Lack of Employee Training and Communication Skills Drown Enterprise Security Awareness Programs

SANS 2017 Security Awareness, a new report by leading cyber security training and certification institute SANS, has revealed the lack of time dedicated to employee training and the lack of communication skills as the key reasons organizations’ cyber security awareness programs fail to meet their objectives. In identifying these factors, the researchers also found that women are twice as likely as men to be dedicated full-time to cyber security awareness. The report further went on to specify human resource allocation, partnerships, hiring of dedicated professionals, and fostering of security ambassadors as the four areas organizations need to focus on to dramatically improve the effectiveness of their awareness campaigns.

“There is no doubt that awareness programs play a vital role in strengthening IT security,” stated Ned Baltagi, Managing Director, Middle East & Africa at SANS. “While Middle East organizations are doubling down on their security investments, the challenges cannot be solved by technology alone. The behaviour of end-users, most commonly unintentionally malicious, are often the root-cause of data breaches, which is why SANS has worked to pinpoint the shortcomings of security awareness programs and provide enterprises with a clear outline for how they can overcome these.”

Time Constraints

Surprisingly, respondents did not cite budget constraints as an inhibitor to the success their security awareness initiatives. Instead, the biggest challenge appears to be time as over 75% of security professionals spend just 25% of their time on awareness. The report pointed out that to bring awareness up to a basic level, organizations should on average have 1.4 full time employees (FTEs) dedicated to these initiatives. This number increases to 2.6 FTEs in organizations that have the most successful awareness programs.

The Lack of Communication

Reported by 30.23% of respondents as their biggest challenge, the lack of communication and employee engagement is the other major hurdle that security awareness professionals face. This largely results from the inability of IT staff dedicated to this function to translate the impact human risks present to cyber security to their non-technical counterparts. While 80% of security awareness professionals have technical backgrounds, just 8% of them have soft skills backgrounds such as communications, marketing, training or human resources.

Not surprisingly, organizations that had the most robust security programs were also those that had complete buy-in from higher management, while 64.5% of organizations that did not receive sufficient support from company leadership categorized their awareness programs as non-existent.

Remedying Security Awareness Challenges

“In addition to dedicating the right resources and time to security awareness and working on the communications skills of security professionals, organizations should strategically leverage their budgets to hire resources who will get their awareness programs off and running. They should also identify and empower awareness ambassadors- employees who are committed to security initiatives and push their colleagues to do the same- as a cost-effective means to raise the entire organization’s security posture,” said Baltagi.