Enhancing ISO 27001 compliance with employee cybersecurity training

July 3rd, 2024 Posted in ISO 27001

In this era of digital reliance, data breaches are more a matter of when, not if.  And with its many comprehensive controls, ISO 27001 stands out as the critical standard for protecting sensitive data and maintaining operational resilience. Yet, the true backbone of achieving compliance with this standard arguably lies in the human resource of an organisation; its employees. This article delves deeper into the critical role of employee cybersecurity training in achieving and maintaining ISO 27001 compliance, highlighting the human element as a pivotal factor in your information security ecosystem.

Introduction to ISO 27001

ISO 27001 is more than just a framework; it’s a globally recognised standard for information security. Designed to protect and manage the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information assets, this standard provides detailed controls for establishing, implementing, and maintaining an Information Security Management System (ISMS). It aims not just to protect businesses from information-exposure threats but also to build trust with stakeholders and customers by demonstrating a commitment to security.

Why employee cybersecurity training is non-negotiable

For organisations looking to comply with ISO 27001, the focus often leans towards technical solutions – firewalls, encryption, access controls, etc. Whilst these aspects are of course very important, the human factor tends to be the Achilles’ heel in the security posture of many organisations. Studies, including the Cybersecurity Insiders’ 2024 Insider Threat Report, indicate that human error and negligence are responsible for a substantial number of security breaches. This makes employee training not just beneficial but essential for compliance and security.

Some Interesting Statistics…

  • A 2023 Gartner report on cybersecurity predicts that by 2025, a lack of talent or human failure will be responsible for over half of all significant cyber events.
  • Another 2023 study by Apricorn revealed that 70% of corporate breaches in the UK directly stemmed from either employee mistakes or malicious actions. Among the security decision-makers surveyed, 22% pointed to accidental data exposure by employees as the leading cause of data breaches within their organisations, with 21% reporting that phishing emails targeting staff were nearly as common a cause.
  • 75% of the Cybersecurity Insiders’ 2024 Insider Threat Report survey respondents harbour at least moderate concern about the impact of emerging technologies on insider threats, with 19% being extremely concerned. It’s clear that the misuse of AI by insiders is a significant worry, given AI’s potential to amplify threat capabilities.
  • 70% of respondents express concern about insider risks in hybrid work contexts, reflecting the challenges of securing distributed, less controlled environments.
  • Phishing and compromised credentials were the two most common initial attack vectors in data breaches, according to the 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report by IBM Security.
  • Studies suggest that regular training can reduce compliance-related incidents by up to 70%.

Crafting effective employee cybersecurity training programmes

Implementing an effective training programme is crucial. Such programmes must be comprehensive, continuous, and tailored to the diverse roles within an organisation. They should cover foundational security practices, such as identifying phishing scams, managing passwords, and understanding the legal implications of breaches.

The importance of real-world examples

Using real-world examples and case studies can significantly enhance understanding and retention when it comes to employee cybersecurity training. For instance, discussing notable breaches and dissecting their fallout helps employees visualise the consequences of lapses in security.

In September 2023, a cybercriminal group known as Scattered Spider carried out a sophisticated social engineering attack on an employee of MGM Resorts International. The attackers scrutinised the employee’s LinkedIn account and successfully impersonated them during a call to the help desk, thereby gaining entry into the organisation’s network.

As the attack unfolded, the hackers obtained super administrator rights to MGM’s Okta, secured Global Administrator privileges for their Azure tenant, initiated ransomware attacks, and extracted data.

To curb further unauthorised access, the organisation was compelled to disable certain services. As a consequence, numerous customers found themselves unable to access their hotel rooms, operate elevators, or use gaming kiosks and consoles within the organisation’s facilities. These disruptions resulted in significant operational, financial, and reputational damages.

This example shows that even employees with limited privileges can cause significant harm to your organisation. They can misuse corporate data, install unauthorised applications, send confidential emails to the wrong address, or become the victim of a social engineering attack.

Best Practices for robust employee training

A well-structured employee training regime is essential to not just achieving but sustaining compliance with ISO 27001. Here are some best practices:

  • Regular Updates: Cyber threats evolve rapidly; training programs should too.
  • Interactive Sessions: Engage employees with workshops and simulations that encourage interaction and discussion. Make them fun and memorable for increased engagement!
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Implement channels for employees to provide feedback on training programs, helping to refine and improve them continually.

Impact and Benefits of Comprehensive Training

Well-trained employees are your first line of defence against information security threats. Training does not merely reduce the likelihood of breaches; it also ingrains a culture of security. Employees become more than just workforce; they are custodians of security, vigilant about protecting the organisation at every turn.

Compliance Advantages

  • Reduced Violations: Regular training significantly lowers the risk of non-compliance during audits.
  • Enhanced Reputation: Demonstrating a commitment to comprehensive training can enhance trust with clients and stakeholders.

Practical Tips

To integrate effective training within your ISMS, start with a thorough risk assessment to pinpoint critical areas needing focus. Develop a training matrix that aligns with various roles and responsibilities, ensuring all employees are equipped to contribute to the organisation’s security objectives effectively. There are some steps you can take to cultivate a security culture:

  1. Leadership involvement: Endorsement from top management is crucial.
  2. Ongoing education: Make learning about information security an integral part of career development.
  3. Recognition and rewards: Acknowledge and reward compliance and proactive security behaviours.

Conclusion

Achieving ISO 27001 compliance is a demanding and intricate process, yet it yields significant benefits. By implementing ongoing, strategic employee cybersecurity training, organisations strengthen their defences against cyber threats and cultivate a workplace culture steeped in security awareness. In this scenario, investing in human capital is not merely an expense but a crucial investment in your organisation’s future stability and security.

By enhancing your employee training programs and fostering a proactive security culture, your organisation will do more than just meet ISO 27001 standards—it will exemplify them, establishing a standard of excellence in cybersecurity.

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Josh Bedford

Written by Josh Bedford

As an ISO27001 consultant at Evalian, Josh helps organisations achieve and maintain ISO certification, strengthening their security posture and compliance. Previously, Josh served as Head of Infrastructure for an enterprise development agency, where he gained extensive practical and professional experience as a leadership team member, working with large brands and corporations. He joins Evalian with a solid background in both application security and practical ISO27001 and 9001 implementation, and holds several industry certificates including ITIL 4, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+.