PCI – Going Beyond the Standard: Part 19, Security Awareness Training (SAT)

I really should give up being surprised when the most basic of information security fundamentals are performed poorly, but this one constantly amazes me. I guess it’s no different than a doctor being surprised at smokers, or the police surprised at repeat offenders, we can accept as common sense what others perceive as new concepts.

Education and Training is so important that I have listed it as one of The 4 Foundations of Security, along with Management Buy-In, Policies and Procedures, and Governance. The fact is that education is the best and cheapest way for an organisation to implement the desired organisational culture, and distribute the policies and procedures in a manner where they actually understood and followed.

The intent of PCI DSS Requirement 12.6.x is to ensure all employees are trained in their security responsibilities as they relate to the protection of cardholder data. That’s it, just cardholder data, so you can obviously ignore every other form of sensitive data in you environment, right? What about your financial data, or intellectual property, or personal data? Unfortunately you cannot go above and beyond in PCI unless it relates to the protection of cardholder data, so with the exception of perhaps frequency of training, there’s not a lot you can do here.

That’s for PCI though, for your BUSINESS it’s a very different matter, and there is a lot you can do to add true benefit across the organisation. Not just in terms of security either.

The mistake most organisations make is the assumption that security education and training only refers to things like keeping your passwords secret, or not lending out your swipe cards. Yes, training includes these things, but it starts with a thorough coverage of all relevant policies and procedures. I say relevant, because you’re not – for example – going to train your sale team on the proper implementation of firewall configuration standards.

Training is not just some paperwork exercise during on-boarding, then an annual obligation thereafter, it’s the way you bring someone into your organisation and have them up to speed and productive in the fastest time possible. It’s also how you begin to instil the corporate culture (i.e. your policies), and how you ensure that they are performing their duties in-line with standard practices (i.e. your procedures).

Once they have the basics, you can move on to role specific training, and then, if you’re REALLY doing this properly, you will have the individual job specifications detailed to the point where anyone being on-boarded can step straight into the leavers’ shoes with barely a backwards step.

That’s really the whole point; security awareness training is NOT just a compliance obligation, it’s an integral part of your business continuity and knowledge management processes. It can be the difference between a constant reinvention of the wheel every time you have a mover or leaver, and uninterrupted growth. You may argue that this is more than just security awareness education and training, but I will counter that without proper knowledge, there IS no security.

While I agree that every time there is a staff change, the training itself should be reviewed and revamped as appropriate (preferably by the person bringing the new pair of eyes to it), NO-ONE who is just starting should have to work out anything for themselves on how to perform the function to which they have been assigned. At least to a minimum standard. Unless of course it’s a brand new role, in which case they will be responsible to develop and document everything necessary to replace themselves in time.

Too often this is seen as making yourself replaceable, but if you can’t be replaced, how can you move up, or even across?

To perform security awareness and training properly, follow these steps:

1. Like access control, the best way to begin developing a good training program is to properly define the requirements, first at a ‘corporate’ level (everyone), then at a more granular ‘role’ level (sales, systems admins. etc.), and finally at an ‘individual’ level.

2. Once this matrix is complete, combine this ‘paperwork’ into an online delivery mechanism which is a combination Document Management System (DMS) and distribution method. That’s really all online training software is; content management.

3. Run everyone through the program, regardless of tenure, and regardless of when they last took it. Track all ‘signatures’ (an online ‘I Accept’ will suffice).

4. Run training again at a minimum annually, but preferably every 6 months. A good balance is full course annually, and Top 10 Things to Remember at the 6 month mark.

5. Throughout the year, use this distribution method to announce major changes to policies and procedures, as well as ‘zero day’ threats (new phishing techniques for example), for significant changes to relevant compliance regulations or laws, and any ad hoc matter for which you require – for liability purposes – a written confirmation of acceptance.

 6. Provide a robust feedback loop and standardised forms for all personnel to request policy / procedures changes, or to create new ones.

I’ve not touched here on the actual content of the security training, it’s too organisation / sector specific, but there are certainly some basics (101 stuff as the Americans would say). However, the development of a comprehensive and sustainable training program requires specialist skills and experience, so make the effort and expense, there’s not one investment you can make that has a greater ROI.

If you think I'm wrong, please tell me why!

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