Ponemon Institute conducted an experimental study on how participants of a Digital Defense training program experienced substantially higher learning gains when compared to results of a placebo group.

The experiment was conducted in seven participating companies and involved 277 employees, all office workers with routine and regular access to IT services. Approximately half of the participants completed two of three separate SecurED models the other half were asked to read three PowerPoint presentations containing identical content on data security. Both groups completed three quizzes. The first quiz provided a baseline level of knowledge for each subject. The second quiz measured immediate learning after completing the SecurED module or PowerPoint script. The third and final quiz was used to measure each subject’s learning gain about 2 to 3 weeks after the training experiment.

The learning gains for both groups were measured as the difference or net change in quiz results from the baseline reading. In addition to measuring participants’ learning, we asked questions about the importance and relevance of data security training in their workplace.

How learning is improved

SecurED out performs the alternative training intervention, termed placebo. All three SecurED training modules tested in this study held consistently positive results. For instance, with respect to quiz performance, subjects on average scored above an 80% correct response rate.

Results of this study

  • The average subject’s long-term learning gain was a 60% increase from baseline
  • Only 5% showed a decline or “tone down” after 2 or 3 weeks
  • The long-term learning gain for the placebo group was a 15% increase from baseline, and a 20% tone down over 2 to 3 weeks

The following are findings related to staff level, age, function and gender.

  • Staff and associate level employees experienced a higher learning gain than director and VP level employees (70% versus 40%).
  • Employees between 26 to 35 years had the highest learning gain at nearly 75%, while older subjects between 56 to 65 years experiencing an average learning gain at about 30%.
  • Employees in customer services and IT have the highest learning gains at 80 and 70%, respectively. In contrast, respondents in legal and general management have a much lower learning gain at 20 and 30%, respectively
  • Female employees experienced a higher long-term learning gain than their male counterparts (e.g., 65 versus 55%).

Perceptions about security training

Relevancy of training

Debriefings of subjects revealed 72% perceive SecurED as relevant to their present job functions. In addition, 88% of subjects perceive SecurED as enjoyable and worthwhile.

Availability of training

Subjects experiencing SecurED appeared to hold a stronger belief that training on data protection and information security should be made available to all employees, including high-level executives. However, 58 of subjects experiencing SecurED and 65 in the placebo group believe security training should be optional (not mandatory).

Deployment of training

A majority of subjects believe security training should be rolled out top down rather than bottom up. In other words, senior executives taking the time to do security training is helpful in demonstrating the importance of information risk management to rank-and-file employees.

Concluding thoughts

Subjects experiencing SecurED are more likely to believe training will positively impact employee behaviour with respect to more cautious handling of data assets and endpoint devices. We believe training effectiveness should be an essential activity for all organizations due to an increase in privacy and security risks resulting from employee negligence, cyber attacks and insecure devices and platforms.

To illustrate this growing risk, another recent Ponemon study found office workers (employees) are not taking appropriate steps to protect computing devices or company’s information assets. Specifically, 53% said the sharing of business information does not negatively impact or harm the company. 51% said the company has policies that are not strictly enforced and 68% said their organization does not take steps to ensure employees do not wrongfully obtain and misuse competitive information.

Many companies are also failing to keep employees’ access privileges in check. While 51% say their access privileges appropriately match what they need to do in their job, 29% say they allow them to see data that is unnecessary to their work.

According to IT security practitioners, the number one most serious challenge to addressing insider fraud is raising employee awareness. Despite its importance, however, research finds less than half of U.S. companies provide formal security training for their employees, even for those who have privileged access to highly sensitive or confidential data.

Taken together, recent research findings demonstrate employee indifference to the loss or misuse of business information or the theft of mobile devices (such as laptops, tablets and smart phones). In short, they fail to understand the importance of personal accountability in order to achieve and maintain a secure workplace.