Security awareness: Three big reasons why an annual webinar is not enough


Given that 49% of organisations have faced critical security consequences as a result of employee errors, the need for security awareness training for all employees is undeniable.

But how frequently must this be delivered to reduce threats?

This blog outlines why training must be given significantly more frequently than an annual refresher course to mitigate against cyber-attacks.

Reason #1: Security threats are evolving rapidly Germany’s AV-Test Institute holds one of the world’s largest collection of malware samples and, each day, over 350,000 new samples are registered.

Because of such an incredible pace of change, security awareness training material must be continuously reviewed and communicated to ensure that employees are receiving the very latest intelligence to help them defend against the very latest cyber-attacks.

Delving into the detail, it’s immediately clear how such a speedy evolution of threats is impactful on the end user.

Symantec’s 2019 Internet Security Threat Report revealed that web attacks increased 56% over the last year.

And enterprise ransomware has gone up 12% at the same time.

A growth in attack numbers brings increasing diversification and sophistication of tactics from cyber criminals: prior security best practice can quickly become out of date.

As a result of the 400% growth in SSL based phishing in the second half of 2018, previous advice that employees should trust websites where there’s a padlock in the address bar must be updated.

Similarly, Microsoft Office documents now make up 48% of malicious email attachments vs 5% a year previously: annual updates are demonstrated to be insufficient to keep employees abreast of the kind of attacks they should be looking out for.

Given that 34% of organisations now consider unaware employees to be their biggest security vulnerability, it’s crucial that adequate time and resource is allocated to ensuring that end users are provided with the latest know-how they need to help them mitigate against the cyber threats they’re facing today.

Reason #2: 

Your employees won’t remember the training For end users to act as your first line of defence, it’s crucial that training content remains at the forefront of mind so this can be recalled instantaneously in the face of malicious activity.

So how frequently does training need to take place to achieve this level of retainment?

Well, the Ebbinghaus ‘Forgetting Curve’ is a commonly accepted theory of memory retention which proves that as much as 79% of training content is forgotten within 31 days of delivery without reinforcement.

This is very bad news for an annual programme of security training: should an employee face an attack just one month after completing the course, almost 4 out of 5 of the tell-tale signs of malicious activity they learnt then will now be missing, significantly impeding their ability to prevent cyber criminals from gaining a foothold in your organisation.

Annual security awareness sessions are also problematic due to the sheer volume of information that needs to be communicated.

From phishing and password attacks to social media malware and data protection, the growth and evolution of threats means that annual webinars may begin life as a short and succinct session but often quickly evolve into something long, unwieldy and unengaging.

After reviewing more than 6.9 million educational sessions, an MIT study concluded that the optimal length of a video-based training session is less than 6 minutes.

Further research of 1.3 billion video plays by Wistia indicated that the first 3 minutes of a video achieve considerably greater engagement than those which follow.

These factors are a firm affirmation of a ‘little and often’ approach to security awareness training to maximise recall: annual training simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

Another key practice that should be used as an element of a security awareness learning journey is testing: this has been demonstrated to improve recall of knowledge by as much as 38%.

Follow up of annual or induction-based security training is often lacking but facilitating a simulation or a 5 – 10 question test, covering the key learnings, can have a considerable impact on a person’s ability to remember crucial security know-how should they face an real-life attack.

It’s also a great way to measure that users have fully understood and absorbed their training.

Reason #3:

The regulators say so We all love to hate them, but the regulators and analysts base their advice on the latest cyber security intelligence and they are unanimous in their endorsement of a programme of regular, continuous security awareness training.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre includes ‘User Education and Awareness’ in its top 10 steps for cyber security, insisting that ‘all users should receive regular training on the security risks to the organisation’.

These sentiments being echoed by ISO 27001 (A.7.), Control 17 from the Center of Internet Security (‘Implement a Security Awareness Programme’) and analyst house, Gartner.

Both ISO 27001 and the CIS doubly emphasise the regularity of the training by insisting that organisations must ‘plan and implement a programme of awareness, education and training throughout the employment lifecycle (not just at induction)’ and that an ‘effective cyber defence training is more than an annual event: it is an ongoing process’ respectively.

Gartner, too, encourages an ongoing programme of security awareness training, stating that ‘security and risk management leaders must invest in tools that increase awareness and influence behaviour that supports security business objectives through computer-based training’, going on to endorse ‘solutions in the market that are capable of producing measurable improvements in employee security behaviour’.

Gartner is not alone in supporting an ongoing programme of training which demonstrates continuous improvement, with ISO 27001 requiring that the organisation ‘carry out skills, knowledge, competence and awareness assessments’, while the CIS mandate that ‘training is repeated periodically, measured and tested for effectiveness.

Advice from Rob Savage, Chief Technology Officer with Avatu, the information security advisors. Rob can be contacted on 01296 621121 or email: