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13 Important Security Awareness Training Topics for 2021

Parker Byrd

The prevalence of cyber-attacks has prompted many companies to invest in security awareness training programs. Security awareness training is a perfect way to prepare employees for the many types of attacks that can occur and how they should respond to them. A company's network, data, physical assets, and reputation are all at risk when an employee falls victim to one attack or another. Every company must invest in this type of program or else it will be unprepared for the future.

This blog post will examine some of the most common security awareness training topics, including phishing scams, social engineering, ransomware, and more. Educating your employees on these cyber security awareness topics will help your company stay secure, reduce human error, avoid data breaches, and become an overall security aware workforce.

What Should Your Security Awareness Training Program Include?

Your Security Awareness Training program should be a combination of education, testing, and employee engagement.

Whether you're an IT administrator or the Chief Information Officer, you should be regularly engaging with your employees about security awareness. If you're simply sending phishing simulations and emails notifying employees of the training they need to complete, you risk creating more "security tension" than security awareness.

As far as the training itself, security awareness training is most effective when it's done in the form of video, interactive elements, and knowledge checks. If you're doing employee security awareness training regularly, you should also keep it short. Employees can learn a lot in 8-10 minutes if the training content is effective.

Finally, as with any solid cyber security awareness training campaigns, phishing simulations are a great way to identify ongoing risk in your company.

Security Awareness Training Topics to Cover

Phishing

Phishing is a type of security threat that involves impersonating a trusted party in order to steal information. It is commonly portrayed as an email, either sent through the internet or over a company's intranet. It is also one of the most common cyber security awareness training topics.

Security awareness training for phishing involves teaching users how to recognize red flags in suspicious emails so they can avoid potentially giving away sensitive data and other security incidents.

Common phishing email red flags include misspellings in the email address, a sense of urgency to act on the request, and strange email addresses.

Phishing awareness training is a critical part of any security awareness program because it can be hard for users to identify when something is suspicious if they are not familiar with how attackers attempt to trick them into giving up sensitive data.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a security threat that encrypts files in a user's computer, then asks for money to un-encrypt them. This attack is typically paired with phishing emails, which are then emailed out and usually ask users to click on links within the phishing email.

Ransomware can come in many forms. Most commonly, it is hosted as malicious software on websites that users visit with their computers or smartphones. It locks up their files and the hackers demand a ransom to unlock them. It also comes in the form of phishing attacks that contain links or attachments that are designed to download a type of malicious software on a user's computer, which can then lock up their files and display a message demanding payment for release.

Ransomware has been around since 1989, but it wasn't until 2009 when bitcoin entered the scene and gave hackers an anonymous way to collect money that it gained popularity. Today, the WannaCry attack is estimated to have affected more than 200,000 computers worldwide.

To prevent ransomware attacks, employees should be trained to follow basic best practices, including:

  • Don't open suspicious files or links.  
  • Keep software updated (especially operating systems and browsers)  
  • Use multi-factor authentication for all online accounts (Google accounts, online banking, social media platforms).
  • Use a unique, secure password.
  • If a computer is infected, disconnect it from the network immediately.  
  • Back up data regularly and encrypt files to prevent them from falling into hackers' hands.


Malware

Malware is a type of software that is designed to cause damage to a computer. It can be destructive or it can be used simply for information gathering, but it is always considered a security risk.

Types of malware include :

Spyware.

This is software that tracks the user's activity and sends the information to another computer without their knowledge. A lot of times, spyware companies will also add viruses or other malware to the computers they are tracking.

Ransomware.

Ransomware is malware that will encrypt a user's data and then demand payment for restoring access to the data.

Cryptocurrency mining malware.

This type of malware infects computers and then uses their processing power to mine cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, without the owner's knowledge or permission.

Trojan horses.

Trojan horses are programs that appear harmless but actually contain malware. If a user installs the program, then the malware is installed without their knowledge.

Persistent spyware/malware.

Persistent spyware/malware follows a user using tracking software to monitor everything that they do on their computer or mobile device and sends that information back to whoever programmed it.

Employees should know how malware works and also be aware of what kind of files they are downloading on their computers. Employees should also have anti virus software on their computer.

Passwords

Passwords keep our accounts secure, but they can also make it easy for hackers to gain access. With so many different passwords to remember, it's difficult for users to keep track of their security information and stay ahead. Password security awareness training teaches employees how they can create secure passwords that are more resistant to attacks from hackers.

Here are some tips to share for good password habits:

  • Use a unique password for every account.
  • Use a strong password.
  • Avoid obvious passwords like your birthday, social security number, or other sensitive information.
  • Limit the number of personal details you share on social media sites. This might make it easier for someone to guess your password or security questions.
  • Use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. A little creativity also helps!
  • Use multi-factor authentication.

Physical Security

Sometimes, in our quest to lock down our networks and avoid malware and viruses, it’s easy to forget about the physical world around us that can pose security threats  Physical security flaws can put your personal information and your companies' sensitive data at risk just as much as a cyber attack.

It’s pretty common to assume that a data breach only comes from something like malware, ransomware, or a phishing email. However, to a hacker, it really doesn’t matter how they get your info.  For that reason, it's important to communicate these lessons to your employees for physical security:

Tailgating is a real security issue that happens more often than we think. Sure, we all want to be kind and helpful but unless someone can show proof that they should be inside your office, the best solution is to say kindly “I’m sorry, I just can not let you in.”. Employees may run the risk of seeming unkind but it is better to be safe than sorry.

Likewise, leaving your device open and unattended invites would-be thieves to take what they want and go. Encourage employees to lock their devices and use solid passwords

Another physical security threat is open, written-down passwords and other sensitive information on sticky notes. Employees should find other ways to remember complex passwords like a password manager.

And finally, always be on guard when it comes to "shoulder surfing". You never know who is trying to steal your information. Always be aware of your surroundings before putting in sensitive information into your devices. While it may seem unlikely, even people you’ve worked with for years may be interested in your password.

Mobile Security

The threat of mobile devices being hacked is becoming more and more common. As people's lives become more dependent on their smartphones, employers have to worry about the security surrounding these devices.

Whether it be a technical device or a handheld one, it is important for the employer to make sure that the information obtained through these mobile devices are protected from hacking.

There are also potential privacy issues of BYOD (bring your own device) and how it relates to data protection and corporate policies

BYOD has become a popular trend in the workplace environment due to a preference of personal devices, cost savings, and ease of use. However, it also has its potential security risks when employees sometimes bypass business data protection protocols in the name of convenience.

To keep mobile devices secure, employees should use strong passwords, refrain from using public Wi-Fi networks, and avoid downloading applications that are not secure.

Social Engineering

In its simplest form, a social engineer is someone who uses their knowledge of human psychology to convince others to give up sensitive and confidential information or perform tasks they otherwise would not do.

The goal of a social engineering attacks is to get the user to fork over some sort of access token (passwords, pins, etc) or sensitive data by using social engineering tactics such as authority level, fear, greed or friendship.

The attacker might simply ask for a password to gain access, or try other tactics like asking victims to provide passwords that are then used later on in attacks against the company network.

Vishing

Vishing is a form of phishing where the attackers use a phone call to accomplish their malicious goals. Using social engineers tactics like authority level, fear, greed or friendship the attacker might simply ask for a password to gain access like they would do in a phishing attempt.

Additionally, SMiSHing is a form of phishing where the attacker uses Short Message Service (SMS) messaging to gain access to personal or confidential information. Attackers might trick you into installing spyware or performing harmful actions by sending a text message with a link that looks like an urgent notification from your bank or service provider.

To prevent vishing attacks, employees should learn to identify the signs of a phone phishing attack. Some of these include requests for passwords, banking information, account login details or other personal information. A good reminder is to slow down and take a deep breath when someone is pressuring you for information over the phone.

When it comes to reporting suspicious activity, if an employee is unsure about the validity of a request they should seek out more information or advice from someone who has experience in security.

In most cases, if there is any doubt, do not reveal information. Instead, seek for confirmation and guidance from your supervisor or IT department.

Working Remotely

Working remotely doesn’t mean you are safe from Cyber Attacks. In fact, 91% of companies have reported an increase in cyber attacks in the past year due to more employees working from home. The move to remote work for many has made this one of the most important security awareness training topics.

While working from home, employees need to become more aware of the potential risks of a cyber attack. Here are some of the best ways to stay safe while working from home.

Update all apps and software you use.

While those little app updates may seem annoying they all have a purpose. With each update the companies typically include a security update. The best way to keep your software and apps safe is to update them as soon as possible.

Practice good password habits.

As you probably understand by now, password safety is a security awareness topic that also applies to basically any other topic. Same idea here. Use strong passwords.

Keep devices locked.

Even if you're at home, it’s always a good idea to keep your devices locked just in case. While it may be tempting to allow your family members to use your work device, the safest option is to keep your device locked and only used for work.

Beware of phishing attacks.

Phishing emails have skyrocketed in the past year, and with employees working remotely, it's even easier for cyber criminals to trick them. Follow the same tips from the phishing awareness training here.

Removable Media

This is a short but important topic as it covers some cyber security threats where people are not fully aware of the risks. Removable media such as USB drives or CDs/DVDs can be very risky, especially if they are loaded with viruses or malware.

Teach employees that if they find a USB drive or a piece of removable media, they should not plug it into any computer, and report it to their supervisor. Employees should also be reminded that the data on a removable media device is potentially hazardous and it should be treated as if it contained malware whether or not its actually infected with malware.

Social Media

Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are also sources of vulnerabilities. Employees should be trained to understand the risks involved in posting private or sensitive information on social media accounts — particularly if those accounts can be accessed using a public Wi-Fi connection or through mobile devices.

Safe Web Browsing

While using the internet, employees can be exposed to threats and vulnerabilities — particularly if they are using Wi-Fi networks in hotels, airports, coffee shops or other public areas. Security training should ensure that employees understand the risks involved in connecting to an unfamiliar wireless network.

Incident Reporting

Sometimes accidents happen. Employees click on phishing emails or notice suspicious behavior. In all cases, it is important to know what actions employees should take if they believe there is an issue. Identifying problems early can stop cyber security breaches before they happen.

Communicate to your employees what types of incidents should be reported, who to report them to, and how they should communicate.

If you do not have a policy already in place at your company regarding reporting security incidents, now is the time to create one.

Check out guidelines from NIST for more information on creating policies and procedures around incident response (NIST SP 800-61).

Launch effective Security Awareness Training to your employees.

With Hook Security, you can easily launch, measure and automate security awareness campaigns that help you create a security aware culture.

Get a 7-day Free Trial today and see how easy it is to get started.

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What is Social Engineering? Tactics, Techniques, and Prevention

Social engineering is a technique used by malicious hackers to obtain information, data, or access from the victim. Social engineering is also referred to as "human hacking". The hacker will often use a variety of techniques to get the victim to provide them with this information, such as authority level, fear, greed, or friendship.

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