether training reduced the overall incident remediation costs.

Security Awareness and RiskOptics

Several laws and regulations require a formal information security awareness program be in place:

  • Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

Fortunately, several governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) tools can help your organization deploy a successful security awareness training program.

The RiskOptics ROAR Platform provides intuitive, easy-to-understand risk and workflow management software that helps you find high-risk areas before it becomes a real threat. Identifying risks to your organization will allow you to understand which areas in your security awareness program need the most attention.

With a customizable dashboard and easy-to-understand reporting metrics and insights, you can communicate risks to stakeholders and management, emphasizing the importance and impact your security awareness program has on your company’s overall security and compliance.

Sign up for a free demo today to see how RiskOptics can help your organization create a more comprehensive security awareness program.