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Week 6: Your information security education, training and awareness program

Keeping your users up to date and educated on security matters is an important part of your security strategy. Get some tips on the how, what and when of security training.

Quarterly preferred; annually at a minimum.

Education is the foundation where basic skills and knowledge are developed. Applicable laws or concepts should be introduced. Most importantly, ensure users understand the "why" of security as well as the "how." An odd psychological factor about people and security is that even if people know how to do something, they often won't if they don't understand why. Next, increase the proficiency of your personnel by practicing what was taught initially. Reinforce what was taught. One caveat in driving home security awareness: Remember that incessant harping leads to apathy -- if you constantly preach security, people will tune you out.

Assess the security education, training and awareness program for your organization. Are people practicing what you preach? Are you setting an example? The best opportunity for education is during training/orientation for new employees. Take this opportunity to make all the important security points, and emphasize key policies and important procedures. Designate a time when you know most employees are around so you can have a relatively painless one-shot session, and be sure to keep records -- even a simple sign-in sheet will suffice, but a one-page, signed acknowledgement is even better. During the year, nothing drives security awareness home more than using security incidents that occurred in the company. If you don't want to air your dirty laundry, there are plenty of security incidents in the news that could happen to anyone in your organization.

Present the information through different venues to keep it fresh -- some ideas: computer-based training; videotapes; distance learning; electronic/physical bulletin board; start-up messages on local system; e-mail subscriptions; newsletters; security incidents (lessons learned, how to recognize/avoid next time, preventive measures); previous experience and manuals are just some ideas.

More information
Life, the daily newspaper, professional groups like Federal Information Systems Security Educators' Association. Humor helps, too. Visit the Fast Guide to IT Humor to get security anecdotes that teach lessons no amount of lecturing can, ranging from sarcastic to outright funny.

About the author
Shelley Bard, CISSP, is a senior security network engineer with Verizon Federal Network Systems (FNS). An information security professional for 17 years, Bard has briefed and written information security assessments and technical reports for the White House and Department of Defense, special interest groups, industry and academia. Please e-mail any comments to

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Shelley Bard and don't necessarily reflect those of Verizon FNS.

Last week: Licensing and seat management

Next week: Training yourself and your IT staff

This was last published in January 2004

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