Making a Business Case for Information Security Training

While information security training is an absolute necessity for any modern organisation, it can be surprisingly difficult to convince decision-makers to allocate funding, let alone perform a successful rollout.

First Published 9th December 2020  |  Latest Refresh 17th March 2023

Making a Business Case for Information Security Training

"Throw your hands up in the air and wave them if you keep your password on a post-it note!"

8 min read  |  Reflare Research Team

The Main Process Steps

In this article, we will guide you through the essential steps required to get IT security training for both tech and non-tech staff approved, funded and implemented.

Before diving into the details, let’s get the main process steps out of the way first. These are the pillars that your business case is built upon. While their specifics will vary depending on your organisation, they always need to be rock-solid as they underpin everything else you do. 

1. Document Your Business Case

Gather all of the intelligence related to information security training in your organisation in one place. Examples of data you will want to gather include, but are not limited to:

-   How many staff members need to be trained?

-   By when and at what recurring intervals does the training need to take place?

-   Are you subject to legal, contractual, or policy-based guidelines on what needs to be trained?

-   Is your workforce uniform or does it consist of separate groups (e.g. “IT” and “sales”)?

Having all of this information in place, organised, and appropriately tagged will allow you to both convince decision-makers of the requirement for funding and roll out a training program with minimal friction.

If you feel like you lack the capability to accumulate this information, this is the right point in time to add experts to your team. 

2. Get Decision Maker Approval

Gather all of the intelligence related to information security training in your organisation in one place. 

If your decision-maker is a CISO or if you are the decision-maker, this will be the easiest part. Otherwise, it might be the hardest. Find out who the decision-maker is and tune your proposal to them. An IT manager will need different information than an on-technical board. 

The information gathered in step 1 will be used as the basis for this step. Highlight the benefits of training your workforce. Points to highlight include: 

-   The cost of training vs. the cost of a breach 

-   Explaining that turnkey solutions such as web application firewalls and endpoint protection can are not replacements for a well-trained workforce 

-   Training currently in place with competitors 

-   Legal, contractual, or policy-based training requirements you might be under 

3. Track the Ongoing Execution of Your Training

Once funding is approved and training is rolled out, it is essential that you establish a tracking routine. While all reputable information security training solutions come with tracking and analytics built-in, you will need to establish reporting schedules and metrics. 

Questions to ask include but are not limited to: 

-   Who needs to take the training? 

-   When will they finish the training? 

-   At what intervals will users be automatically notified about upcoming or passed deadlines? 

-   What are the processes and penalties in place for training failure? 

-   At what intervals is the training solution itself evaluated? 

How Does Information Security Training Improve Security?

This is the core question you need to answer in your proposal. If training does not improve security, then it is a waste of resources. In the following paragraphs, we will walk you through the general benefits of good training solutions. You will need to adapt and adjust them to the on-the-ground reality of your organisation. 

Identifying Risks and Challenges

The process of implementing and executing information security training forces an organisation to evaluate and understand the risks it faces related to its infrastructure. If done correctly, it also leads to an inventory of systems, data, assets, staff roles, staff capabilities, and risk surfaces. 

If insufficiencies exist within the organisation, the process of training will likely make them become apparent. This in turn is the first step toward mitigation. 

Protect Assets and Infrastructure

The better trained your workforce is, the less likely a breach becomes and the smaller the impact of a breach will be. Apart from direct financial losses due to theft, downtime, and destruction, organisations increasingly also experience losses caused by ransomware, government fines, loss of consumer trust, and theft of intellectual property. Since the losses caused by successful breaches are often massive, money invested into training tends to have a very high return on investment. 

It is important to note that as a rule of thumb, the weakest organisation in a given vertical is most likely to be hacked. Attacks cost money and attackers will usually go for the lowest hanging fruit. By training your workforce, you increase the resilience of your organisation which in turn increases the cost of hacking it. With a higher cost, the next cyber-attack might hit your competitor instead of yourself. 

Detect Breaches Faster

Even with the best security policies and systems in place, breaches do happen. One of the factors with the biggest impact on how costly a breach is for the organisation is the time to discovery. Breaches that are discovered, stopped and mitigated in minutes cause repercussions that are orders of magnitude smaller than those that go unnoticed for years. 

Training your workforce reduces time to detection in multiple ways. For one, the formalization of assets and staff roles leaves less ambiguity for attackers to work with. With clear rules established and your workforce trained on them, attackers are much less likely to be able to trick your staff or exploit forgotten systems. For another, better-trained IT staff makes fewer mistakes, which in turn reduces the attack surface of your infrastructure. 

Lastly, staff members tend to default to inaction. If something suspicious is detected but no clear rules for reporting or guidelines for normalcy are in place, then no report will be filed. And without reports, detection will take a long time.  

Respond to Breaches Faster

Once breaches are detected, they need to be mitigated. This requires both specialists and cooperation from your wider workforce. Specialists rely on regular employees to inform them about abnormalities they experience. And abnormalities can only be detected in contrast to an established rule.  

Unless you train your staff members on what to expect, any irregularities resulting from a breach could simply be changes made to the system.  

Recover From Breaches Faster

Lastly, good training will make a recovery from breaches much faster and less costly. For one, the combination of quicker detection and response will limit the damage that is done to your organisation. For another, better-trained staff and more clearly defined resources make it easier to repair the damage that has been caused. 

Identifying Benefits

Based on the points outlined in the previous section, you now need to establish key benefits for the proposed training implementation. To do so, you require access to key metrics. These metrics will vary widely based on the size and kind of your organisation. Examples include but are not limited to: 

-   Number of breaches per year 

-   Average time to detection per breach 

-   Total monetary damage through cyber attackers per year 

-   Average time to full recovery per breach 

-   Percentage of staff members failing phishing drills 

-   Number of security vulnerabilities identified during pre-release audits 

If you do not have access to the metrics you need, this is the time to gain access. Find the people that hold the information and build pipelines for the information to regularly make its way to you. 

It is also likely that some of the metrics do not yet exist. If they can be derived from existing metrics, put a system in place to do so. If not, include the creation of set metrics in your proposal. In any organisation, projects live and die by numbers. Make sure that you have access to the numbers you need. 

Once the metrics are in place, codify them into benefits for reporting. 

If adjacent companies publish their own metrics, this is a great time to borrow their figures to estimate the impact training will have on your organisation. Make sure not to forget to scale all figures relative to organisation size and risk surface. 

Also, resist the trap of using easy metrics that do not apply to your needs. For example, if your organisation is 98% non-IT, then the results of pre-release audits may be very easy to get and clean-cut but they are also almost meaningless for your general security. 


Download: This is a useful "tear-out" for both tech and non-tech leaders to consume your case from problem to analysis to solution in a digestible format. (pdf) / (ppt)

Establish Risks and Mitigations

The risks associated with information security training fall into three major categories: 

1)   The Budget For Your Training Outweighs the Benefits

This can happen if your chosen training is a bad fit for your organisation or if the training is of low quality in general. 

To mitigate this risk, perform a thorough evaluation of available training options and fit them to the requirements established in previous sections.

Resist the urge to buy from the best-known vendor in your field since those vendors are often generalists that cannot provide the best solution for your particular targets. 

2)   Performance Metrics Are Not Met

This point strongly correlates to (1). Unmet performance metrics are either caused by a bad fit, a misunderstanding of your organisation’s needs, or bad employee compliance.  

Mitigating this problem requires you to first understand which of these three factors (or which combination) is the root cause. Bad training fit can be mitigated by different training. False assumptions about your organisation’s requirements can be mitigated by a renewed audit of your goals and assets. Insufficient compliance can be mitigated through improved incentive and punishment structures. 

3)   The Training Fizzles Out and is Never Fully Implemented

Hopefully following this guide will prevent such a scenario but it is important to remember that projects without clear goals, reporting guidelines and staff assignments can end up in limbo when key decision-makers are replaced. 

Ensure that you either control the execution and budget of the training rollout or that guidelines are in place should the person who does be replaced. 

The benefits you identify in the previous section will also allow you to see if the training you implemented is adequate. If after a while the metrics do not show improvement relevant to your organisation, it might be time to look for a new vendor with a better fit. 

Understanding every possible scenario that you need to train for will ultimately be impossible. However, keeping up to date with the challenges other organisations are currently facing will save you time, effort, and pain! Review some of our related research briefs, and learn from the misfortune of others.

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