Creating a GDPR-aligned Cyber Security Awareness Training Program

It doesn't take much to get started with GDPR compliance. You just need to build a company culture where data privacy and security are at the top of every employee employee's mind.

Established in 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching legislation governing the collection and handling of personal data. However, contrary to common belief, it doesn’t take much to get started with GDPR compliance. You just need to build a company culture where data privacy and security are at the top of every employee employee’s mind.

How do you do that? Through cyber security awareness training – educating your employees on how to handle customer data safely and securely. This helps with GDPR compliance, avoids costly cyber attacks on your business, and builds trust with your customers. Follow along as we explore how to create the most effective GDPR-aligned cyber security awareness program.

Understanding GDPR Compliance

What is GDPR? – The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a legislation created to protect the privacy and data security of EU citizens and residents.

Who does the GDPR apply to? – The GDPR applies to any business within or outside the EU that processes the personal information of EU citizens and residents. For instance, if you are a software company in India with EU residents subscribed to your newsletter, you are subject to the GDPR because you handle their personal data.

What is Personal Data under GDPR?

The GDPR defines personal data as any information that can be used to identify a natural person. This includes name, email, physical address, IP address, and ID number. The regulation also includes a provision for a special category of sensitive personal data that is given greater protection. It includes racial or ethnic origins, political opinions, religious beliefs, membership of trade unions, genetic and biometric data, health information, and a person’s sex life or orientation.

What are the Rights of Data Subjects (EU citizens & residents) under GDPR?

Central to the GDPR is a list of data subject rights that businesses need to respect. For example, a data subject can request access to all their personal information stored in your business, and you will have 30 days to comply. They can also restrict you from processing their data or request that you correct or delete their stored information. EU customers also have the right to data portability, which means you should present the data in a commonly used machine-readable format that can easily be reused (E.g., PDF or Excel.)

The 7 GDPR Principles

The whole essence can be captured through the seven key GDPR principles laid out in Article 5 of the legislation. Master these, and you will have a working idea of everything it entails.

  1. Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency – As a business, you must have explicit consent from the customer to collect their data and be forthcoming about the exact information you collect and how you will use the information.
  2. Purpose limitation – You should only use the collected data for the stated purpose.
  3. Data minimization – Organisations shouldn’t collect more personal information than they need from their users. For example, you don’t need a physical address to send out your newsletter.
  4. Accuracy – Requires businesses to keep updated records of their customers. It is mostly relevant when data accuracy is critical to the owner like in the case of medical records held in a hospital. 
  5. Storage limitation – You should not store data once it no longer serves the purpose for which it was collected. For instance, if you’re an e-commerce platform storing customer information to facilitate warranty and return claims, the data should be deleted once it’s no longer needed.
  6. Integrity and confidentiality – Your business should have measures in place to protect customer data against unauthorized access and accidental loss, destruction, or damage.
  7. Accountability – Businesses are required to have verifiable evidence that they are applying all necessary measures to comply with the regulation. Training employees in security awareness is one such measure, but you also need evidence that training was completed and its purpose was served.

Penalties for GDPR Non-Compliance

Failure to comply with the GDPR can result in heavy financial penalties of up to €20 million or 4% of a firm’s global turnover (whichever is greater).

How to Design a GDPR-Aligned Cyber Security Awareness Program?

Designing a GDPR-focused awareness program should be a strategic approach that addresses the unique needs of your business while adequately covering the regulation. Here are the key factors to guide you in the process:

  1. Assess training needs – Evaluate your employees’ current level of GDPR awareness to identify weak points. This can be achieved through questionnaires, tests, and external audits.
  2. Map out the learning objectives – Based on the assessment, create SMART goals that you want to achieve with the training. For instance, increase the rate of phishing email recognition by 50%.
  3. Design role-specific training – For example, you can have specialized training for the marketing department on obtaining consent for data processing, and targeted training on data protection measures for the IT team. 
  4. Choose training delivery method – Some learning methods to consider include in-person workshops, webinars, e-learning modules, and self-paced learning materials. You can also opt for a tested and proven online course, which will save you the hassle of creating your own.

Finally, when it’s time to create the course material you need, ensure that it aligns with GDPR. Here is an example of what a 45-minute GDPR learning program would look like.

Session 1: Cyber security best practices (10 minutes)

  • Highlight the most common threats businesses face and how employees unknowingly aid the attacks.
  • Discuss best practices for strengthening cyber security posture, like strong passwords, MFA, regular software updates, and avoiding unknown links and downloads.

Session 2: GDPR basics (5 minutes)

  • Cover GDPR basics, such as how the regulation applies to your business, the importance of compliance, and the consequences of non-compliance.
  • Explain personal data under GDPR principles using examples of data being processed in your company.

Session 3: The 7 GDPR principles (15 minutes)

  • Translate the GDPR principles into best practices that employees need to adhere to, such as how to respond to a data breach, request explicit content from subjects, and document how data is collected, stored, and processed.

Session 4: The rights of data subjects under the GDPR (10 minutes)

  • Translate these into the necessary processes that the business needs to implement to ensure compliance. Like providing a clear process for users to request data using a form or an automated download system.

Session 5: Q & A session (5 minutes)

How to Implement GDPR-Compliant Training Initiatives?

Here are tips to follow when implementing GDPR-Aligned cyber security awareness programs for maximum effectiveness:

  • Promote interactive learning – Use group discussions, role-playing activities, quizzes, and other interactive elements to keep your employees engaged.
  • Gamification – Leveraging game-like elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards will add fun to an otherwise boring task, which significantly boosts training engagement and effectiveness.
  • Offer continuous learning opportunities – An effective security training program should offer your employees an opportunity for continuous learning and development through methods such as refresher courses, access to GDPR updates, and online resources such as regulatory compliance forums.

Ultimately, you want to create an environment where security is part of your company culture and employees are motivated not just to learn but to execute what they have learned.

Assessing and Monitoring GDPR-Compliant Training Program Effectiveness

No training is considered effective unless you can provide quantifiable results. This is why we emphasized setting goals during the design stage. This allows you to track your efforts against the set goals to measure progress. Other additional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you can use to track the progress and effectiveness of your program include:

  • Training completion rate
  • Phishing simulation success rate
  • Cyber security awareness assessment score
  • Awareness campaign engagement rate
  • Feedback from employees

Remember, you don’t train your employees today and then tomorrow; they are GDPR experts. You need to employ ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and feedback mechanisms to identify areas that need reinforcement through additional training.

Embedding GDPR-Aligned Cyber Security Awareness into Company Culture

When it comes to business security and compliance, you can’t leave the employees to take initiative on their own. That’s why security education needs to be incorporated into the company culture.

A GDPR-aligned employee cyber security awareness program equips your employees with the knowledge and skills to handle customer data properly and help you reach compliance. It also transforms your employees from the weakest to the strongest assets when it comes to cyberattack prevention. Just remember that training is a continuous process, and you need to keep up with changing regulations and the constantly evolving cyber world.

Article Contributors

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