Security Awareness Training for Employees

Minimal-risk employees are advocates for IT security – they understand and report security threats and breaches. How do we ensure all employees are minimal risk? Security awareness training. Watch the whole series here or scroll down for more details.


Password Best Practices

Managing passwords is the easiest, most impactful thing you can do when it comes to IT security. (And it’s free!)

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Reset Every 3 Months

  • Windows login
  • Email/Office 365
  • Routers and firewalls
  • Other hardware
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Marketing automation

Password Must-Haves

  • Numerals: upper and lowercase
  • Numbers
  • Special Characters i.e . [email protected]#$%^&*()

Characteristics of Strong Passwords

Passwords to Avoid

Long: The longer the password, the harder to crack. While your account may only require 6 to 9 characters, expanding to 12, 16 or more will give you a stronger password.
  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Sunshine
  • Princess
Not in the dictionary: Avoid single words or common phrases that can be found in the dictionary or vernacular.
  • 123456789
  • 111111
  • Abc123
Character substitutions: Substituting characters for letters is a good practice, but think outside of the box. Don’t substitute zero for the letter O and assume you are safe. A better option would be using the ampersand (&) for O.
  • Football
  • Baseball
  • [names of sports teams]

Illogical phrases:
 While you wouldn’t want to use a common phrase like “ThankYouVeryMuch,” you could string together completely random words like “ThankCheeseBoatsNetwork.”
  • [personal information]
  • [social media profile content]
  • Iloveyou
  • welcome
Acronyms and abbreviations: Instead of spelling out words, abbreviate them or replace phrases with acronyms that you can remember. “ThankYouVeryMuch” could become “TkYVreM.” Then add more to it so it’s longer and has a variety of characters.
  • Qwerty
  • Password
  • Password1
  • Admin
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  • Set your policy on password resets for every 90 days following the guidelines above.
  • Ensure SaaS forces password resets and supports two-factor authentication.
  • Be vigilant about the APIs your employees are asking for, and conduct thorough investigations.
  • Maintain firmware updates for routers and firewalls.
  • Anything that houses customer data must comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and have strict two-factor authentication.
  • Be sure to address legacy systems as part of your password reset.
  • Don’t make exceptions for executives – they are more frequently targeted by hackers. Skip to the Prime Targets – Finance and Executives section for more on this topic.

Identifying Fake Websites and Phishing Emails

The ability to identify fake websites and detect phishing emails gives end users the power to be vigilant against cybersecurity threats. Learn what to look for and how to respond when faced with a phishing attack.

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Identifying Fake Websites and URLs

Train your employees to pay attention to the address bar in their browser, and they’ll learn how to quickly identify fake websites.

  • Is your connection secure? Check the far left of the address bar for a padlock icon to indicate your connection is safe. Chrome and Firefox are safer browsers than Internet Explorer. Sample URLs: would be legitimate, but would be suspicious
  • Does the URL make sense? Inspect the link for special characters or numbers and ensure the domain matches that of the company’s main site.
  • Never trust a link in an email, ever. Call or compose a new email to the person who sent you the link to verify it is legitimate.

Pro Tip

  • Create your own bogus (but harmless) website and send it to your own employees.
  • Track the emails sent to see who opens them, clicks the links or reports them.
  • Implement security awareness training for users who click through but don’t report the suspicious email.

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Detecting Phishing Emails

Bogus emails attempt to trick end users into a sense of comfort, security and legitimacy. Inspect email domains, names and body content to detect a phishing attack.

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Identify Fake Email Addresses

If the domain is anything different than what you would type to access it from a search bar without any prompt, it’s most likely a bogus email.

The sender can use any names they like. Do not gauge the legitimacy of an email by sender name alone.

Recognize a Phishing Email

Security awareness involves checking the email’s domain, address and body of the email for suspicious behavior. Here are some red flags to watch for:

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  • Urgency: Any email that says “log in immediately,” “click here now” or “action required” is bogus. Nothing via email is urgent.
  • Wire transfer/receipt of payment: Before opening an attachment (i.e., invoice) or clicking a link, call the sender to verify that it is legitimate.
  • Uncharacteristic language: Inspect the email for typos, unusual tone or language that clashes with company culture.
  • Multiple links: An email with links sprinkled throughout is most likely spam. Delete it and move on.

Pro Tips

  • Draft emails containing one or all the features* listed above and send them out from both your own legitimate email address and from a dummy account (created for this training). Remember to use a fake email address with your real name and see if that trips anyone up. Hopefully the open rates will be nonexistent on the dummy account.

*For a link-specific exercise, use a trackable link in the body of the email. Check the link activity to see who accessed it.

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Tips for Cybersecurity with Network Segmentation

When it comes to cybersecurity, there is no substitute for network segmentation.

Areas of the Network to Segment

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  • Users: Privilege levels should be based on the user’s role in switching administration.
  • The DMZ: These subnetworks expose externally facing systems.
  • Guest network: Keep guest access separate from corporate access.
  • IT workstations: Give IT their own internet circuit for testing and non-administrative work.
  • Servers by department: Create a public drive and a private drive for each department.
  • VoIP/communications: This network will become a more common attack plane as communications move toward more APIs and SaaS platforms.
  • Traditional physical security: Cameras, ID card scanners and other physical devices should run on an independent network.
  • Industrial control systems: In addition to segmentation, HVAC (for example) should have two-factor authentication.

Is moving to the cloud a legitimate strategy for network segmentation? Click to read more.]

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Network Segmentation

Network segmentation is when different parts of a computer network are separated by devices like bridges, switches and routers. This helps to limit access to those who need it and protect the network from widespread cyberattacks.

Pro Tip

  • Audit your existing network architecture and use the list on this page to figure out your network segmentation priorities.
  • Evaluate what resources you’ll need to properly segment your network.
  • Create a business case to help executives understand why this is important and the time and resources it will require.
  • Communicate to end users about what you’re doing, why you are doing this, how long it will take and what downtime they may experience.
  • Back up EVERYTHING before making any changes.
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Device Policies and Security Advice for Executives

IT needs to regulate the corporate use of devices and offers cybersecurity advice for executives and finance employees. Determining what devices can and cannot be connected to the corporate network and how devices can be used while connected is IT’s responsibility. A corporate acceptable use policy should cover the following topics:

  • Connecting USB drives and personal devices to the organization’s network
  • Connecting corporate-issued devices to other networks
  • Special rules for executives and finance employees, including transfer platforms and protocols and two-factor authentication

Device Cybersecurity

What devices are allowed to enter your network and which ones are not? What policies do you have for those devices?

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USB Drives

These should always be pretested on a segmented machine separate from the rest of the network.

Buy USB drives for your employees so they don’t feel like they need to use free ones.

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Acceptable Use Policy

A corporate acceptable use policy explains what devices can and cannot access the company network and how they can be used while on the network. While an organization’s IT staff can control internal devices, such as company-issued laptops and mobile phones, they have less control over external devices like USB drives, personal mobile phones and personal laptops. An acceptable use policy returns control to the IT department and educates employees on how they can best protect the company network.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

IT should have the ability to quarantine any device regardless of who purchased it.

Research sample BYOD policies to write and implement your own.

Pro Tip

  • Leave free USB drives scattered around the office with a macro-enabled file on them that will alert you when opened. All of the offenders need to be trained on this point specifically.
  • Think it won’t work? The FBI conducted a similar exercise, leaving 10 USB drives in the parking lot. Half of them were plugged in on FBI machines.

Security Advice for Executives and Finance Employees

Finance employees and executives are targeted much more frequently than other teams on your staff.

Protocol Awareness

Finance and executives should know how your company typically executes a transfer and the protocol for doing so. Anything outside of that framework should raise a red flag and be reported to IT.

Authentication Tokens

Consider requiring a hard token that plugs into a laptop or other device’s USB port to complete two-factor authentications. Sometimes there’s no substitute for a physical barrier.

Executive Triage Training

Executives will have to bear the public relations hit when/if an incident occurs. Is anyone on staff trained on how to deal with this? Do you work with a PR firm, and do you have an incident response plan?


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  • Create an acceptable transfer policy or refresh your current policy to include these rules. Hold a meeting and train on it, then role play a few situations with the staff. Audit with finance managers and executive assistants quarterly, looking through transfer requests to see if the protocol was acted on.



How to Create an Incident Response Plan

Create an incident response plan, then take your employees and the executive suite through a breach incident exercise.

A clipboard with a checklistFirst Responders

  • Power off: Segment, power off and disconnect the ethernet cord from the machine in question.
  • Don’t delete it: Keep the suspected malicious file for inspection by a forensic investigator.
  • Communicate up: Detail who first responders should notify and their next steps in the event of a breach.

Front-Line Managers

  • Managing teams: How (if at all) should teams continue working?
  • Managing customers: Create a template email to notify clients in case of an incident affecting them.


Create an emergency kit should a breach occur:

  • Social media posts to inform and reassure
  • Email draft informing customers and supply chain of the incident
  • Email drafts for employees to personally send to customers
  • Shareholder email drafts (if applicable)
  • Schedule detailing the frequency of updates sent to customers and supply chain moving forward

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  • Threat actors are notoriously lazy. Hackers are looking for the least-trained lowest common denominator when it comes to end users. Security awareness training is your front line of defense.



Read more about Cybersecurity.