How one state’s phishing training evolves with threats
Indiana regularly tests employees on various platforms and attachment formats, including prompts related to headline news and retests of scams those that have proved difficult for workers to catch.
If state governments are to stay ahead of the latest phishing threats, employee training must constantly evolve to keep pace with new tactics, a leading technology official said.
Hemant Jain, chief information security officer at the Indiana Office of Technology (IOT), said state employees across more than 100 agencies receive phishing and cybersecurity awareness training every month, having also been trained during onboarding as new employees.
Jain said the state tweaks the email templates it uses for its employee phishing training to take into account the latest news that may inspire scammers, like the recent announcements surrounding federal student debt relief, and it also changes the templates regularly to ensure employees do not become too familiar with them. Plus, metrics show if any phishing topic or technique should be the subject of further training due to user high click rates during the exercises.
Employee training is also tailored to the different file types that individuals are exposed to in their day-to-day work. For example, training for those who regularly use PDFs for their job, will feature many PDFs to show them what they could be exposed to, Jain said during a GCN webinar. “You have to make it relevant, you have to make it contextual to the actual end user,” he added.
Employees also receive phishing training tests via text message, social media and other methods, since hackers increasingly use those platforms in the same nefarious way as email.
The efforts are all part of building what Jain described as a “cyber culture” among employees, where they are motivated to keep themselves safe while at the same time not reluctant or ashamed to report any potential breaches or issues when they arise.
“Typically, a lot of folks will say the human element is the weakest link,” he said. “I don't necessarily agree with that. I think they're our strongest, but we need to help ensure that they're the strongest with that training, with that proactive outreach, with the culture that we're trying to support from a risk and a cybersecurity perspective.”
The state has also worked to improve its cyber posture through recent legislation that beefed up its cyber incident reporting, requiring local government organizations to report attacks or suspicious activity to IOT within 48 hours of discovery.
State-provided phishing training has been a popular training tool that local governments have used for their employees as well, Jain said. Indiana takes a “whole of state” cyber approach where every level of government is encouraged to be working toward the same goals of security and safety. More general cybersecurity awareness training has also been popular with localities, he said.
Meanwhile, Jain said he and his colleagues at the IOT have gone on several statewide listening tours to hear local government perspectives on cybersecurity and other tech topics. A recent announcement that IOT will partner with Indiana and Purdue Universities to offer local governments cybersecurity assessments shows there will be plenty more opportunities for collaboration.
Greater partnership between state and local governments is a crucial part of the new cybersecurity funding grants. And Jain said that while it is a “continuous battle” against new cyber threats, “the more that we get interconnected, the more we will have some standards put out there that will help protect us.”