Cybersecurity training for employees has come a long way in the last few years. Back in the day, security training was largely reserved for IT security specialists and then extended to include IT personnel in general. These days, all employees need to be well educated in security best practices and good habits if the organization wishes to steer clear of ransomware and malware.
Security awareness training for employees has come into its own of late. It’s a symptom of success when Gartner launches a brand new Magic Quadrant (MQ) category, and that has happened to this area of IT in the last couple of years. Another success indicator is that the biggest company in the field and the leader in the Gartner MQ – KnowBe4 – achieved Unicorn status (worth a billion dollars) and went public. As a result, the field of security training is a hotbed of startups and competitors keen to muscle in on the action.
The current focus of most security awareness training initiatives is on phishing – and with good reason. Phishing is responsible for the bulk of breaches. Users get hoodwinked into clicking on a malicious attachment or URL and this inadvertently lets the bad guys in. The never-ending threat posed by careless end users has also raised the profile of other solutions like secure email gateways.
Cybercriminals have gotten very clever about how they fool employees – posing as emails from trusted vendors, government agencies, or even from email addresses within the company, a deceptive practice known as spoofing. They fashion subject lines designed to gain attention and be opened. It takes discipline to think before clicking on an urgent link from your CEO. Thus the goal of training is to educate users so they are far less likely to fall prey to the various ploys from the hacking fraternity.
Here are our picks for the best cybersecurity training tools, followed by a discussion of product features and buying considerations.
Cybersecurity Awareness Training Overview
- Top cybersecurity training tools for employees
- Cybersecurity training tools profiles in-depth
- Key security training product features
- Vendor selection tips
- Phishing and ransomware top employee security concerns
- Employee security awareness tactics that work
- Elements of a Successful Employee Security Training Program
Top Cybersecurity Training Tools for Employees
NINJIO prepares organizations to defend against cyber threats through their engaging, video-based training courses. They earned the highest score among providers named "Customer's Choice" in Gartner's 2022 "Voice of the Customer” Security Awareness Computer-Based Training report. Teams love NINJIO because of their Hollywood-style microlearning episodes, each based on recent, real-world breaches. Click below to get the full Gartner report and 3 free episodes, and see why everyone loves NINJIO.
ESET Cybersecurity Awareness Training is specifically designed to educate your workforce—because employees who recognize phishing, avoid online scams and understand internet best practices add a vital layer of protection for your business.
Developed by ESET researchers and educators, this comprehensive online course takes under 90 minutes to complete. Employees enjoy an engaging learning experience through gamified quizzes, interactive sessions and role playing.
- Elevate Security
- Living Security
- SANS Institute
- Infosec IQ
Ninjio uses short, animated videos designed to keep trainees’ attention while demonstrating the necessity of cybersecurity. Each video is between three and four minutes long, and they release new ones each month. Based on real companies that have had a security breach, the training offers scenarios employees might encounter and how to address them. And there’s even a gamified leaderboard to encourage engagement and keep employees involved.
- Hollywood-style storytelling for better connection and engagement
- Uses real-life examples
- New episodes each month
- Offers a private hosting portal
- Interactive quizzes in multiple languages
ESET cybersecurity training provides on-demand training that allows employees to follow along at their own pace and repeat courses when they need a refresher. Rather than covering all of the issues surrounding cybersecurity, the courses focus on the ones employees are most likely to face, like phishing, credential theft, and social engineering. There’s a free option that covers the basics and best practices for remote employees, but if you want gamification, email reminders, and a phishing simulator, you’ll need to upgrade.
- Phishing simulator
- Takes less than 90 minutes to complete
- Over 30 years of research and in-house training experience
- Real-time reporting
KnowBe4 is the superstar of the field, having achieved Unicorn status as a startup that achieved a value of $1 billion. Its main focus is on security awareness training as opposed to others that develop security applications as their main strength. The company has gone public now. It offers baseline testing to find out how phish-prone an organization is, has a huge library of security awareness training content, automated training campaigns, simulated phishing attacks, and a way to monitor improvements in user behavior.
- Interactive browser-based training
- Skills-based and security culture surveys with a focus on improving security culture
- Custom phishing templates and landing pages
- Employee engagement to report suspected phishing
- Comprehensive training library with fresh content
- AI-driven phishing and training recommendations
- USB test, vishing, and smishing included
Cofense PhishMe takes a broader view than staff education. As well as training, it catches the phishing emails that bypass email gateways. It rapidly detects, analyzes, and automatically quarantines phishing attacks. In addition, the company offers PhishMe Playbooks that are 12-month programs with phishing simulation scenarios, landing pages, attachments, and educational content.
- A Smart Suggest capability uses algorithms and best practices to recommend scenarios based on current active threats, industry relevance, and program history
- Cofense Reporter provides detailed reporting on phishing patterns and results
- Cofense PhishMe Catalog has thousands of educational assets, including videos and infographics
- Automated responses to phishing attacks
- Includes technology to detect and catch phishing email attacks to prevent them from reaching users
CybSafe offers simulated phishing, training, and the ability to establish risk perception levels. By assessing someone’s basic knowledge of security with a few questions, their perception of different risks, and how confident they are, CybSafe can tailor itself to each person with personalized awareness training, security advice, and threat updates.
- Data-driven personalization means that each person receives the content they need
- Metrics and insights on what’s working and what’s not
- Understand how people learn best, how well knowledge is retained, and changes in confidence
- NCSC certified training
- Security culture assessment
- Access anywhere on mobile and desktop
The Elevate Security Platform uses benchmarks, tailored security controls, and personalized feedback to focus attention on risky employees. Once again, it is technology backed by user education rather than purely being user security awareness training.
- Orchestration with security controls, decision support systems, and executive dashboards
- The attack surface is analyzed and defended across actions, access, and attacks
- Leverage existing incident data from security technologies and employee data from HR sources
- Creates human risk scores for analysis
- Orchestrate policy and automate response
- Decide which security tools and systems to control, for whom, and at what level
Mimecast Awareness Training uses humor to engage employees and change behavior via awareness training videos. It uses recurring characters and themes to communicate information with content written and produced by TV and film industry professionals in an effort to maintain employee attention and reinforce training.
- Each cyber security training module takes no longer than three to five minutes to complete
- Reinforces key concepts by delivering training to every employee once a month
- Those who need more help based on test results and risk scoring can receive targeted training
- Multiple languages supported
- Integration with Mimecast email security technology streamlines phish testing and analysis
Proofpoint acquired its security training technology in 2019 from Wombat. Proofpoint Security Awareness Training helps you deliver the right training to the right people at the right time, with education tailored to individual needs. The company also offers email security, threat protection, and cloud security tools.
- Consistent training around the globe with multi-language support
- Track progress with dynamic reporting and a results API
- Integration with Target Attack Protection (TAP)
- Detects Very Attacked People (VAPs) and Top Clickers in the organization, giving insight into the types of threats they’re receiving or engaging with
- ThreatSim Phishing Simulations to understand susceptibility to a variety of phishing attacks
- CyberStrength knowledge assessment tool assesses user vulnerabilities beyond email and USB drives, covering critical security issues such as the use of mobile devices, social engineering scams, passwords, and web browsing
Living Security sees security awareness training as a starting point where human risk management is the next evolution in decreasing cyber threats in an organization. It focuses on risk minimization rather than KPIs based on a phishing report. As such, the company provides personalized campaigns of content based on the threat indicators of the customers. This includes live-action experiential learning rather than video training of long modules (10 to 30 minutes). Living Security uses gamification to increase employee engagement.
- Security Awareness Program Owners (those in charge internally in organizations for launching security awareness programs) are provided with internal marketing campaigns to help rally internal end users to willingly do the security training
- Human Risk Management through Living Security UNIFY, an integrated analytics platform that leverages security data to produce insights, enabling targeted interventions and to improve the overall security of an organization
- CyberEscape Online utilizes gamification principles, with storylines, strong narratives, and engaging puzzles
- Company-wide leaderboard that brings employees together while learning how to be more secure
- Specifically developed for CISOs, CIOs, CSOs, IT directors, IT managers, and security awareness program owners
Lucy is focused mainly on the European market but has been growing steadily and has established a U.S. office. It consists of a series of modules to test, train, and engage employees as well as test the infrastructure to look for weaknesses. As well as phishing attacks, it educates users on ransomware, portable media attacks, malware simulations, file-based attacks, and spoofing attacks via realistic simulations.
- A variety of predefined, multilingual attack simulations (phishing, malware, smishing, USB attacks, etc.) test whether employees are really familiar with the dangers of the Internet
- More than 200 interactive, web-based training modules (videos, tests, quizzes, games, etc.) on various security topics
- Integrated authoring tool allows companies to create new learning content, or Lucy can create custom content
- The Lucy Mail Plugin for Gmail, Outlook, and Office365 integrates employees into the detection of and fight against cyberattacks
- Monitor attack statistics and eLearning progress in real-time
- Track all attack simulation statistics like the number of emails that were opened, how many links were clicked, and how many attacks were successful
SANS Technology Institute offers full undergraduate and graduate programs in cybersecurity, but it also offers employee training for businesses. The computer-based training includes different training styles to match your corporate needs and employees’ learning styles. It includes challenging games that keep users involved and helps them retain the information better. Additionally, SANS offers an Insight Risk Assessment, allowing your organization to prioritize training on the threats you’re most likely to face.
- Custom cybersecurity awareness programs
- Knowledge assessment lets organizations avoid wasting time on skills their team has already mastered
- Behavioral awareness tools to assess risk
- Phishing simulator with different tiers of difficulty
- Automated delivery of tests over a 12-month period
Infosec IQ offers pre-built cybersecurity training programs or allows companies to build their own from existing modules. There is a large content library complete with both industry and role-specific training modules to prevent your employees from learning about topics that don’t impact them. The phishing simulator provides instant feedback when a user takes unsafe actions, so they can safely learn from their mistakes. There are over 1,000 pre-built simulations to choose from, but you can also build your own.
- New phishing templates are added weekly
- Infosec team is very involved with implementation
- Flexible and customizable reporting
- Short training videos improve retention
- No tiered access to content
Key Security Training Product Features
The vendors in this field are quite varied. Some are squarely focused on user education while others are developers of security tools that have ventured or expanded into the training arena.
Key features from the standpoint of employee security training include:
- Varied training, not one size fits all
- Simulated phishing capabilities, smishing, vishing
- Single platform as opposed to a few features cobbled together
- Low administrative overhead and no jumping from screen to screen
- Library of training and phishing content
- Ability to customize
- Real brand logos used for phishing
- Multiple languages
- Randomization of phishing campaigns
- Security assessments
Vendor Selection Tips
Those considering their security awareness training options should consider the following:
- How is user management handled? Is it a manual process? You want to assess the ease of administration of whatever vendor you choose. If there are multiple systems or consoles, be sure to ask the degree of integration between those systems
- The volume of training content provided. How important is it to your organization to have an ongoing campaign with fresh content? A small training library means stale and infrequent training.
- Availability of localized training, phishing content, and international/multilingual content to sustain frequent training.
- Is the vendor dedicated to security awareness training as its core focus, or is it an add-on to a wide variety of products that are bundled as integrated?
- What does customer support look like and how well is it reviewed?
- Find out how many capabilities come with the subscription level, what functionality is included versus what requires managed services and extra fees.
- What reporting and support features are included with the subscription?
- Is customized and branded training content important? If so, check to see if branding capabilities are in the platform.
Phishing and ransomware top employee security concerns
As a productivity tool, the email inbox has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. HP Wolf Security reported that 89 percent of malware now comes from email—a sign that web and browser security are improving, but email remains the big problem.
Among the types of attacks that workers often fall for, “phishing, spear-phishing and/or whaling” is number one, according to Dan Lohrmann, CSO at security awareness training provider Security Mentor.
“Remember that phishing can happen with people clicking on links in emails, but also via social media and even phone calls,” Lohrmann said. Also, people are still opening attachments from strangers, he added. Social engineering essentially involves running a con, using email or a phone call, to gain access to a protected system or information through deception, often via spoofing. In the case of spear-phishing or whaling, both terms for more targeted attempts at scamming important high-value individuals, a considerable amount of effort can go into fooling victims.
Lance Spitzner, director of Security Awareness at the SANS Institute, cautioned that scammers like to use social engineering to make their victims jump to attention and get hearts racing.
“The most common tactic cyber attackers use is creating a sense of urgency, pressuring or rushing people into making a mistake,” Spitzner said. “This can be a phone call where the attacker pretends to be the IRS stating your taxes are overdue and demanding you pay them right away, or pretending to be your boss, sending you an urgent email tricking you into making a mistake.”
Research from Cofense, home to the PhishMe simulation program, shows that workers tend to lower their guard when money is involved. John “Lex” Robinson, anti-phishing and information security strategist at Cofense, says, “All these models involve the exchange of money, an emotionally charged topic that elicits strong responses,” he said.
Some attackers don’t care much for stealing valuable information. Instead, they use malware that encrypts a victim’s files and holds them hostage without ever transferring the data. They demand a ransom for the encryption key that restores access to those files, hence the term ransomware.
Approximately 37 percent of global organizations said they were hit by ransomware in 2021, according to an IDC survey. And in the first half of 2021, the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) reported $590 million worth of ransomware-related costs, an increase over the $416 million reported for all of 2020.
“Ransomware and phishing continue to be the most common attacks users are falling for,” observed Rob Clyde, chair of ISACA and executive chair of White Cloud Security. “Moreover, attackers often find that it is easier to make money using ransomware attacks.”
Good data protection practices, particularly maintaining regular backups, makes ransomware more of an inconvenience than a cripplingly expensive cybersecurity incident, although IT security teams and administrators will likely have their hands full sanitizing affected systems.
Employee security awareness tactics that work
It may seem like an uphill battle, but there are ways businesses can arm their employees against these and other devious methods attackers use to scam businesses out of sensitive information or their cash.
Here’s what to consider while evaluating a security training awareness vendor or creating a program of your own.
1. Start On Day One
When a new employee comes on board, security training typically takes a back seat to filling out HR paperwork, being assigned to a work area, and getting issued a laptop. Brandon Czajka, virtual chief information officer at Switchfast Technologies, believes in getting employees ready for the cybersecurity threats they’ll encounter during any given workday from the moment they accept a job offer.
“There are several security training vectors available out on the market that can easily be incorporated into an organization’s new hire onboarding process or used as a frequent means of keeping these threats front of mind,” Czajka said, noting that many are similar in this regard.
2. Watch Emerging Threats
The cybersecurity landscape can change drastically in no time at all, which is why it’s important to use a security training awareness vendor or service that keeps its finger on the pulse of the market so that employees don’t wind up blindsided by the latest scam.
“Ultimately, it is best to select a training platform that not only defines past data breaches and how organizations responded to them – learning from past mistakes – but also one that keeps the training material up to date with new breaches as they occur in real-time,” Czajka said.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
Simulations are used to sharpen the reflexes of air pilots and military personnel in challenging situations and to teach them how to respond. Similar information security training can expose employees to the latest deceptions and attacks, helping them guard against risky behaviors that can lead to data breaches.
Cofense’s Robinson advocates a similar “learning by doing” approach to block security threats that workers may encounter during the course of their jobs.
“This is best accomplished through the use of active threat simulations that provide the end-user an experience they will remember and a new action to take; in the case of phishing, the new action is reporting [the threat],” said Robinson. Organizations that fail to instill this mindset lose the ability “to address and mitigate threats in real-time,” he added.
4. Explain Why
Learning with the immediate feedback provided by security simulations can help concepts stick, but companies can go further by making it clear why the training is important.
“User engagement is further driven by transparency within an organization,” Robinson said. “To that end, awareness and training materials need to clearly outline why security is important both at work and at home. In other words, make the training personal.”
5. Fix The Password Problem
Weak, reused, and easily guessed passwords continue to be a major security weak spot. According to First Contact, 51 percent of employees use the same passwords for both personal and work logins. They also show that 57 percent of users who have fallen victim to a phishing attack didn’t change their passwords afterward.
Elements of a Successful Employee Security Awareness Training Program
If you want employee security awareness training to work, you need to learn what to look for in the programs you’re considering.
Know Your Audience
Messaging matters, and effective training programs let organizations tailor their content to their audiences.
“The message is different for a group of government internal auditors than for a room full of COs from large companies,” Security Mentor’s Lohrmann said. Other factors to consider include jargon, current hot-button issues, the order in which speakers or instructors appear, and topics to broach. Don’t force your entire team to sit through training on issues that only IT will ever have to deal with.
Droning on about the technical aspects of a cyberattack is a surefire way to lose an employee’s interest. “Audiences love cyberwar stories,” Lohrmann advised. “People remember stories much more than facts and figures.” Choose training programs that tell stories and can connect with employees in a way they’ll understand.
Choose Interactive Learning
Get the crowd involved to help employees retain the material presented to them. Look at programs that offer interactive modules or simulators to help employees practice what they’re learning. This practice will improve both engagement and retention. At the very least, ask for a show of hands and pepper sessions with questions for a more engaged audience, said Lohrmann.
What is the point of raising staff security awareness if a program falls short on the “awareness” part?
“You need the ability to measure those changes in behavior and the overall impact those changes are having to your organization,” cautions Spitzner. Your training program should include an analytics module, helping you see how employees are performing on their simulations, so you can address mistakes in a safe environment.
Effective Online Training
The secret to good and effective online training is keeping it “brief, frequent and focused on a single topic,” Lohrmann said. Additionally, it should be ongoing to help users keep up with the latest trends. Echoing some of the themes above, it should also be engaging, entertaining, and interactive.
When looking at training programs, consider how often vendors come out with new content. New threats are always emerging, and your training needs to evolve to keep up with them. Cybersecurity training isn’t a one-time thing, but a constant reminder of the threats your business is facing and how your employees can help guard your data.