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5 Ways to Implement Effective Cybersecurity Awareness Programs

By Guest Writer on August 9, 2023

cybersecurity awareness

As cybersecurity threats exploit vulnerabilities in our digital spaces, increasing awareness of these threats among citizens can act as a much-needed first line of defense. However, cyber awareness efforts must be coupled with encouraging behavioral change—for improving risky online behaviors can be the first step towards protecting even the most vulnerable communities.

Strengthening cyber awareness requires a deep understanding of your audience, their perceptions of risks, what they care about, and the type of content they respond to. Ultimately, influencing citizen attitudes requires collective action in partnership with governments, donors, private-sector partners, and civil society organizations. While implementing cybersecurity awareness initiatives are no small feat, growing cyber awareness can be a foundational step to protecting vulnerable communities, defending critical infrastructure systems, and unlocking the full potential of digitization.

Across several campaigns in Asia, implemented through the Digital Asia Accelerator (DAA) and the South Asia Regional Digital Initiative (SARDI), Digital Frontiers identified five best practices for those looking to increase cybersecurity awareness in their home countries. Drawing on experience in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia, and Thailand, these lessons learned seek to strengthen awareness of pressing digital challenges among citizens and businesses and empower individuals to take control of their digital safety.

1. Pinpoint Your Audience

Whether designing for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) or vulnerable populations including children and young adults, developing effective cybersecurity awareness initiatives requires a deep understanding of your audience’s unique needs, motivations, and challenges.

For Thai online users, DAA recognized that the problem was less a lack of technical capabilities surrounding the use of digital tools but rather, the way Thais perceived cyberthreats as something that would never affect them. With over 95% of Thais on Facebook, DAA partnered with the social media giant to launch the Wai Kid Digital Challenge —selecting Thai university students as digital champions due to their quick ability to create online content, their overwhelming presence on social media, and their unique perspectives on Thailand’s social issues.

Across six universities, students created captivating video content around digital safety while also accelerating public awareness of cyber concerns nationwide. Awareness programs that recognize these local nuances, capitalize on audience digital strengths, and reflect how populations engage with technology will have a profound impact on the effectiveness of a campaign to improve citizens’ abilities to protect themselves from digital harm.

2. Identify User Habits and Perception of Risk

In planning a cybersecurity awareness campaign in Mongolia, DAA, in partnership with Love Frankie, uncovered certain shopping cultures in-country made it more difficult for consumers to keep their information private.

In some instances, Mongolian consumers were asked to disclose their PIN codes directly to the cashier to complete their purchase. The initiative also learned that Mongolian teens were aware of the risks in providing information online, but still openly shared their passwords and account information with close friends and family members. Identifying similar cases of risky consumer behaviors will allow you to develop a more responsive program that considers a target audience’s culture, knowledge of and attitude towards cybersecurity.

In DAA’s case, the official My Online Information Is Mine (“Only Mine”) campaign launched to promote the notion that private online information should belong only to the information’s owner and nobody else — accounting for the risky digital behaviors displayed by Mongolian citizens.

3. Design Relevant Cybersecurity Content

Alarmist headlines tend to dominate today’s cybersecurity landscape where cyber threats are imminent, unavoidable, and destructive. Yet, in the case of SARDI’s partner Inspira, this research agency deployed unusual entertainment approaches, ranging from comic strips to a creative take on a popular board game, to better reach MSMEs in Bangladesh.

The agency first spotted MSMEs were more likely to experience fraud, mobile financial services scams, data leaks, and phishing compared to other breach attempts. Inspira later identified that business owners needed practical advice on how to confront these new sets of digital risks rather than simply learning about existing threats.

Key insights from the agency’s research propelled the team to develop the Bebshay Digital Shurokkha Campaign—informing both first-time entrepreneurs and reputable companies on strategies and tools necessary for advancing a safer cyberspace in-country. Recognizing persistent community challenges while responding to demand for cybersecurity solutions can help establish credibility and distinguish your voice on local cyber issues.

4. Drive Engagement With Unconventional Partners

While releasing a debut album in 2020, how did one of Mongolia’s leading rappers get involved in cybersecurity awareness?

In efforts to capture the minds of young Mongolians, DAA worked with recording artists Gangbay and Hishigdalai to release Miniih, a hip-hop track emphasizing the need to respect online privacy in loving relationships. Capitalizing on Mongolia’s mainstream music scene, this anthem generated an almost instant audience reach for the Only Mine campaign—garnering over 1.7 million views on YouTube.

Engaging influencers in this way can help frame societal problems into clear arguments for why cybersecurity matters. From viral bloggers to spiritual leaders, these trend-setters have the ability to distill digital issues while profoundly connecting with their audiences. As pop-culture continues to intersect with our digital platforms, this blend will further present opportunities to involve creative online personalities in support of strong digital hygiene habits.

5. Utilize Robust Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

Awareness programs need to include strong indicators that allow us to see which actions yield success. Through a tailored methodology approach that includes knowledge, attitude, and practice (KAP) surveys, focus groups discussions, interviews, social media monitoring, and landscape assessments, organizations can gather quantitative and qualitative data to better understand whether their programs have achieved desired reach and impact.

For Digital Frontiers, the ability to engage our audiences in a way that led to sustained behavioral change was central to program design. In executing multiple cybersecurity awareness initiatives, the ability to adapt and replicate efforts in other regions also became a top-of-mind consideration—ensuring novel approaches were integrated into future programs.

By Alexander Riabov, DAI Digital Frontiers with support from Acute Incite. SARDI and DAA are activities under and funded by the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership (DCCP), a whole-of-government initiative led by the Department of State (DoS) to promote an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure digital economy.

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