Social Engineering Awareness Training for Employees: The Framework

Here at Defendify, we believe that your team can be your strongest line of defense in preventing cyberattacks, provided they receive proper social engineering awareness training. Consistent training, combined with straightforward policies,  and a culture of cybersecurity will enable your employees to be able to identify a threat and make the right decisions should they encounter a social engineering attempt. 

Without social engineering awareness training, your organization becomes vulnerable to cyberattacks such as business email compromise, invoice fraud, social media attacks, and various types of phishing. After all, phishing attacks account for 90% of data breaches (CITE), and unfortunately attacks continue to evolve and grow in sophistication.

What is social engineering anyway?

To take a step back, social engineering is the art of exploiting human psychology (vs. technical hacking techniques) to gain access to buildings, systems, or data. For example, a threat actor might send an email that appears to be sent by the CEO of your company to join an online meeting immediately, or a request from a ‘vendor’ requiring a wire transfer or invoice payment. 

Cyber-attackers use social engineering to personalize attempts to manipulate people into performing unsafe functions, often researching their victims extensively prior to their advances. Cybercriminals are known to take advantage of the emotions or negligence of human beings, resulting in a whopping 88% of data breaches being caused by human error.

Do we really need social engineering awareness training?

There’s a misconception that email spam protection systems block all malicious activity, which is not true. The spam protectors simply don’t catch all emails, and there are ways around them: for example, bad actors can launch a social engineering attack from a legitimate email account that has been compromised. Email isn’t the only social engineering method hackers employ; they will also attack via smishing, vishing, social media, and other methods. 

Even with traditional security in place like antivirus and firewalls, cyber-attackers can penetrate an organization by getting an employee to provide access to the systems housing sensitive data, often without their knowledge. Most cyberattacks begin their scam with social engineering components, such as a phishing email. Once the employee falls for their ruse, the cybercriminal might harvest credentials, enable malware, or have an employee make a financial payment to an attacker.Without proper training, employers and employees can fall victim to wire fraud, gift card scams, and other types of account takeover.

How can I set my organization up for success?

An excellent place to start your program is to create strong, straightforward policies. Without clearly defined policies, employees are left with many opportunities to accidentally fall victim to social engineering attacks. Most employees are simply unaware that activities such as connecting personal devices to the network, checking personal email on a work computer, or failing to report a suspicious email can increase the likelihood of a successful cyberattack. Introducing policies during new employee onboarding and at regular intervals throughout their tenure removes some of the ambiguity (and the associated risk) from how people operate at work.

Before you implement your program, it’s important to obtain buy-in from leadership, and ensure  everyone in the organization from the top down is committed to participate.

What are the building blocks of a social engineering awareness training program?

  • Technology Acceptable Use Policy
    • Establish a clear and strong baseline for how technology and data should be used and protected, remotely or in-office.
  • Awareness Training
    • Lay a foundation of awareness with basic cybersecurity training at the beginning of employment and annually for the entire organization.
  • Awareness Graphics
    • Post constant, engaging visual reminders of key topics staged around the office, or share digitally via your organization’s messaging channels.
  • Phishing Simulations
    • Build muscle memory for how to spot a phishing email to keep social engineering top of mind and at bay.
  • Awareness Videos
    • Distribute relevant and engaging micro-videos to your team regularly, keeping their education fun and ongoing.

How often should our organization run social engineering awareness training?

The frequency and repetition of social engineering training should be at least monthly, with ongoing, short reinforcements. Social engineering training should be frequent and engaging so that information “sticks” with employees.

Consistent, multi-channel, and  engaging social engineering awareness training builds a team of cyber-defenders and decreases the chances of a socially engineered cyberattack. By implementing a strong training program, your employees will be ready at your defense and your organization significantly more fortified.

Ready to start your social engineering awareness training program?  Let’s talk.

Resources & insights

Why Your Phishing Training Program Isn't Working (and How to Fix It)
If you’re serious about cybersecurity, chances are you have a phishing training program in place. But is it working? Let us help you make the most of your investment.
The top phishing and social engineering techniques in hacking
The Top Phishing and Social Engineering Techniques in Hacking
Bolstering your organization’s knowledge is the best first step in combatting cyber threats. By spreading awareness and encouraging understanding of the top phishing and social engineering techniques in hacking, teams can better protect themselves against cyber-risks.
How Do I Know if I Need Phishing Simulations?
You might be wondering, "how do I know if I need phishing simulations?" and we're here to tell you that they are for all businesses and employees regardless of size, industry or title. After all, it only takes one click on the wrong email to open the door to a cyberattack.

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