Building a Strong Security Culture for Resilience and Digital Trust

Diana Calderon
Author: Diana Calderon, CISM
Date Published: 23 August 2023
Related: State of Digital Trust

In today’s digital age, companies constantly face cybersecurity threats that can cause irreparable harm to their reputation, finances and customer trust. Building a solid cybersecurity culture is critical to any company’s cyber strategy and should be a top priority for organizations and security teams.

But what is security culture? A security culture is the shared values, attitudes and behaviors that help organizations protect their assets, including people, data and systems. It is a proactive approach that emphasizes the importance of security as a business priority and involves everyone. Building a robust and positive security culture is not a one-time project. Instead, it requires ongoing efforts to keep pace with new threats, technologies and regulations.

Why does security culture matter? A strong security culture has several benefits for your organization, including:

  • Reducing the risk of cyberthreats: When your employees understand the importance of security and how to protect your organization’s assets, they are less likely to fall for phishing scams and malware, or make other security mistakes that could lead to a breach.
  • Building trust with customers: A strong security culture can help you earn your customers’ trust by demonstrating that you care about privacy and security.
  • Enhancing compliance: A good security culture can help you comply with regulations and standards, such as GDPR, PCI DSS, HIPAA and ISO 27001, by ensuring your employees follow the required security controls and procedures.

How do you create a strong security culture? Building a strong security culture requires a joint effort from everyone in the organization. Security is not just an IT issue but also a human one. According to Verizon, 82 percent of breaches, including phishing, social attacks or misuse, involved the human element. Unfortunately, people have become the primary attack vector, and one of the most significant challenges is managing human risks effectively. Here are some key steps to build and maintain a strong security culture that also promote resilience and digital trust:

  • Begin at the top: A security culture starts with leadership. The company’s leaders should be the first to adopt a security mindset and should set an example for the rest of the organization.
  • Start with an assessment: Before improving your security culture, you must understand your organization’s culture and its current security posture. You have a greater chance of success by aligning security with your existing culture. Conduct a thorough security assessment to identify your critical assets, potential threats and vulnerabilities, and use the findings to develop a comprehensive security strategy.
  • Develop a security strategy: A security strategy is a roadmap that outlines an organization’s security program’s goals, objectives and action plan. The strategy should also include policies and procedures that guide employees in handling sensitive information, reporting security incidents and complying with regulatory requirements. You should align your strategy with the business and aim to integrate security into all aspects of the business, from procurement to product development to customer service. 
  • Provide training and awareness: Security awareness training is essential to help employees, contractors and partners understand their roles and responsibilities regarding security and should be ongoing, not a one-time event to comply. Regular training sessions on security best practices help your employees understand security breaches’ risks and consequences, and promote a security-conscious culture.
  • Know your audience: When it comes to security, it’s essential to know your audience. Different teams may have various security concerns. For example, the finance team might worry about different things than the engineering team. So, ensure you know who you’re talking to and their specific needs and problems. Take the time to tailor your message and initiatives to your audience so that they can stay engaged and informed.
  • Be prepared: Resilience is the ability to withstand and recover from a cyberattack. It requires a combination of technical and organizational measures, such as backups, redundancy, disaster recovery plans and incident response procedures. A strong security culture promotes resilience by fostering a preparedness mindset and simulating scenarios of what could happen during a real cyberattack.
  • Foster digital trust: Building digital trust means ensuring customers, partners and others believe your company can keep their data safe and protect their privacy. To do this, organizations must be transparent and accountable about using people’s data and comply with laws and regulations like GDPR and CCPA. Having a strong security culture is one way to promote ethical behavior and respect for privacy, which can help build digital trust. 
  • Simplify the policies: Security policies drive a big part of the security culture. Your security policies and procedures should be clear, collaborative and accessible to all employees. Everyone should know what’s expected from them and the consequences of non-compliance. 
  • Foster a positive security-aware culture: A security culture should not be punitive or fear-based. You can tell whether a security culture is positive by how your employees interact with the security team. Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate sound security practices – for example, by reporting security incidents and concerns. This could be as simple as a public acknowledgement or a small bonus. Empower them and celebrate people’s wins, reports, questions and concerns without judgment.
  • Building a security champions community: Security teams are usually understaffed, but what if you can help your security team scale their resources and instill a secure-by-design mindset? By bringing together a group of dedicated individuals from different teams and backgrounds, you can foster a sense of community that supports and empowers everyone to prioritize security and work toward creating a secure environment.
  • Monitor, measure and report: Finally, monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of your security culture initiatives is essential. Conduct regular surveys and assessments to gauge your employees’ knowledge and behavior, and use the results to identify any areas for improvement. Share these metrics with your key stakeholders to demonstrate the program’s return on investment and use the results to identify any areas that need further support. 

Establishing a strong security culture may appear daunting, but it’s a wise long-term investment. With the right commitment, resources and leadership, the benefits of a strong security culture are worth it: a more secure and resilient organization, better collaboration between security teams and other departments, improved compliance, and increased customer trust. In addition, with a strong security culture, you can positively impact your organization’s security posture by promoting preparedness for new threats, helping your organization to withstand and recover from cyberattacks more effectively.

Editor’s note: For additional strategies to build digital trust and access to insights from over 8,100 digital trust professionals, download ISACA’s latest State of Digital Trust report.