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Table of Contents for
Special Publication 800-12:

Part I:
Introduction & Overview

Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Elements of
Computer Security

Chapter 3
Roles & Responsibilities
Chapter 4
Common Threats:
A Brief Overview

Part II:
Management Controls

Chapter 5
Computer Security Policy
Chapter 6
Computer Security
Program Management

Chapter 7
Computer Security
Risk Management

Chapter 8
Security & Planning in
the Computer Security
Life Cycle

Chapter 9
Part III:
Operational Controls

Chapter 10
Personnel / User Issues
Chapter 11
Preparing for Contingencies
and Disasters

Chapter 12
Computer Security
Incident Handling

Chapter 13
Awareness, Training
and Education

Chapter 14
Security Considerations in
Computer Support
and Operations

Chapter 15
Physical and
Environmental Security

Part IV:
Technical Controls

Chapter 16
Identification and

Chapter 17
Logical Access Control
Chapter 18
Audit Trails
Chapter 19
Part V:

Chapter 20
Assessing and Mitigating
the Risks to a Hypothetical
Computer System

Cross Reference

For a printable copy of Chapter 13.

  Special Publication 800-12: An Introduction to Computer Security - The NIST Handbook


Chapter 13


People, who are all fallible, are usually recognized as one of the weakest links in securing systems. The purpose of computer security awareness, training, and education is to enhance security by:

  • improving awareness of the need to protect system resources;
  • developing skills and knowledge so computer users can perform their jobs more securely; and
  • building in-depth knowledge, as needed, to design, implements, or operate security programs for organizations and systems.

Making computer system users aware of their security responsibilities and teaching them correct practices helps users change their behavior.95 It also supports individual accountability, which is one of the most important ways to improve computer security. Without knowing the necessary security measures (and to how to use them), users cannot be truly accountable for their actions. The importance of this training is emphasized in the Computer Security Act, which requires training for those involved with the management, use, and operation of federal computer systems.

This chapter first discusses the two overriding benefits of awareness, training, and education, namely: (1) improving employee behavior and (2) increasing the ability to hold employees accountable for their actions. Next, awareness, training, and education are discussed separately, with techniques used for each. Finally, the chapter presents one approach for developing computer security awareness and training program.96

13.1 Behavior

People are a crucial factor in ensuring the security of computer systems and valuable information resources. Human actions account for a far greater degree of computer-related loss than all other sources combined. Of such losses, the actions of an organization's insiders normally cause far more harm than the actions of outsiders. (Chapter 4 discusses the major sources of computer-related loss.)

The major causes of loss due to an organization's own employees are: errors and omissions, fraud, and actions by disgruntled employees. One principal purpose of security awareness, training, and education is to reduce errors and omissions. However, it can also reduce fraud and unauthorized activity by disgruntled employees by increasing employees' knowledge of their accountability and the penalties associated with such actions.

Management sets the example for behavior within an organization. If employees know that management does not care about security, no training class teaching the importance of security and imparting valuable skills can be truly effective. This "tone from the top" has myriad effects an organization's security program.

13.2 Accountability

One of the keys to a successful computer security program is security awareness and training. If employees are not informed of applicable organizational policies and procedures, they cannot be expected to act effectively to secure computer resources.

Both the dissemination and the enforcement of policy are critical issues that are implemented and strengthened through training programs. Employees cannot be expected to follow policies and procedures of which they are unaware. In addition, enforcing penalties may be difficult if users can claim ignorance when caught doing something wrong.

Training employees may also be necessary to show that a standard of due care has been taken in protecting information. Simply issuing policy, with no follow-up to implement that policy, may not suffice.

Many organizations use acknowledgment statements, which state that employees have read and understand computer security requirements. (An example is provided in Chapter 10.)

13.3 Awareness

Security awareness programs: (1) set the stage for training by changing organizational attitudes to realize the importance of security and the adverse consequences of its failure; and (2) remind users of the procedures to be followed.

Awareness stimulates and motivates those being trained to care about security and to remind them of important security practices. Explaining what happens to an organization, its mission, customers, and employees if security fails motivates people to take security seriously.

Awareness can take on different forms for particular audiences. Appropriate awareness for management officials might stress management's pivotal role in establishing organizational attitudes toward security. Appropriate awareness for other groups, such as system programmers or information analysts, should address the need for security as it relates to their job. In today's systems environment, almost everyone in an organization may have access to system resources -- and therefore may have the potential to cause harm.

Comparative Framework

Teaching Method:


- Video

- Newsletters

- Posters, etc.

Practical Instruction

- Lecture

- Case study workshop

- Hands-on practice

Theoretical Instruction

- Discussion seminar

- Background reading

Test Measure:


Multiple Choice

(identify learning)

Problem Solving

(apply learning)


(interpret learning)

Impact Timeframe:

Figure 13.1 compares some of the differences in awareness, training, and education.

Awareness is used to reinforce the fact that security supports the mission of the organization by protecting valuable resources. If employees view security as just bothersome rules and procedures, they are more likely to ignore them. In addition, they may not make needed suggestions about improving security nor recognize and report security threats and vulnerabilities.

Awareness also is used to remind people of basic security practices, such as logging off a computer system or locking doors.

Techniques. A security awareness program can use many teaching methods, including video tapes, newsletters, posters, bulletin boards, flyers, demonstrations, briefings, short reminder notices at log-on, talks, or lectures. Awareness is often incorporated into basic security training and can use any method that can change employees' attitudes.

Employees often regard computer security as an obstacle to productivity. A common feeling is that they are paid to produce, not to protect. To help motivate employees, awareness should emphasize how security, from a broader perspective, contributes to productivity. The consequences of poor security should be explained, while avoiding the fear and intimidation that employees often associate with security.

Effective security awareness programs need to be designed with the recognition that people tend to practice a tuning out process (also known as acclimation). For example, after a while, a security poster, no matter how well designed, will be ignored; it will, in effect, simply blend into the environment. For this reason, awareness techniques should be creative and frequently changed.

13.4 Training

The purpose of training is to teach people the skills that will enable them to perform their jobs more securely. This includes teaching people what they should do and how they should (or can) do it. Training can address many levels, from basic security practices to more advanced or specialized skills. It can be specific to one computer system or generic enough to address all systems.

Training is most effective when targeted to a specific audience. This enables the training to focus on security-related job skills and knowledge that people need performing their duties. Two types of audiences are general users and those who require specialized or advanced skills.

General Users. Most users need to understand good computer security practices, such as:

  • protecting the physical area and equipment (e.g., locking doors, caring for floppy diskettes);

  • protecting passwords (if used) or other authentication data or tokens (e.g., never divulge PINs); and

  • reporting security violations or incidents (e.g., whom to call if a virus is suspected).

In addition, general users should be taught the organization's policies for protecting information and computer systems and the roles and responsibilities of various organizational units with which they may have to interact.

In teaching general users, care should be taken not to overburden them with unneeded details. These people are the target of multiple training programs, such as those addressing safety, sexual harassment, and AIDS in the workplace. The training should be made useful by addressing security issues that directly affect the users. The goal is to improve basic security practices, not to make everyone literate in all the jargon or philosophy of security.

Specialized or Advanced Training. Many groups need more advanced or more specialized training than just basic security practices. For example, managers may need to understand security consequences and costs so they can factor security into their decisions, or system administrators may need to know how to implement and use specific access control products.

One group that has been targeted for specialized training is executives and functional managers. The training for management personnel is specialized (rather than advanced) because managers do not (as a general rule) need to understand the technical details of security. However, they do need to understand how to organize, direct, and evaluate security measures and programs. They also need to understand risk acceptance.

There are many different ways to identify individuals or groups who need specialized or advanced training. One method is to look at job categories, such as executives, functional managers, or technology providers. Another method is to look at job functions, such as system design, system operation, or system use. A third method is to look at the specific technology and products used, especially for advanced training for user groups and training for a new system. This is further discussed in the section 13.6 of this chapter.

Techniques. A security training program normally includes training classes, either strictly devoted to security or as added special sections or modules within existing training classes. Training may be computer- or lecture-based (or both), and may include hands-on practice and case studies. Training, like awareness, also happens on the job.

13.5 Education

Security education is more in-depth than security training and is targeted for security professionals and those whose jobs require expertise in security.

Techniques. Security education is normally outside the scope of most organization awareness and training programs. It is more appropriately a part of employee career development. Security education is obtained through college or graduate classes or through specialized training programs. Because of this, most computer security programs focus primarily on awareness and training, as does the remainder of this chapter.97

13.6 Implementation98

An effective computer security awareness and training (CSAT) program requires proper planning, implementation, maintenance, and periodic evaluation. The following seven steps constitute one approach for developing a CSAT program.99

Step 1: Identify Program Scope, Goals, and Objectives.

Step 2: Identify Training Staff.

Step 3: Identify Target Audiences.

Step 4: Motivate Management and Employees.

Step 5: Administer the Program.

Step 6: Maintain the Program.

Step 7: Evaluate the Program.

13.6.1 Identify Program Scope, Goals, and Objectives

The Computer Security Act of 1987 requires federal agencies to "provide for the mandatory periodic training in computer security awareness and accepted computer practices of all employees who are involved with the management, use, or operation of each federal computer system within or under the supervision of that agency." The scope and goals of federal computer security awareness and training programs must implement this broad mandate. (Other federal requirements for computer security training are contained in OMB Circular A-130, Appendix III, and OPM regulations.)

The first step in developing a CSAT program is to determine the program's scope, goals, and objectives. The scope of the CSAT program should provide training to all types of people who interact with computer systems. The scope of the program can be an entire organization or a subunit. Since users need training, which relates directly to their use of particular systems, a large organization wide program may need to be supplemented by more specific programs. In addition, the organization should specifically address whether the program applies to employees only or also to other users of organizational systems.

Generally, the overall goal of a CSAT program is to sustain an appropriate level of protection for computer resources by increasing employee awareness of their computer security responsibilities and the ways to fulfill them. More specific goals may need to be established. Objectives should be defined to meet the organization's specific goals.

13.6.2 Identify Training Staff

There are many possible candidates for conducting the training including internal training departments, computer security staff, or contract services. Regardless of who is chosen, it is important that trainers have sufficient knowledge of computer security issues, principles, and techniques. It is also vital that they know how to communicate information and ideas effectively.

13.6.3 Identify Target Audiences

Not everyone needs the same degree or type of computer security information to do their jobs. A CSAT program that distinguishes between groups of people, presents only the information needed by the particular audience, and omits irrelevant information will have the best results. Segmenting audiences (e.g., by their function or familiarity with the system) can also improve the effectiveness of a CSAT program. For larger organizations, some individuals will fit into more than one group. For smaller organizations, segmenting may not be needed. The following methods are some examples of ways to do this.

Segment according to level of awareness. Individuals may be separated into groups according to their current level of awareness. This may require research to determine how well employees follow computer security procedures or understand how computer security fits into their jobs.

Segment according to general job task or function. Individuals may be grouped as data providers, data processors, or data users.

Segment according to specific job category. Many organizations assign individuals to job categories. Since each job category generally has different job responsibilities, training for each will be different. Examples of job categories could be general management, technology management, applications development, or security.

Segment according to level of computer knowledge. Computer experts may be expected to find a program containing highly technical information more valuable than one covering the management issues in computer security. Similarly, a computer novice would benefit more from a training program that presents introductory fundamentals.

Segment according to types of technology or systems used. Security techniques used for each off-the-shelf product or application system will usually vary. The users of major applications will normally require training specific to that application.

13.6.4 Motivate Management and Employees

To successfully implement an awareness and training program, it is important to gain the support of management and employees. Consideration should be given to using motivational techniques to show management and employees how their participation in the CSAT program will benefit the organization.

Management. Motivating management normally relies upon increasing awareness. Management needs to be aware of the losses that computer security can reduce and the role of training in computer security. Management commitment is necessary because of the resources used in developing and implementing the program and also because the program affects their staff.

Employees and managers should be solicited to provide input to the CSAT program. Individuals are more likely to support a program when they have actively participated in its development.

Employees. Motivation of managers alone is not enough. Employees often need to be convinced of the merits of computer security and how it relates to their jobs. Without appropriate training, many employees will not fully comprehend the value of the system resources with which they work.

Some awareness techniques were discussed above. Regardless of the techniques that are used, employees should feel that their cooperation will have a beneficial impact on the organization's future (and, consequently, their own).

13.6.5 Administer the Program

There are several important considerations for administering the CSAT program.

Visibility. The visibility of a CSAT program plays a key role in its success. Efforts to achieve high visibility should begin during the early stages of CSAT program development. However, care should be give not to promise what cannot be delivered.

The Federal Information Systems Security Educators' Association and NIST Computer Security Program Managers' Forum provide two means for federal government computer security program managers and training officers to share training ideas and materials.

Training Methods. The methods used in the CSAT program should be consistent with the material presented and tailored to the audience's needs. Some training and awareness methods and techniques are listed above (in the Techniques sections). Computer security awareness and training can be added to existing courses and presentations or taught separately. On-the-job training should also be considered.

Training Topics. There are more topics in computer security than can be taught in any one course. Topics should be selected based on the audience's requirements.

Training Materials. In general, higher-quality training materials are more favorably received and are more expensive. Costs, however, can be minimized since training materials can often be obtained from other organizations. The cost of modifying materials is normally less than developing training materials from scratch.

Training Presentation. Consideration should be given to the frequency of training (e.g., annually or as needed), the length of training presentations (e.g., twenty minutes for general presentations, one hour for updates or one week for an off-site class), and the style of training presentation (e.g., formal presentation, informal discussion, computer-based training, humorous).

13.6.6 Maintain the Program

Computer technology is an ever-changing field. Efforts should be made to keep abreast of changes in computer technology and security requirements. A training program that meets an organization's needs today may become ineffective when the organization starts to use a new application or changes its environment, such as by connecting to the Internet. Likewise, an awareness program can become obsolete if laws or organization policies change. For example, the awareness program should make employees aware of a new policy on e-mail usage. Employees may discount the CSAT program, and by association the importance of computer security, if the program does not provide current information.

13.6.7 Evaluate the Program

It is often difficult to measure the effectiveness of an awareness or training program. Nevertheless, an evaluation should attempt to ascertain how much information is retained, to what extent computer security procedures are being followed, and general attitudes toward computer security. The results of such an evaluation should help identify and correct problems. Some evaluation methods (which can be used in conjunction with one another) are:

  • Use student evaluations.

  • Observe how well employees follow recommended security procedures.

  • Test employees on material covered.

  • Monitor the number and kind of computer security incidents reported before and after the program is implemented.100

13.7 Interdependencies

Training can, and in most cases should, be used to support every control in the handbook. All controls are more effective if designers, implementers, and users are thoroughly trained.

Policy. Training is a critical means of informing employees of the contents of and reasons for the organization's policies.

Security Program Management. Federal agencies need to ensure that appropriate computer security awareness and training is provided, as required under the Computer Security Act of 1987. A security program should ensure that an organization is meeting all applicable laws and regulations.

Personnel/User Issues. Awareness, training, and education are often included with other personnel/user issues. Training is often required before access is granted to a computer system.

13.8 Cost Considerations

The major cost considerations in awareness, training, and education programs are:

  • the cost of preparing and updating materials, including the time of the preparer;

  • the cost of those providing the instruction;

  • employee time attending courses and lectures or watching videos; and

  • the cost of outside courses and consultants (both of which may including travel expenses), including course maintenance.


Alexander, M. ed. "Multimedia Means Greater Awareness." Infosecurity News. 4(6), 1993. pp. 90-94.

Burns, G.M. "A Recipe for a Decentralized Security Awareness Program." ISSA Access. Vol. 3, Issue 2, 2nd Quarter 1990. pp. 12-54.

Code of Federal Regulations. 5 CFR 930. Computer Security Training Regulation.

Flanders, D. "Security Awareness - A 70% Solution." Fourth Workshop on Computer Security Incident Handling, August 1992.

Isaacson, G. "Security Awareness: Making It Work." ISSA Access. 3(4), 1990. pp. 22-24.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Guidelines for Development of Computer Security Awareness and Training (CSAT) Programs. Washington, DC. NASA Guide 2410.1. March 1990.

Maconachy, V. "Computer Security Education, Training, and Awareness: Turning a Philosophical Orientation Into Practical Reality." Proceedings of the 12th National Computer Security Conference. National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Computer Security Center. Washington, DC. October 1989.

Maconachy, V. "Panel: Federal Information Systems Security Educators' Association (FISSEA)." Proceeding of the 15th National Computer Security Conference. National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Computer Security Center. Baltimore, MD. October 1992.

Suchinsky, A. "Determining Your Training Needs." Proceedings of the 13th National Computer Security Conference. National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Computer Security Center. Washington, DC. October 1990.

Todd, M.A. and Guitian C. "Computer Security Training Guidelines." Special Publication 500-172. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology. November 1989.

U.S. Department of Energy. Computer Security Awareness and Training Guideline (Vol. 1). Washington, DC. DOE/MA-0320. February 1988.

Wells, R.O. "Security Awareness for the Non-Believers." ISSA Access. Vol. 3, Issue 2, 2nd Quarter 1990. pp. 10-61.


95. One often-cited goal of training is changing people's attitudes. This chapter views changing attitudes as just one step toward changing behavior.
96. This chapter does not discuss the specific contents of training programs. See the references for details of suggested course contents.
97. Unfortunately, college and graduate security courses are not widely available. In addition, the courses may only address general security.
98.This section is based on material prepared by the Department of Energy's Office of Information Management for its unclassified security program.
99. This approach is presented to familiarize the reader with some of the important implementation issues. It is not the only approach to implementing an awareness and training program.
100. The number of incidents will not necessarily go down. For example, virus-related losses may decrease when users know the proper procedures to avoid infection. On the other hand, reports of incidents may go up as users employ virus scanners and find more viruses. In addition, users will now know that virus incidents should be reported and to whom the reports should be sent.


Last updated: September 22, 2004
Page created: July 1, 2004