Proving the Value of Security Awareness with Metrics that 'Deserve More' Without metrics that matter to the business, awareness programs will continue to be the bastard child of security.
Awareness programs are a staple of any good security program, yet they rarely get the resources that they require to accomplish their goal. The reason seems to be, "You get the budget that you deserve, not the budget that you need."
Awareness programs generally run phishing campaigns and push out computer-based training (CBT). Phishing has some potential demonstration of value. CBT proves people view training. There might be some collateral advantage as well. However, the only tangible metrics most awareness programs provide is proof of compliance, and potentially showing that people become less susceptible to simulated phishing.
To "deserve more" you need to determine metrics that show true business value. To that end, I've broken awareness-relevant metrics into four categories: Compliance, Engagement, Tangible Return on Investment (ROI), and Intangible Benefits.
Compliance metrics involve ensuring that an organization satisfies third-party compliance needs, which, in general, means that you ensure employees complete awareness training. The minimal amount of budget required to provide training to your employees is justified at a minimum level.
This is the most common category of metrics that I see used by most awareness practitioners. These metrics involve the general use and acceptance of the awareness components. Completion metrics, which overlap with compliance metrics, is one form. Sometimes, people are surveyed about the likability of the materials. Metrics may also include voluntary engagement with supplemental materials, such as if a user voluntarily takes extra awareness training, attends an event, etc.
There are two caveats with engagement metrics. They don't indicate effectiveness, and remember that the more engagement people have, the less the time they are performing their jobs.
Tangible Behavioral Improvement and ROI
This is the metric that shows employees are actually raising their security awareness. In this case, you need to measure actual security behaviors or the indications of those behaviors. It is irrelevant if people can recite the criteria for a good password. Do they have a secure password? It doesn't matter if people know they should secure sensitive information. Do they leave sensitive information vulnerable when they leave their desk?
Simulated phishing attacks do not demonstrate behavioral change. The issue is that while simulated phishing attacks could indicate how people might respond to real attacks, it is too easy to manipulate phishing simulations to return any level response that you want. On the other hand, fewer malware incidents on the network are a relevant metric.
Ideally, you want to attach a financial value to behavioral changes. For example, if malware incidents are decreased by 25%, and there is an average cost associated to malware incidents, you can calculate an estimated ROI. Likewise, if there are fewer incidents associated with compromised credentials, you can calculate an estimated ROI. To do so, you need to collect metrics that are related to potential awareness failings, and track those metrics.
Clearly, you want to demonstrate a financial return; however, there are other potential points of value to an organization. For example, if an awareness program creates goodwill toward the security department, users may be more likely to report incidents and cooperate with other efforts. If users believe the awareness program generates value to them, there might be better employee retention. If employees are less susceptible to personal attacks, they might spend less time at work mitigating stolen identities.
While compliance requirements will mean that there will always be an awareness program, it is up to a security awareness practitioner to demonstrate that their efforts deserve more than the minimum funding required to achieve compliance. The way to do this is to focus on the periodic collection of metrics that demonstrate a ROI well beyond standard engagement metrics. This is how you deserve more.
Ira Winkler is president of Secure Mentem and author of Advanced Persistent Security. View Full Bio