four People discussing a work procedure on a whiteboard in the background. Foreground text: Redefining Security Awareness: The Persona-Based Approach Part 2

Redefining Security Awareness: The Persona-Based Approach

Part 2: Understanding the Persona-Based Approach

Welcome back to our series on transforming the way we approach security awareness. In our previous blog about redefining security awareness, we underscored the urgent need to move beyond the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach. Part 1: The case for change in security awareness training, advocated moving toward a more tailored strategy that addresses the diverse roles and associated risks within an organization. This segment delves deeper into the persona-based approach, explaining how it significantly enhances the effectiveness and engagement of cybersecurity training programs.

In the context of cybersecurity, a persona-based approach involves crafting distinct, detailed profiles for different groups within an organization. These personas are semi-fictional representations based on a combination of actual employee data and strategic assumptions about their roles, behaviors, and interactions with IT systems and data. This method aims to tailor security training that resonates more deeply with various employee needs and risks, thereby fostering greater awareness and adherence to security protocols.

Step-by-Step Creation of Cybersecurity Personas

Step 1: Data gathering

The foundation of persona development is data. This involves collecting comprehensive details about the workforce, including job roles, departmental functions, daily routines, and the types of data they access. Surveys, interviews, and observational activities are crucial at this stage to gather nuanced insights into the workforce’s interaction with information and their security practices.

Desk with a notebook and marker. There's text written on a page of the notebook: Information Gathering.

Step 2: Employee Segmentation

Using the data collected, employees are categorized into groups that share similar job functionalities, security needs, and risk levels. For instance, employees in finance might handle sensitive financial data, whereas marketing personnel might focus more on customer data and content management systems.

Step 3: Developing Persona Profiles

For each identified group, a detailed persona is developed. This profile includes not only professional attributes like role-specific tasks and data access levels but also psychological and demographic factors such as typical behavior patterns, attitudes towards cybersecurity, and preferred learning styles. These personas help in understanding how different employees perceive security threats and their likely reactions to various security scenarios.

Step 4: Risk Assessment

Each persona is assessed for specific security risks pertinent to their access privileges and daily work habits. This step is critical in identifying the most significant threats each persona faces, such as susceptibility to phishing attacks for those frequently handling emails or risk of data leakage for roles with access to highly confidential data.

Hand of a person representing a fictional cybersecurity persona

Step 5: Scenario Planning

Developing realistic scenarios in which these personas might face security threats is crucial for the next step of training development. These scenarios help in crafting training modules that simulate real-life situations, enabling employees to practice and internalize appropriate security responses.

Advantages of Persona-Based Training

The persona-based approach offers numerous benefits that address the limitations of traditional security training methods.

Firstly, training that directly relates to an employee’s daily tasks and potential security challenges holds their attention better than generic training. When employees understand the direct impact of cybersecurity on their specific roles, they are more likely to engage seriously with the training content.

In addition, tailored training that reflects the real-world experiences of employees leads to better retention of information. By connecting security practices to familiar tasks and scenarios, the training makes it easier for employees to recall and apply security measures when needed.

Persona-based training focuses on influencing employee behavior, not just imparting knowledge. By addressing specific behaviors that need change, such as the handling of confidential data or reaction to suspicious emails, the training directly contributes to reducing security risks.

A female employee in the foreground working behind a laptop. In the background you can see two of her colleagues discussing notes on this colleague's behavior change.

Lastly, customizing training content to different personas allows organizations to allocate resources more efficiently. High-risk groups can receive more intensive and frequent training, whereas others might benefit from less frequent refreshers, optimizing both time and cost spent on training.

Conclusion: Preparing for Implementation

The development of persona-specific training content is a critical phase where theoretical personas are translated into practical training modules. Each training module should address the unique risks identified during the risk assessment phase, using the scenarios developed to provide contextually relevant challenges that the persona might face. This method ensures that the training is not only informative but also practical and actionable.

With a thorough understanding of what persona-based training entails and the significant advantages it offers, organizations are better prepared to implement this innovative approach. The next steps involve actual development and integration of the personas into the security training strategy, a process we will cover in our next installment.

Stay tuned as we continue to guide you through this transformative journey, helping you not only to meet compliance but to genuinely enhance your organization’s security culture through effective and engaging training that resonates with every employee.

BONUS: download a comprehensive example “creating a cybersecurity persona for a systems administrator”

Note: This blog was created with assistance from ChatGPT.