5 Tips for Implementing a Successful Social Engineering Awareness Training Program

The lack of enthusiasm around awareness training can be a royal pain for IT professionals tasked with keeping an organization's network safe. Cybersecurity and IT professionals know that getting buy-in from the entire organization is essential to combating cyberattacks from social engineering ploys such as business email compromise, invoice fraud, social media attacks, and various types of phishing

The stakes are high. Falling victim to social engineering attacks can be the transfer of passwords or other sensitive data to bad actors, resulting in ransomware deployed in the company network, reputational loss, and cyber insurance premium rate hikes or cancellations.

5 Tips for Implementing a Successful Social Engineering Awareness Training Program

Types of Social Engineering Awareness Training

But it doesn't have to be like this when you make your cybersecurity awareness training programs interactive and dynamic. There are many ways to make the training engaging, so employees want to participate, understand their role in a safer work environment and better retain the information passed along.

Classroom training gets employees involved. Training can address topics like social engineering tactics, phishing, malware, ransomware, Two-Factor Authentication, and strong password health through videos led by security experts. Depending on the work environment, you can play on-demand in a classroom or webinar setting.

Awareness training videos keep employees engaged. Send short videos to employees that address current cybersecurity threats, trends, topics, and stories, including how employees can stay vigilant to help protect the business. Include a short quiz at the end to facilitate information retention. We recommend doing this on a monthly basis.

Use automated phishing simulations. Teach employees how to identify and avoid engaging with phishing emails by sending them phishing simulations. These simulations are actual emails meant to mimic real-life, recent, and relevant phishing-style attacks. Simulated phishing attacks guard your business against social-engineering threats by training your employees to identify and report them—no matter how inconsequential or unrelated they may seem.

5 tips for implementing a successful, in-house social engineering awareness training program:

1. Clearly Communicate Expectations Through Policy

Make sure you have a technology and data use policy that establishes clear procedures, expectations, ownership, and communications around behavior and remediation. A comprehensive policy—for all team members from the intern to the CEO—reduces risks associated with a cyberattack. Participation and buy-in for every employee—from top to bottom—shows commitment from everyone in the company.

Communicate expectations through these policies from day one of employment. This allows you to seed and manage the expectation of participation. Employees see that your culture includes a strong cybersecurity posture, and even though it might not be listed in their job descriptions, it should be a part of their day-to-day responsibilities.  

Continue to set the tone with new employees by using a classroom training video as part of the onboarding process. Follow the initial onboarding with signing policies and review these policies for all team members at least annually.

2. Incentivize and Empower Your Employees

Game on! Gamify your cybersecurity training to break through training fatigue and grab employees' attention.

One way to do this is to create a challenge between departments, locations, or teams and have a quarterly or monthly incentive for the best-performing group—post overall team metrics for comparison and visibility to foster healthy competition. Everyone wants to be a team player and help their team achieve a 100% score or avoid being the lowest-performing team.  

Keep a positive approach and do not single employees out in a public setting. We do not encourage creating a "wall of shame." Instead, include cybersecurity training metrics in performance reviews and bonuses.

Create a piece of swag, hold a luncheon, or provide some form of a reward for employees that pass every phishing test OR complete the spot training if they take the bait and complete every training video for 12 months. 

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Instead of scare tactics or statistics, use stories and current narratives that resonate with employees and are easier to relate to. Place awareness posters in physical locations that are visited often, such as the breakroom, near office clusters, etc. to provide continuous reminders and opportunities for conversation regarding cybersecurity.  

If your team is remote, send digital copies of posters regularly through communication channels such as Slack, Teams or your organization’s preferred platform.

Create a communication channel for employees to share stories if they recognize real attacks outside of their training. Many organizations are concerned about the “prairie dog effect” where employees pop up and say “hey! Did you get this email too? Here’s a screenshot of it.” However, we encourage this behavior, as it is a sign your awareness training program is working!  

Include a cybersecurity mention in company internal communications, newsletters, company meetings, intranet sites, especially those coming from executives of the company. If they see a top-down focus and there are many cybersecurity advocates within the company, employees will want to be included.

4. Employees Will Ask: “What’s In It For Me?”

To increase buy-in with your security awareness program, employees must understand that they ARE targets and DO have information that attackers would want. This also means creating awareness beyond the work environment.  

Explain the benefits of cybersecurity awareness training that extends outside of work. Give an extra feeling of "what's in it for me?" that they can apply elsewhere, so they understand that cybersecurity skills are life skills. Here are some examples:

  • One Defendify customer shared that she watched her awareness training videos. Several weeks later received an email from her husband and immediately knew his email had been compromised and the request was not legitimate.
  • Other customers have reported sharing videos and knowledge with their spouse, children, elderly parents, friends, and social media community that have kept sensitive data protected. 

Cybersecurity is also JOB security – successful attacks could be devastating to a company and turn into a job security issue. Everyone can help protect the bottom line by staying vigilant.

5. Understand That Employees Can Be Your Best Defense

Empower employees to be the best line of defense against cyberattacks because they are. Awareness training, policies, videos, and other tools and strategies can circumvent potential cyberattacks.

Empathize with employees who make mistakes. We're all human. Try to understand what happened by asking them what led to them clicking a link or opening an attachment. If they were going too fast, emphasize the heightened awareness needed when under deadlines or flying through tasks. Don't view the person who opened the attachment or clicked on the link as the point of failure. Instead, recognize that the security and training structure around that individual has failed.

Also, assure your employees that they are expected to report their suspicions, not evaluate every potential threat before they do so. That means false alarms will happen, and they should not hesitate to follow the notification policy for fear of being wrong.


Want to find out how an expert implemented a successful employee security awareness program? Watch our webinar Implementing a Successful Employee Security Awareness Program

Implementing Successful Employee Security Awareness Program

Regular, engaging employee social engineering awareness training should provide resources and guidance to educate employees about cyber threats at work and home. Using multiple forms of dynamic training, including awareness videos, phishing simulations, digital posters, and other media, keep employees interested. Touchpoints should be ongoing and frequent—at least monthly education and updates. Working with employees and the entire team to develop proactive measures will prove one of the best defenses against the latest cybersecurity threats.

More Resources:

Blog: Social Engineering Training for Employees: The Framework

Blog: Looking Ahead to Social Engineering Trends of 2022

Blog: A Complete Guide to the CEO Fraud Business Email Compromise Phenomenon

Webinar: Implementing an Employee Security Awareness Program



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