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Boost your security training with gamification -- really!

Lamont Wood | July 18, 2014
Don't scoff; rewarding good deeds actually works.

Tips and traps
Winkler adds that, before launching a gamification program, it is important to first establish the level of security awareness in the organization, to avoid wasted effort. Then, it is important to set up a rewards structure based on the culture of the organization and its business goals.

"You don't want to reward behavior that has no value," he notes. And "you need rewards that the people actually want." Handing out rewards that rank them as Star Wars Jedi knights may work with programmers, but not with investment bankers, he notes.

Points that can be exchanged for small prizes may prove motivating, or just putting names on a leaderboard may work, Winkler notes. Companies with offices in multiple locations, particularly internationally, may find it best to adopt different strategies in different locations. For instance, in some Asian countries, a chance to shake hands with the CEO may be more compelling, Winkler adds.

Points, if used, should be increasingly harder to get, by adding a ladder of levels, also called badges or titles, he explains. Points should be easy to get at the first level, and involve basic steps, such as attending seminars. Points at the next level should require spontaneous activity, such as reporting a phishing email or security incident, and points at higher levels should reward complex security activities, such as participating in drills, he indicates.

"Even if there is a failure (such as falling for a phishing email) you need to reward them for reporting the failure," Winkler adds. "If I know about it I can warn the rest of the firm. Gamification makes it seem that the security department is not there to punish people, but if all their interactions with security are negative, they are less likely to report incidents."

"Never release the names of the victims," Spitzner adds. "Let everyone know that if they fall victim their names will not go to their manager. If they think they will be reported, they will resent the program, since it will impact their career. The only time the manager is informed is if the person is repeatedly falling victim and represents a high risk. But do identify those who do something good," he adds.

Drills of some sort (such as sending out fake phishing emails or having agents attempt tailgating) should be done once a month. "But if it is weekly it becomes noise," Spitzner adds.

"Don't expect miracles; you will need to refine your program based on your successes and failures," Winkler warns. One common error involves rewarding the wrong behavior. He recalls an instance where software developers were rewarded for finding bugs, and so were reporting old ones and sometimes writing new ones just to report them.


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