Cyber attacks and data breaches are a constant threat to businesses of all sizes. As digital connectivity increases, so do opportunities for malicious actors to access company systems and data. Implementing an effective cybersecurity awareness training program is crucial to educate employees and reduce the likelihood of successful cyberattacks. 

This article overviews key considerations for developing a cybersecurity awareness training program tailored for small and medium businesses.

Basics of Cybersecurity Awareness Training

Ongoing Cyber Security Awareness training is key

Cybersecurity awareness training teaches employees to be the frontline of defense against cyber threats. It aims to change behaviors and security culture by building employee skills to identify risks and respond appropriately. Effective awareness training should:

  • Cover fundamental topics like phishing, malware, social engineering, passwords, physical security, and safe web browsing.
  • Use engaging formats like videos, games, quizzes, and simulated attacks.
  • Be continuous, with refreshers and updated content covering new threats.
  • Track participation and phishing click rates to measure effectiveness.

Well-trained employees are less likely to fall victim to attacks, minimizing the biggest cybersecurity vulnerability – the human element.

Employee Engagement in Cybersecurity Training 

Personalized training helps drive employee engagement

For training to be effective, employees need to be actively engaged. Consider these tips:

  • Personalize content using real-life examples relevant to employees’ roles. Training should be role-specific when possible.
  • Make it interactive and fun with scoreboards, rewards, and friendly competition.
  • Evaluate knowledge retention with low-stakes quizzes.
  • Share cybersecurity newsletters and “Lunch & Learn” to reinforce messaging.
  • Incentivize participation with prizes or time off.

Engaged employees are more receptive to retaining knowledge that keeps the organization safer.

Cyber Threat Landscape Updates

Security Specialist Monitoring Threats

Cybersecurity training content should stay current with emerging cyber trends, attack vectors, and new compliance regulations. Update existing modules or add new ones to address:

  • Prevalent cyber threats like ransomware (such as LockBit), DDoS attacks, or data breaches.
  • Work-from-home and mobile security best practices.
  • New phishing techniques, clickbait tactics, and SMS phishing.
  • Data privacy regulations like GDPR or CCPA impact security measures.

Refreshing content ensures employees have the latest skills to identify and respond to cyber risks.

Role-Specific Training Modules

Role based Cyber Security Awareness Training

While all employees need foundational security awareness, additional role-based training should be provided. For example:

  • Information security roles need training on leading awareness initiatives, technical safeguards, and mitigating threats.
  • Finance staff need safe practices to identify and avoid business email compromise scams.  
  • HR personnel need guidance on data privacy and securely handling sensitive information.
  • Executives are prime targets themselves and also need to understand security governance principles and leadership best practices. 

Tailoring training to specific audiences makes it more directly relevant and impactful. 

Compliance and Regulations

Cyber Security Awareness Training for Compliance Requirements

Depending on your industry, there are likely mandatory compliance requirements that awareness training must satisfy. Common standards include:

  • ISO 27001 outlines information security standards with training control objectives.
  • PCI DSS requires security awareness for companies handling payment card data.
  • HIPAA demands regular training on protecting patient healthcare data.
  • SEC rules necessitate cybersecurity practices and training for financial firms.

Verify training adheres to all applicable federal, state, and industry regulations.

Phishing Awareness 

Phising Email

One of the most critical training topics is phishing. Teach employees how to:  

  • Scrutinize sender addresses for any irregularities.
  • Check for grammatical errors uncharacteristic of legitimate emails.
  • Never click embedded links or open attachments from unverified senders.
  • Watch for urgent language demanding immediate action or threatening account suspension.  

Then test them with simulated phishing emails to reinforce these lessons and identify areas for improvement.

According to the 2023 State of the Phish report, only 35% of organizations conduct phishing simulations.

Social Engineering Awareness

Social Engineering Awareness

Social engineering attacks manipulate human psychology to gain sensitive info or access. Employees should learn how to identify tactics like:

  • Pretexting with elaborate cover stories to build false trust.
  • Quid pro quo offers to exchange a service for information.  
  • Tailgating by following authorized people into restricted areas.
  • Shoulder surfing to spy on someone entering passwords or PINs.

This makes employees less prone to manipulation outside of phishing attacks.

Remote Work Security

Person using public Wi-Fi cautiously on a laptop

The shift to remote work due to the pandemic expanded the cyber risk landscape. Employees should learn best practices for:

  • Securing home WiFi networks with strong encryption and passwords.
  • Ensuring the use of trusted collaboration apps and avoiding shadow IT.
  • Recognizing new vectors like SMS phishing or video call hijacking.
  • Practicing safe online browsing when accessing company resources remotely.

Specific guidance to secure remote work environments is key for a distributed workforce.

Continuous Learning and Updates

Continuous Learning

Cybersecurity training is not a one-and-done annual exercise. A mature awareness program provides continuous education through:

  • Monthly or quarterly refresher courses to reinforce concepts.
  • Brief monthly newsletters or cybersecurity tips.  
  • “Lunch & Learn” on new cyber topics or incidents.
  • Guest speaker events to lend external expertise.

Ongoing learning and a cyber secure culture ensure cyber practices stay top of mind after initial training.

Find Out How Effective Your Security Awareness Training Is

Measure how effective your cyber security awareness program is

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) like phishing click rates, training completion rates, knowledge retention, and more allows you to gauge training effectiveness and improve the program.

Surveying employees on takeaways, relevance of content, and delivery methods also provides valuable perception data to refine awareness training. 

Free Training Courses and Cybersecurity Exercises

Free online training courses and cybersecurity exercises offer an accessible starting point for bolstering workforce preparedness. While not as comprehensive as paid solutions, they provide fundamental knowledge on topics like phishing, social engineering, passwords, data protection, and safe internet usage.

For example, the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers a range of free awareness resources like videos, game-based training, newsletters, posters, and more. Interactive elements like phishing quiz games reinforce retention while contextualizing threats through real-world simulations.

Although basic, integrating free training content into a broader cybersecurity awareness program can enhance culture and evaluate knowledge gaps cost-effectively. Many solutions also provide downloadable awareness materials to support ongoing learning. Pairing these foundations with robust simulations and analytics builds a strong security-minded workforce.

Wrapping Up

Implementing a thoughtful cybersecurity awareness program tailored to your organization’s needs gives employees the knowledge they need to be a defense asset rather than a liability. Integrating continuous training, role-specific content, and simulations makes it highly effective at reducing human-driven risk. Prioritize awareness to protect both your business and people from ever-evolving cyber threats.

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Keep up to date on the latest cybersecurity awareness training and resources.


Cyber security awareness training teaches employees to identify cyber threats like phishing, avoid risky behavior, and respond appropriately to security incidents.

The 6 tips are recognizing social engineering, using strong passwords, securing devices, assessing attachments/links carefully, reporting threats quickly, and continuously educating yourself on cyber issues.

After completing their annual training, you can obtain your DoD cyber awareness certificate on the DoD Cyber Exchange site.

Cyber awareness training costs range from free for basic resources to hundreds of dollars per employee for comprehensive packages with phishing simulations, games, analytics dashboards, and more.

Typical cybersecurity training teaches risk analysis, data protection, threat intelligence, governance, technical safeguards, incident response, awareness, compliance, and disaster recovery.

The six pillars of cybersecurity are identification, protection, detection, response recovery and governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC).

DoD cyber awareness training certificates are valid for one year from the date of completion.

Army cyber awareness training is available on the DoD Cyber Exchange site.

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