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Security Awareness

What is a Security Awareness Training Program?

Nick Santora

One of the most effective cyber security strategies to prevent a cyber attack is to implement a security awareness training program for your employees. Every employee in your company should know what to look for in a suspicious email, where to report it, and why it’s so important. 

But it doesn’t stop there. There are other security awareness topics such as ransomware, physical security, information security, passwords, and the list goes on that employees need to be knowledgeable about. But not many organizations know where to start when building their own security awareness training program.

Each and every employee needs to develop the skills needed to defend themselves against the bad guys. In this post, we’ll discuss the components of building a strong cyber security culture in your organization.

First, let’s answer some commonly asked questions…

What is the Primary Purpose of Security Awareness Training?

Simply put, it’s a training plan with a set of activities that help promote security awareness within an organization. Without one, your organization is “expecting” employees to know everything without actually educating them on cyber best practices. Awareness is just the beginning. You need to start somewhere by building awareness around common security topics so everyone is on the same page.

Training comes next. A security awareness training program is more than just running phishing tests. You need a fully comprehensive program with training content and education, in addition to essentials such as an email phishing simulation software.

Your employees are the first line of defense against a cyber attack, and by building a culture of security through training, you’re enabling them to better defend your business. You cannot place a value on cyber security training because ultimately organizations spend much more money, time, and resources cleaning up after a data breach than they did to prevent one.

What Do You Need for Security Awareness Training?

Here are the 16 must-have components that every security awareness training program should include.

1. Content

You need to have fun and relatable content so employees stay engaged and use critical thinking based on what they learned. You want your employees to say they actually like the content instead of being bored in another ‘Death by PowerPoint’ presentation. The topics should include all the modern cyber threats such as phishing, social engineering, passwords, ransomware, multi-factor authentication, and even giving an introduction to the importance of cyber security. Lastly, your content should discuss why security awareness is so important for your organization.

2. Phishing Simulator

Phishing simulation tests are one of the best ways to measure the effectiveness of your security awareness training program. As part of your security awareness program, phishing tests should be run at least monthly, and consider all of the latest real-world phishing scams. The goal is to test your employees on how they would respond and defend against suspicious emails. Phishing tests allow your organization to train employees in a safe environment so they can learn from their mistakes.

3. Report Phishing Service

Employees need a one-stop shop on how to report any suspicious phishing emails. Regardless of which device they’re on, every employee should know the routine of what to do if that phish-y email hits their inbox. This is important so IT security teams can be notified and respond to company-wide phishing threats.

4. Learning Management System (LMS)

You need a simple LMS to record, track, and distribute content to all employees, including contractors and vendors. Most security awareness vendors have this LMS component in their platform. A learning management system helps you organize your training instead of tracking down messy spreadsheets. An LMS allows you to run compliance reports to auditors to demonstrate the results of your security awareness program. 

5. Notifications & Reminders 

You need a way to automate training notifications, as well as reminders, to all employees to take their training. You can’t chase down every individual employee, emailing them with a reminder to take their training. A security awareness training platform can take care of this for you by automatically sending an email ‘nudge’ to complete their required training course. You should also be able to customize these notifications, when to send them, and how often to notify employees.

6. Policies

Security policies guide employees to better understand how your organization applies the concepts they’ve learned to formal company protocols. Without policies, employees are left guessing on what the appropriate controls are when it comes to cyber security. Your security awareness tool should be able to link employees directly to your company policies.

7. Security Awareness Posters

Posters are a great way to connect the digital world to the physical world. They should be designed to capture employees’ attention while highlighting key security concepts. Posters should be fun, colorful, and focused on the same security campaigns that your organization has scheduled to run.


Key takeaways should be included in content that supports every area of your security awareness program. These downloads are supplemental to the same training topics you have scheduled and are a fun reward for your employees to continue promoting your culture of security. Think about phishing defense guides, desktop wallpapers, and other fun content to engage employees and keep security awareness top-of-mind.

9. Incentives

Think through how you might reward the best-behaving employees in your program. Instead of just focusing on the struggling employees, highlight your security heroes. Examples of incentives include extra PTO days, gift cards, CEO recognition, charity donations, and anything positive that you could offer in your company to acknowledge team members who have completed and excelled in their security training.

10. Executive Support

Your security awareness program will need executive buy-in and a team to support the program. If the executive leadership doesn’t support establishing a security culture, that indicates a lack of understanding for their role in security. Their job as leaders is to identify risks and develop strategies that could impact the business. From there, they can establish action plans to act on those strategies and identified risks.

11. Rollout Plan

You can’t successfully launch your security awareness program without a strong rollout plan. How are you going to announce this new training for your employees? What day will this happen? Will it simply be in an email or at a company ‘all hands’ meeting? How often will you roll out new content? A big mistake is thinking security awareness training only happens once a year. Having a rollout plan will help to ensure the successful continuous adoption of your security initiatives.

12. Goals & Metrics

An organization can’t be successful without creating goals to support the growth of its security awareness program. Different goals can be set for things such as completion rates, phishing report rates, scores on quizzes following training content, reduced clicks on simulated phishing emails. Your organization goals should ultimately be designed to communicate the success of your program.

13. Feedback Loop

Getting your employee (user) feedback is essential for your security awareness training program. Hearing firsthand from the people who use the training will help your team to understand what’s working and what’s not. Then, your organization can modify or improve the program as needed. This helps to close the feedback loop and communicate these insights to your executive leadership team. It’s important to not treat your security awareness program as a one-way street.

14. Motivation

How do you get buy-in from your employees to participate in the program? You want to connect with employees on a personal level first so they can mentally opt-in to the security concepts they’ll be learning. One example of how to motivate employees in security awareness training is showing how someone’s bank account could be drained if they don’t have multi-factor authentication turned on. It’s important that employees encourage each other to be motivated in protecting your organization.

15. Ambassadors

Think about creating a security awareness influencer group within your organization. Contrary to popular belief that all managers should be ambassadors, it’s the exact opposite. Ambassadors are people who are likable, charismatic, and who other employees respect and trust. This influencer group can help get company buy-in to make security become part of your company culture.

16. Events

How might your team create unique events that support security awareness campaigns? Things like a ‘password day’ with a game to crack a password with your employees playing ‘cryptographer’, or ‘two-factor Tuesday’ to make sure this is turned on for accounts; anything that can be done on company time to better promote security best practices. Your events should relate to your content as part of a broader security awareness campaign.

How to Build a Better Security Awareness Program?

These are the baseline components you should be aware of when building your cyber security awareness training program. As you can see, running a security awareness program requires participation from everyone in your organization to be successful. You’re not in this alone – which is why Curricula takes most of this off your plate as an extension of your team.

Here at Curricula, we make security awareness fun, engaging, and inclusive for everyone. Check out one of our free episodes to learn more about how to to build your security culture.

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