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The Essential Role of Employee Training in Data Security (+practical tips)

The Essential Role Of Employee Training In Data Security (+Practical Tips)

Great data security is an essential element of business - obviously. Often overlooked though, is the essential role of employee training as a tool within that data security arsenal. Your team is the front line of your business, and well-trained employees play a vital role in safeguarding sensitive data, preventing breaches, and building a culture of data security awareness. 

It's a well-known fact that most data breaches occur due to human error. Employees can inadvertently click on malicious links, fall victim to phishing scams, or mishandle sensitive information. While technological safeguards are essential, they can't completely eliminate these risks. This is where employee training steps in.

Read on as we explore the critical components of effective training, the benefits it brings to your organisation, and practical tips for implementation.




Examples where training prevented data loss and reputation damage

Let’s give you some examples. 

Example 1: An invoice refund request

The setup Say you have an administrator that is new and sees a message from the COO asking to please refund a client for an incorrect invoice. They have not had any training on data protection or what to look out for, and “refund” the client into the bank account details on the invoice. 
The result This money then goes to a fraudulent bank account, the fraudsters draw out the cash and the money's gone. Innocent mistake, but a mistake that could have been mitigated if the new staff member had training on what to look out for.
How it could have been avoided Training would have provided a checklist for the staff member to run through when receiving emails like this; Is it the correct email address? Who is the person sending the email and do they work for the company? What supporting documentation could be requested and what checks can you ask your accountants department to do to verify the company and bank details submitted?


Example 2: An invoice request (innocent right?)

This one actually happened to us at SOLIDitech. 

The setup

Someone called in claiming to be a part one of our customers wanting to pay their outstanding bills. They asked if we could send them an invoice so they may make the payment. 

An innocent enough request on the surface.

What happened

Our team didn’t recognise the caller and started asking some questions like: Who do they work with? Can they send a bank verification letter or Company Registration documents? 

They were not able to provide this. They emailed our team too and upon checking, it was not in the expected format, and the email was not related to the company. Our team then contacted the customer’s accounts department directly, only to discover the caller did not work for them.

What they wanted

The caller was a fraudster. 

Their goal was to gain a copy of a SOLIDitech invoice that they could edit the payment details on, before sending it onto our client (pretending to be us), so they could collect the payment into their bank account.

This attack was directed towards the client but had an impact on our business. Having and executing a robust security checklist on our side saved us a potential income loss and time spent on investigations and trying to get our money back. Our reputation would have taken a knock too.  


Training is vital to allow your staff to know what is out there trying to get in and using a few simple checklists or action items, can save you a lot of time and financial implications, not to mention your client’s trust.


The Benefits of Employee Training for Data Security

Investing in employee training for data security comes with numerous benefits:

  1. Reduced Risk of Data Breaches
    Well-trained employees are less likely to fall victim to cyberattacks, reducing the risk of data breaches and associated costs.
    Running simulated mock data breaches will also help ready staff for the possibility of a breach and speed up their reaction time and reduce the time taken in containing it.
  2. Cost Savings
    While training incurs an initial cost, it's far less expensive than dealing with the aftermath of a data breach, including legal fees, regulatory fines, and reputational damage.

    If personal data is leaked and staff were not trained in how to handle a data breach, the Information Regulator can impose fines of up to R10,000,000.00, jail time or both depending on the severity of the offence.

  3. Improved Compliance
    Many regulations require organisations to provide cybersecurity training to employees. Meeting these requirements ensures legal compliance.
    GDPR or POPIA are some of the requirements you will need to take into consideration when implementing your training.
    Compliance Culture: Employees should contribute to building a culture of compliance within the organisation. This includes promoting awareness of data protection, privacy, and the importance of POPI compliance.

    Employees should actively participate in efforts to enhance data protection practices, identify vulnerabilities, and suggest improvements to ensure ongoing compliance.

  4. Enhanced Employee Morale
    Employees who feel equipped to protect the company's data are more confident and satisfied in their roles.

    Encourage employees to communicate data security to each other to encourage an open line of communication in the workplace. This allows them to ask questions they need to ask. As I normally say “no question is a silly question unless it is not asked as you will just keep wondering and feeling silly not knowing.”
    The more comfortable your employees are talking and speaking up regarding any small concern, the better equipped your company will be in tackling data security.


5 Critical Components of Effective Employee Training

Effective employee training for data security comprises several key elements:

  1. Cybersecurity awareness
    Employees need to understand the types of cyber threats they may encounter. They should be aware of phishing emails, social engineering tactics, malware, and other common attack vectors. They need to understand why data security matters to your business

  2. Data handling protocols 
    Clear guidelines on how to handle sensitive data, both digitally and physically, should be established. Employees should know how to store, transmit, and dispose of data securely. Understanding how audit trails work and how authentication and sessions keep your data safe can also help. 

  3. Password and access management best practices
    Training should cover best practices for strong passwords and access control policies, as well as the importance of controlling access to sensitive information.

  4. An incident response process 
    Employees should be educated on what to do in case of a security incident or breach. A well-prepared response can mitigate potential damage.

  5. A Step-by-step processes to follow when dealing with client data or payments
    Asking your staff to follow steps such as: 
     -  Asking for credentials of individuals seeking access to data
     -  Verifying that they work for the stated company, and in the correct department
     -  Requesting confirmation documentation like bank verification letters or Company Registration documents to verify company bank details  

    Having a checklist to follow can greatly reduce your risk levels. 


Practical Tips for Implementation

Implementing effective employee methods can be a straightforward process if you follow these practical tips:

Customise Training

  • Tailor the training to your organisation's specific needs, considering the types of data you handle and the industry regulations you must comply with.
  • You can include other government regulations like GDPR or POPIA to remind them of the importance of data protection from an external regulatory factor.
  • You can also tailor it to suit departments like Admin, Accounting, HR and Development. This way you are targeting each group with the type of data they store and how important it is.
  • Consider your delivery, online employee training vs in-person training programs.

Regular Updates

  • Cyber threats evolve, so your training should too. Keep the curriculum up-to-date to address emerging risks.
  • Subscribe to websites that send out regular updates on threat management to keep your staff informed.
  • Maintain a group chat to inform staff of any potential threats they need to keep an eye out for.
  • You will also need to consider a new employee training process 



  • Make training engaging and interactive. Consider using real-world examples and scenarios to make the content more relatable.
  • Encourage staff participation to ensure staff engagement.
  • Open the floor to a Q and A session afterwards to encourage them to talk about it. They might even share an experience they read about or a solution they read about that might interest the company.


Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Continuously monitor the effectiveness of your training program and gather feedback from employees to improve it.

In conclusion, employee training is not a mere formality in the realm of data security; it's the linchpin. A well-trained workforce can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and foster a culture of vigilance. By investing in employee education, your organisation can build a robust defence against cyber threats and protect its most valuable asset: data. Read here for tips on how to reduce business data risk & increase data security & compliance.


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About Author

Lee Goldschmidt
Lee Goldschmidt

I am a Somatologist who fell with my bum into the IT space butter and loves every minute of it. Internal project management of a business is my passion with a touch of POPI to keep me on my toes.

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