Experian Data Breach Resolution and Ponemon Institute have released an industry study revealing that while employee-related security risks are the number-one concern for security professionals, organizations are not taking adequate steps to prevent negligent or malicious employee behavior.

The study, Managing Insider Risk Through Training & Cultureasked more than 600 individuals at companies that currently have a data protection and privacy training program to weigh in on the topic of negligent and malicious employee behaviors, as well as the consequences of poor security conduct and the effectiveness of training.

Security BreachesThe study found that more than half (55%) of companies surveyed have already experienced a security incident due to a malicious or negligent employee. 

However, despite investment in employee training and other efforts to reduce careless behavior in the handling of sensitive and confidential information, the majority of companies do not believe that their employees are knowledgeable about the company's security risks.

Concern around the issue of employee security risks is not necessarily making companies any more effective at addressing it.

Sixty percent of companies surveyed believe that their employees have no knowledge of the company's security risks.

Additionally, the study showed a lack of concern by top management. Only 35% of respondents say senior management believes it is a priority that employees are knowledgeable about how data security risks affect their organization. This illustrates a clear gap between companies' awareness of the issues caused by employee negligence and their actions.

"Among the many security issues facing companies today, the study emphasizes that the risk of a data breach caused by a simple employee mistake or act of negligence is driving many breaches,” says Michael Bruemmer, vice president, Experian Data Breach Resolution.

“Unfortunately, companies continue to experience the consequences of employees either falling victim to cyber attacks or exposing information inadvertently.

“There are several steps that companies should take to better equip their employees with the tools they need to protect company data, including moving beyond simple employee education practices and shifting to a culture of security."

Additional findings:

Companies Missing Valuable Learning Opportunity

Only 46% of surveyed companies make training mandatory for all employees.

When companies experience a data breach, they have a unique opportunity to re-engage employees around protecting company data.

However, 60% of companies do not require employees to retake security training courses following a data breach, missing a key opportunity to emphasize security best practices.

The effectiveness of training programs varies greatly, and many are not extensive enough to drive significant behavioral change.

Training Programs Fall Short

The effectiveness of training programs varies greatly, and many are not extensive enough to drive significant behavioral change.

Only half of companies agree or strongly agree that current employee education programs actually reduce noncompliant behaviors.

Many training programs provide only basic information and are not delivered on a regular basis.

Forty-three percent of companies provide only one basic course for all employees, and often these courses don't cover a number of large risks that lead to data breaches.

These critical areas are covered in less than half of basic programs:

  • Phishing and social engineering attacks (49%)
  • Mobile device security (38%)
  • Using cloud services safely (29%)

Fostering a Culture of Security

The study found that companies are not currently implementing a number of simple incentives that could encourage positive security behaviors.

Of the companies surveyed, 67% provide no incentives to employees for being proactive in protecting sensitive information or reporting potential issues.

Among those that do provide incentives, only 19% provide a financial reward and only 29% mention security in performance reviews.

Furthermore, the study found that one-third of companies have no consequences if an employee is found to be negligent or responsible for causing a data breach.