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Cyber education for your workforce: Where to start

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Governments, corporates and SMEs all need increased protection to counter the ever-present and changing cyber threat. Government systems are vulnerable to cyber espionage and critical national infrastructure to cyber sabotage and terrorism. These in turn impact the economy, with businesses and citizens systemically losing money to increasingly innovative cyber criminals. Keeping how wide-ranging the threat is in mind, there are variables to consider for any organisation; levels of maturity, organisational understanding, risk appetite and, of course, budget. Regardless of these variables (and provided there is budget), there is one element of cyber security that every organisation should undertake – educating your entire workforce on cyber security, from marketing assistant to chairman of the board, and to those specifically tasked with cyber or information security functions.

In this blog post I’ll look at where to start by prioritising education using both a knowledge and skills gap analysis approach.

Only a third of businesses have a formal policy or policies covering cyber security risks.

Cyber Security breaches Survey 2019 – Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Understand the threat

First and foremost, you will need to identify and understand threat(s); depending on the nature of the business and sector it will be different for every organisation. There is one constant however – at some point, your business will be affected by attempts to break in to try to disrupt, steal or extort. Who the threat actor is will depend on your type of business or industry and what their ambitions are but being able to identify the risks involved is a great start – then you can do something about it.

One example of a threat is that more than 90% of breaches occur as a result of a successful phishing campaign. By understanding that phishing is a threat to your end users, you can put in place incoming email rules alongside education, which will better prepare the organisation to defend against campaigns. In addition, an effective security exercise using a simple phishing assessment can showcase vulnerable and exposed business areas, which can be targeted at all or some users.

Risk appetite and prioritisation

Cyber risk is often not translated effectively at board level into any typical business risks. So, if any breaches do occur, unless there is a traumatic effect financially, operationally or reputationally, it can be difficult to obtain funds to consider even the basics correctly – or even to determine that a root cause of a breach is associated to a lack of information security management.

It’s always important to remember that when it comes to effective cyber security, there isn’t a guaranteed ‘all-in one’, off-the-shelf solution and, crucially, a combination of both human and technical security measures is needed. Once you or the leadership team have identified the key risks specific to your organisation and the risks you accept, informed decisions will need to be made about what steps will be taken, to mitigate each remaining risk to protect priority assets, data and your reputation. Specific areas of the workforce should always be considered for prioritising education as a key part of the approach; questions to consider may be:

  • Which roles could put your business at risk – does everyone need training?
  • Does your IT team need upskilling?
  • Do you need to create an information security team to design and implement controls?
  • Is it necessary for you to have a proactive cyber security team to constantly monitor network traffic?

Less than a third of businesses have sent their staff for cyber security training in the last 12 months.

Cyber Security breaches Survey 2019 – Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Knowledge gap analysis

With priorities in place, the next step should be to conduct a gap analysis to see who knows about good information security. The focus should be those staff members who work closely with protecting your prioritised assets – likely data. It may be that those in the IT, Finance or HR teams are prioritised – where the threat of losing high value data is possible. Finding out who knows about information security is also a great way to identify potential security champions to have a further positive affect on workforce culture, or potentially allow those with expertise progress into new roles.

Skills gap analysis

Should your organisation need entire teams to manage all or some aspects of cyber security, then working towards conducting a skills gap analysis is a sensible and effective option. However, this must also include training and development planning aligned to key functions, reporting lines and retention strategies – all of which can use or develop technical or human security implementations.

Depending upon the nature of business your organisation undertakes, roles or teams may need to be designed and created, or responsibilities moved to a current workforce to manage all required functions. Skills’ development plans can aid timely growth using blended learning— online and classroom training, expertise from mentoring, self-study combined with undertaking immersive and practical labs— to enhance and diversify skills needed to combat the evolving threat.


Generally, cyber security and added responsibility scares people – predominately because they don’t understand, and it seems like an overwhelming subject to grasp. As such, communication to your workforce about the need for them to participate is important – people also don’t tend to like change. Lack of buy-in from the end user can lead to frustration and complacency, potentially cancelling out any investment made into education in the first place. For practitioners it is important to demonstrate organisational buy-in, to reassure them that cyber security is being taken seriously and proportionately— with the appropriate level of resource, training, policy and tools.


Deciding on the best methods for implementation will vary. In terms of helping humans, an awareness programme for all staff would be a baseline recommendation; this can include internal communications, training, workshops, phishing assessments and maintained by elements of interactive e-learning.

If you have roles specifically responsible for cyber or information security, then budgets for recruitment and training need to be carefully designed to fit with your workforce culture and security strategy with their values maximised.

Start your workforce transformation by learning

By educating decision makers to allocate budget and the wider workforce on how to simply combat threats with good IT behaviours, you have already made strides in standing up organisational posture. Knowing how to prioritise spend for effectiveness can be just as challenging; there may be little tangible return of investment to demonstrate, but it is the appetite to do something before or after damage is done which may be the key to sustaining resilience.

How the we can help

Our team have helped public and private sector organisations of all sizes and types to fill knowledge and skills gaps. We have designed life-long learning career pathways for leaders and practitioners, implemented skills and development frameworks, as well as successfully recruited and grown clients’ workforces effectively. Our trainers are also our operational experts, which enables them to share practical insights and provide relevant mentoring.

If you would like to discuss educating your workforce, please contact us.