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Security Awareness Requires Carrots, Sticks — and Lots of Communication

Mar 19, 20073 mins
Data and Information SecurityIdentity Management SolutionsIT Leadership

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — At Cisco Systems, John Stewart, vice president and CSO, estimates that he delivers 95 percent of his security awareness training online, and about 5 percent in person at the networking giant. At biotechnology company Genzyme Corp., Bhavesh Patel, director of information security, says he does the inverse: about 95 percent live presentations about security to employees and 5 percent online.

But while the delivery channels might differ, the security executives talking at CSO Perspectives agreed that effective security awareness programs require top-management buy-in, policies that require accountability for bad acts and rewards for employees who perform well. And good awareness programs also require a great deal of communication about the stakes involved in protecting corporate assets.

At Cisco, Stewart says, the security awareness program works to convey those stakes in bottom-line terms. “We tell them, here’s what your protecting. A company with a $150 billion market cap, our customers” and data about them.

The company’s online security training includes workers clicking on buttons that indicate they have read security policies and agree to abide by them. If someone violates a policy, Stewart can check if they have agreed to abide by them. Such conversations can become awareness tools, Stewart says, by educating an employee about the reason for policies and the risk involved in violating them.

Both Stewart and Patel say they offer rewards to employees who perform well by alerting security to a problem, for example. Patel says his security team makes a point of praising an employee’s performance to his manager. Stewart says he organizes awards presentations — one in front of the award-winning employee’s department, and a second one in front of Stewart’s security department. Financial rewards are also part of his arsenal at Cisco. “People don’t mind being patted on the back,” he says, adding wryly, “I’m not beneath bribing” good performance.

Both Cisco and Genzyme are companies that grow by acquiring other companies, and both Stewart and Patel say they work to gain access to new employees from mergers to begin awareness training as soon as possible. Patel says that Genzyme’s security group is part of the acquisition team.

“When a merger and acquisition is announced, we do a presentation on day one,” Patel says. “We tell [new employees] what they have available to them” in terms of security.

Stewart says that Cisco has learned over time — and many acquisitions — that one size does not fit all new acquired companies. Some require Cisco’s direct involvement and others have well-established security programs in place.

Stewart says he also publishes an in-house web page at Cisco that includes security updates and information about security awareness tips. He says he is in the process of making some of those articles public on to share those tips with the public.

— Michael Goldberg