Pratum Blog

The human element of information security.

When most people talk about developing an information security program, they are referring to the administrative, physical or technical controls used to protect information. While no information security program can be effective without them, there is one key element that is often underestimated: the employee element. The reality is that employees are responsible for designing, implementing and following all of the controls put in place to protect sensitive information. One misstep by an employee can spell disaster in terms of information security. And the sad thing is that it often does.

The good news is that by providing effective information security training to our users, we can solve many of our security issues. According to the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report, nearly 1 in 3 successful cyberattacks has a social engineering component. Social engineering is nothing more than a hacker psychologically attacking a human rather than a computer. They use their knowledge of human behavior to con a user into giving them information over the phone, online or in person. If we can prevent social engineering attacks, we can reduce the number of successful cyberattacks.

Targeted Cyber Attacks Against Employees

Raise your hand if you took an information security awareness course for work this year. If that course explicitly trained you to spot and respond to specific social engineering attacks that would be targeted to you, keep your hand up. I’m guessing there aren’t many hands still in the air.

Traditional information security training is failing.

Attacks are becoming more targeted to companies and individuals. They are coming from groups that have done research into your organization’s people and practices. They have a specific target objective and have been designed specifically for this purpose.

A Small Number of Security Incidents Can Make a Large Impact

The Verizon data breach investigation reports that 23 percent of users open phishing emails and more than one in 10 click on links in these emails. This may seem like a small number, but let me put this a different way. One of every 10 users in your company will take a single action that will allow a hacker to compromise your security when presented with the opportunity. In a company of 500 people, a hacker will have 50 or more people who will provide credentials or open a machine to compromise by clicking on a link in an email. Does this paint a different picture?

Information security training has to be more than just a review of regulatory guidelines, company policies and good password selection. It has to show users examples of the types of attacks they are facing right now. It has to transcend computer use in the office and needs to show how our digital life is connected to both work and personal computer use. How can we expect people to combat digital con artists when they don’t even know how to spot them? Security awareness training is a cost-effective method for fighting back against the onslaught of attacks against your organization.

Read our blog, Top Tips for Developing Effective Security Awareness and Training Programs
Which SOC Reporting method should I use to handle subservice organization controls?

This article is written for service organizations that are going through or are considering a SOC report. The purpose of this text is to help explain how to handle controls of subservice organizations (1 A service organization used by another service organization to perform some of the services provided to user entities that are likely to be relevant to those user entities' internal control over financial reporting.). There are two methods for handling subservice organizations’ controls: Inclusive and Carve-Out.

Inclusive Method

The inclusive method is when the subservice organization’s controls and functions are included in the service organization’s description of the system. These controls and functions will be included in the scope of the report and therefore tested just as the service organization’s controls are tested. A written assertion from management must be signed by the subservice organization to state the accuracy of the controls as they pertain to the subservice organization’s services. The subservice organization must also be involved in the fieldwork, which makes communications and the ability to work together very important.

Carve-Out Method

The carve-out method allows an organization to “carve-out” or exclude the controls of the subservice organization from the scope of the engagement and report. However, it is the service organization’s responsibility to have controls in place to monitor the subservice organization to ensure their controls are functioning as intended. The monitoring of these controls will be included in the SOC examination and description of services.

Which SOC Reporting Controls Method Should Be Used?

When determining the best method for your organization, start by checking if the subservice organization has a type 1 or type 2 report that covers the outsourced services. The key here is to make sure the exact services you are using are covered in the SOC report. Organizations often have different SOC reports for various aspects of their business. If the subservice organization has a SOC report that covers the correct services, use the carve-out method.

If the organization does not have a SOC report that covers the services your organization utilizes you will most likely want to use the inclusive method. As stated above, communication and cooperation with this subservice organization will be critical in a successful audit. They have to be willing to have their control environment tested as well as provide a written assertion from management. Most organizations are willing to do this as they don’t want to lose your business. If they aren’t cooperative and don’t have or plan to implement acceptable security controls, it may be time to consider a new subservice provider.

Although the inclusive method is the preferred method for subservice organizations without a SOC report, the carve-out method can be used in this scenario as well. However, the controls covered by the subservice organization would then have to be excluded from the report and as a result your organization would not have a complete report to provide to customers. The gaps in the report may reduce the value of your SOC report and customers may raise questions regarding the completeness.

In summary, if you can use the carve-out method, use it. It will save time, money and the hassle of including another organization into the conversations. If you have any uncertainty about which method is best for your organization, please contact us.

1 http://www.google.com"}https://www.aicpa.org/Research/Standards/AuditAttest/DownloadableDocuments/AT-00801.pdf
Top Tips for Developing Effective Security Awareness and Training Programs

A common saying is that an organization’s employees are the weakest link in information security. While there is some truth to that statement, employees should be viewed as part of the solution, not the problem. Information security awareness and training activities can provide some of the best return on investment. If implemented properly, the organization’s leadership will see fewer instances of employees falling prey to cyber threats and tactics, such as social engineering, and greater reporting of suspected attempts to compromise the organization’s critical assets. To implement and maintain an effective information security awareness and training program, several “best practices” and building blocks should be used.

Top Cybersecurity Tips

Leadership

Senior leadership involvement in awareness and training activities is a critical aspect of any awareness and training program. Leadership involvement sets the tone for the program and supports the message that information security is vital to the business’ goals and objectives.

Resources

Awareness and training activities can be conducted without a large outlay of monetary resources, yet those activities can have a significant positive impact in the organization’s overall defense-in-depth strategy. In addition, awareness and training activities do not need to take up a large amount of employees’ or trainers’ time.

Learning

Depending on the size of the organization, there may be up to five generations of learners, and each generation, in general, learns differently. Within the learning model, activities for employees generally fall into the awareness and training categories. To enhance retention of the information provided, consider activities that take into account the various generations of learners. Gaming and challenges are popular across all generations, so consider adding them into the mix.

Strategy

To have the most effectiveness, a long-term strategy should be developed to provide leadership’s vision of the culture it hopes to instill. To support the strategy, a 2-year plan detailing quarterly information security themes and topics should be developed. Activities can then be based on these themes and topics.

Analytics

To ensure there is a proper balance of activities and information, metrics can be useful. First, to understand the organization’s current culture, a “baseline” should be developed. From this baseline, other metrics collection and analysis methods can be used to gauge whether the organization’s security culture is shifting in the direction envisioned in the strategy.

Persistence

Information security training conducted one time per year is simply not enough. Awareness and training activities should be spread across the year to provide greater persistence. Cyber threats are constantly changing, and the awareness and training program must be agile enough to provide information regarding the latest threats.

Timeliness

Information provided to employees should reflect the latest news about best security practices, cyber threats, and company information security policies and standards. Information provided to employees in a timely manner may mean the difference between avoiding a data breach or falling prey to an attack that causes significant damage to the business.

Relevance

Awareness and training activities should include not only information relevant to work and the business, but information that applies to employees at home and on travel. As organizations see more business conducted on personal devices, as well as the impact of cybercrime on employees in home and travel settings, the awareness and training program should provide information pertinent to these situations.

Feedback

One of the best “bang for the buck” training activities is sending your organization’s employees phishing emails, simulating social engineering tactics that are used in a large portion of successful attacks against individuals and organizations. This type of activity can take advantage of “the teachable moment.” If an employee clicks on the fake link or opens the attachment, the employee is taken to a landing page for immediate feedback and additional information. Feedback that is immediate is proven to be much more effective than feedback that is delayed.

Incentives

Employees like incentives. Consider adding them to your awareness and training program. For example, if an end user avoids clicking on a phishing email link, or answers all questions right on an information security quiz, a positive reinforcement may be to provide that employee with a reserved parking spot for a period of time, granting a few extra hours off, or praise that employee in a newsletter.

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You can get the printable version of this article here.

Top Tips for Developing Effective Security Awareness and Training Programs
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