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How to Educate Employees About Cybersecurity

How to Educate Employees About Cybersecurity

As cybersecurity threats become bigger and more serious than ever, all companies need to educate their employees about proper cybersecurity. When you consider the high cost of a single data breach (both in terms of money and credibility), it would be foolish to do otherwise. Unfortunately, the whole thing is not necessarily simple or easy. Cybersecurity is a somewhat technical subject, and some of your employees will surely find it difficult. However, good teaching practices can make a big difference in this department. Let’s go over some basic concepts that should surely prove helpful when educating your employees about cybersecurity.

Principle 1: The Teacher Is Responsible For The Students

When some kind of data breach has occurred, it is easy to blame the common employee. In many cases, it will be a common employee that clicked on the phishing email or otherwise fell for some kind of trap. However, that doesn’t always mean that they were at fault. If no one took the time to educate them about the dangers of phishing emails, how can they be blamed for opening one?

As the instructor, you are responsible for the proper instruction of your students. If they don’t know what to do, that is probably your fault, not theirs. At the same time, this is not to say that there should be no accountability when something goes wrong. However, the principle of group accountability will be more useful here. The company as a whole is responsible for creating a culture of cybersecurity, and that is why you don’t put all the blame on one person.

Principle 2: Start With The Most Basic Concepts

Your main problem when educating your employees about cybersecurity is this: Not everyone is technologically inclined. Even though most people know the basics of how to use a computer, it may have been years since they needed to use those skills. As such, you should start with the most basic concepts and build from there.

One of the main things you might emphasize at first could be the use of strong passwords. This is a simple enough concept that anyone can understand its ideas, and strong passwords make a good “first line” of defense against intrusion. Make sure that people understand how easy it is to hack a simple password. To demonstrate the point, you might have one of your tech people show how a brute-force attack program can get through a simple password in minutes. Then, for comparison, show them how the program fails to penetrate accounts with strong passwords. Just for reference, when we say “strong passwords,” we mean 15-20 characters long, have uppercase and lowercase letters, contain both numbers and symbols, and should not contain any common words in any language.

Principle 3: Emphasize Encryption From The Start

It’s been around since the dawn of computing, but encryption remains one of the best ways to protect your data and privacy. Although there are some complicated aspects, the average employee should have no problem understanding how it works and how to use it for routine security procedures. In any case, you need to make sure that you emphasize the use of encryption from day one.

You might be wondering why encryption is so important, and it’s for one simple reason: It works reliably. Even the best hackers cannot penetrate encryption once it passes a certain level of complexity. After that point, they have to rely on social engineering methods like phishing emails and spoofed web pages. The reliability of encryption comes from the fact that the computer is unable to decrypt things without a password. Because the password is used to decode the scrambled data, it is not physically possible for the computer to unlock itself until the user gives that password.

Principle 4: Hold Regular Training Sessions

We should talk a little bit about the means by which information will be disseminated. You could go with a seminar, and this is one popular approach. Many companies will hold cybersecurity seminars for their employees, and these will often include expert speakers who can offer a lot of good advice. However, there is one problem with seminars: They are usually one-time affairs.

Education doesn’t really work by using a single session. Education works by hammering the same points over and over until the entire class can recite them from memory. Without that regular repetition of the key lessons, a lot of people won’t remember any of the information they hear. That’s why you should hold regular cybersecurity training sessions, probably on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.

Principle 5: Encourage Caution In All Communications

We have mentioned phishing emails several times, and there is a reason for that. Phishing emails are the most common example of a social engineering-style cyberattack. Instead of attacking the system itself, they go after the users. When people are using strong passwords, this might be their only method of breaking into your system.

Phishing emails work by using a disguised link, and many other social engineering hacks will use a similar approach. The message or email will be made to look like something trustworthy, like an email from your bank or a text message from a charity to whom you’ve given in the past. Some will even claim to be from the government, and some will even claim that you are legally liable to take some action or another.

This is a particularly important area of cybersecurity, especially when it comes to employee management. All it takes is one foolish employee to click on the wrong thing and compromise the entire system. As an employer, you can help to deal with this problem by using a compartmentalized system, meaning that each person only has access to the information they need. Your employees can help to deal with this problem by developing cautious browsing habits.

Principle 6: Incorporate Cybersecurity Into Your Standard Employee Training Program

Whenever a new hire comes to your company for their first day of work, they will probably need to go through a training process. The length of this training process is usually not that long because everyone is anxious to get to work. However, it is worth your while to extend that training period a little bit. That way, you can incorporate a thorough education in cybersecurity concepts.

By doing this, you send a message to that employee (and all others, by word of mouth) that good cybersecurity is mandatory at your company. They need to understand that it is expected of them to maintain a safe and secure environment. Not only that, but you also give them the knowledge that they need in order to comply with those requirements.

Principle 7: Use Positive Reinforcement As Much As Possible

When teaching anyone to do anything, it is necessary to reinforce the lessons that have been taught. This can be done in two ways: Positive methods, which rely on rewards to reinforce good behavior, and negative methods, which use punishment to deter unwanted behavior. Of the two, you will find that positive reinforcement tends to get the best results, although it is best to use them together.

While negative reinforcement has its place, it should never be the first step. Positive reinforcement should be the first solution, whereas negative reinforcement should be the last resort for problem cases. This is a case where most violations of the rules will be the result of ignorance rather than malice or irresponsibility. One clever way to do this is to offer rewards for any employee who spots a phishing email and brings it to the attention of their supervisor.

Principle 8: Use Your IT People To Conduct Cybersecurity Drills

In spite of all the best precautions, a cybersecurity emergency can always occur. When that happens, everyone needs to know how they should respond. Because this is an emergency that doesn’t threaten anyone’s physical well-being, they might not be inclined to treat things with the necessary seriousness. To make sure they understand otherwise, you can have your IT people conduct all kinds of simulated attacks.

The idea is very similar to penetration testing, where you attempt to hack your own system just to see if it can be done. The idea of a data breach drill takes penetration testing to the next level. Those who respond appropriately can be praised and rewarded as a means of encouraging the others, while those with malicious intents can often be flushed out of hiding with a drill.

Principle 9: Teach Everyone About The Importance Of Keeping Good Backups

You will want to make sure that your employees know all about the most dangerous malware of all: Ransomware. While any kind of virus or malware can do massive damage, most of them are easier to handle than a ransomware attack. Ransomware attacks are so dangerous that even government systems have fallen prey to them in the past.

Ransomware works by first gaining covert entry into your system. Once there, they begin encrypting all your data in place. Normally, this would make things more secure, except for one problem: Only the hacker has the password. As you might imagine, they are not going to give you that password without a sizeable payment. In many cases, even after they are paid, these criminals fail to return the stolen data. The only reliable way to deal with this problem is a robust and well-maintained backup system.

Every employee should be made to back up their data on a semi-regular basis. The exact interval will vary from job to job, but frequent updating is a must. If you need a bare-bones measure, assign your IT people to make a system image once per week. That way, if anything should go down, you will only lose a week of productivity (at the most). There will still be losses, but those losses can be minimized.

Principle 10: Make A Formal Set Of Policies

In many cases, your employees will not respond well to “suggestions.” When it comes to cybersecurity, you cannot afford for things to be that loose. Every employee who fails to follow the rules will represent a weak point in your corporate armor. Of course, it would be extremely unfair to enforce these rules without giving people fair notice about them. That’s why you need to have a formal set of cybersecurity guidelines.

These guidelines will have to include mechanisms for enforcement so that people will understand that they are not merely suggestions. As we said before, negative reinforcement is not the preferred way, but a little bit of it can be beneficial to all. However you may choose to enforce your policies, your employees have every right to know the details.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a couple of the most common questions that we receive on this subject.

Doesn’t antivirus software take care of all this?
In spite of their claims to the contrary, antivirus software is not a universal solution. While these programs can be very helpful, they are only meant to function as the first line of defense. Not only that, but they can also serve as an early-warning system that triggers a more serious program into action. The antivirus program is like a security guard in that there is a limit to how much they can detect and deter.

How much does the average employee really need to know?
The answer to this question will depend on the nature of your company. If you deal with high-tech wares and services, every employee should have an extensive knowledge of cybersecurity. If not, they just need to understand the primary attack vectors, as these are more likely to affect them.


A cybersecurity education doesn’t have to take years, and it doesn’t have to be a hassle for anyone. By using these basic principles, you should be able to create a streamlined and highly effective training regimen. Cybersecurity is only going to get more important as time goes on, so don’t expect this threat to ever go away. Like any other threat, you just have to stay ahead of it, and we hope that we have aided you in that endeavor. If so, you can help us by filling out the contact form.