Ten simple ways to get your staff interested in cyber security

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A crucial part of any cyber security strategy must be to focus on the human aspect - on developing security awareness, behaviour, and culture within the organisation. But improvements to all of these things depend on one major prerequisite: human interest. It may seem obvious, but it’s not something most businesses tend to think about when they attempt to train their staff.

Some organisations choose to give staff balky training manuals. Unsurprisingly, most staff aren’t interested enough to read beyond the first page. Even if people are somehow engaged enough to read through all of the company’s guidelines and advice, this rarely translates into improvements in cyber security behaviour. It’s one thing to read information; it’s another thing entirely to be able to act on that information.

Other organisations roll out protracted and tiring annual training sessions. By the end of the session, people don’t tend to retain much given the level of concentration required. Even if the interest is there, staff simply can’t focus for hours on end. This isn’t a productive use of time.

So, what does it take to create interest in cyber security, and in turn, how can companies promote meaningful learning experiences? For the most part, it’s about tapping into human psychology, and the ways that people like to learn. Let’s look at 10 of my top tips below.

1. Use a story

Stanford University research suggests that stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone. The scholar Jonathan Gottschall goes even further, claiming stories help us make sense of the world around us and thus historically helped ensure our survival.

Including stories in cyber security training is undoubtedly a sure-fire way to keep people hooked.

2. Keep things updated

Once upon a time, paying attention to the new and unusual things helped us escape threats – which is why we’re now hardwired to pay attention to anything new. It’s a phenomenon that sees babies of less than a day old instinctively staring, fascinated, at almost anything they see. It’s also a phenomenon that ensures dated cyber security training quickly becomes dull.

Aside from educating people on new threats, constantly updating cyber security training ensures known dangers never become mundane.

3. Use multimedia

Research shows very clearly that visual information and multimedia help in the learning processes; videos are processed up to 60,000 times faster than text, easing cognitive strain and ensuring messages sink in.

Supplementing text, images, and audio with video keeps things novel (see above) and makes cyber security training easier to take in.

4. Avoid the complex

Somewhat tragically, we humans seem coded to avoid cognitive mental strain. It’s why we frequently prefer video to text (see above) and why pension enrolment rates in “opt-out” countries vastly outstrip enrolment rates in “opt-in” countries. We’re coded to avoid exertion.

The complex topic of cyber security might seem like it requires complex training, but simple, intuitive training will almost certainly be more effective than anything requiring increased effort.

5. Integrate cyber security with the everyday

Humans are reliant on what psychologists call schema to guide our behaviour in any given situation. As an example, it’s schema that sees people wear black to funerals but not weddings.

Schema are why people tend to pay attention to cyber security during cyber security training classes but drop their guard the moment training ends. By customising training to embed elements of the day job into training itself, it’s possible to modify the existing workplace schema your people have. In doing so, cyber security becomes less alien, more engaging and more memorable all at once.

6. Simulate attacks

Simulating cyber-attacks is perhaps the most direct way to increase engagement in cyber security training. They’re unignorable, they demand a reaction, and they provide valuable clues as to what areas of the business are at risk.

Nevertheless, metrics should be treated with care. While susceptibility rates can be useful for visualising the effectiveness of training, it has the potential to be misleading. All simulations differ - some phishing emails can be written to be more convincing than others - so it’s hard to make direct comparisons.

7. Develop a culture based on trust rather than surveillance

A security breach shouldn’t be an excuse to increase monitoring on staff. Simply accept what has happened and regard the breach as an opportunity to learn.

Avoid a culture of blame. Staff shouldn’t be reporting on each other; instead, they should have the courage to challenge each other directly when they see poor security behaviour (such as picking up and plugging in unknown USBs, or leaving unlocked computers).

8. Educate people on threats at home

With remote working becoming such a popular option nowadays, people should understand the importance of cyber hygiene not just in the workplace, but also at home. Make it clear to people how what they learn helps them, as individuals. People need a 'what's in it for me' they can apply in their everyday lives.

9. Use blended learning

Blended learning styles use multiple learning techniques to ensure individuals can tailor their learning to their specific needs.

As you might remember from your full-time education, different people learn in different ways. Forcing someone to learn in a manner that doesn’t come naturally builds resistance to any kind of training, cyber security or otherwise.

Blended learning can therefore keep people engaged.

10. Involve everyone

Another fundamental trait of the human psyche is our desire to belong to a group of some shape or form – which explains phenomena such as peer pressure, Groupthink and football hooliganism.

In the context of cyber security, it’s important to properly train your entire organisation on cyber security.

Security should be lived by all – not just a few experts working in business risk or cyber security. Stress the role of the individual and the wider team. No exceptions should be made for leaders, who must be there to act as role models.

Oz Alashe MBE, CEO & Founder, CybSafe
Image Credit: Den Rise / Shutterstock