Essential Components of Effective Employee Data Protection Training

Essential Components of Effective Employee Data Protection Training
By Arjun Mohandas, April 25, 2023

Have you ever wondered what the leading cause of data breaches is?

A quick internet search will help you understand the various causes of personal data breaches, such as phishing attacks, cloud misconfigurations, weak passwords, malicious software etc. However, many of these causes can be attributed to human errors. A “Data Breach Investigation Report” published by Verizon in 2022 states that 82% of data breaches had a human element.

Employees are the first line of defence against data breaches. They play a significant role in managing and protecting personal data. Therefore, they must know their roles and responsibilities regarding handling and protecting personal information.

Similarly, regulations such as the GDPR require organisations to report data breaches to regulatory authorities and individuals if a breach results in high risks to the rights and freedoms of individuals. Often, employees might be the first to notice a breach. However, to report a personal data breach, employees must know how to detect unusual activities on their devices or systems. They should also be able to ascertain if a breach is a personal data breach and results in risks to individuals.  The bottom line is that employee training and awareness are essential for reducing the risk of data breaches and protecting personal information.

What are the risks of not training your employees?

(i) Increased likelihood of data breaches: If employees are unaware of the best practices for handling personal information, they might likely click on a phishing link, misconfigure cloud servers or use weak passwords. Even if a device containing sensitive information is lost or misplaced, employees might be unaware that it might result in a data breach. If you are late in identifying and reporting a data breach, it can lead to several other negative consequences.

(ii) Non-compliance: Many data protection laws and regulations require organisations to train their employees. For instance, Article 39 of the GDPR requires organisations to ensure that employees with access to personal data are trained and aware of their data protection obligations. Hence, a failure to provide adequate training may result in delays in responding to/notifying a data breach. It can also have an impact on the other obligations of the organisation, such as responding to data subject requests.

(iii) Liability & Financial Penalties - When employees are not trained, personal data is more likely to be mishandled accidentally or deliberately. This can result in legal and financial consequences, including hefty fines and lawsuits.

(iv) Damage to reputation: A failure to protect personal data can damage an organisation's reputation, leading to a loss of customer trust and loyalty.

How can you provide effective employee training in data protection?

The first thing you can do is to ensure awareness of data protection to the degree to which employees are conscious of the data protection risks and threats. When it comes to training, you must educate your employees on data protection regulations and industry standards, your data protection policies and procedures, and the best practices for handling personal data.

Training employees on data protection requires several considerations to ensure that it is effective and meets the organisation's needs. Here are a few things that you can consider.

(i) Tailor the training - All employees of an organisation must have a basic understanding of data protection principles and how to protect personal data. However, training must also be customised as per the specific job roles and responsibilities of the employees. Depending on the job role, access to personal data may be required at different levels and may involve different types of data. Training should cover topics relevant to the roles and responsibilities of the employees and the specific risks and threats the organisation faces.

Training tailored to specific job roles can help employees understand the risks and responsibilities associated with their roles and how to protect personal data in a specific context. Similarly, the technical expertise of employees might be different across various roles. Hence training should also be tailored to the level of technical expertise of the employees.

(ii) Content & delivery - The training content must cover the basic principles of data protection, such as the definition of personal data, the purpose of processing personal data, and the rights of data subjects. The consequences of not complying with data protection regulations, including fines, legal action, reputational damage, and lost customers, should be explained to employees. Apart from that, employees should know about the risks and impact of cyber-attacks, such as phishing scams, malware, and ransomware, and how to deal with these threats.

Communicate in simple language, avoiding technical jargon. This ensures that employees can follow the training and retain the information. The mode of training can be online as well as in-person. You can conduct webinars or create visually appealing videos, infographics or brochures to educate your employees. You can also provide them with on-the-job training while they are performing their job duties.

Employees should be trained using various interactive and engaging training methods to ensure participation and retention. For example, role-playing and simulation exercises can help employees apply what they learn in training to real-life situations.  You can also provide examples of data breaches, best practices, and real-life scenarios so that employees can understand the importance of data protection and how it relates to their specific jobs.

(iii) Reinforce training -. As threats and risks evolve, data protection training should be an ongoing process that is updated regularly. Incorporate the latest updates on regulations and best practices so that the employees can be updated on the latest data protection requirements.

You should reinforce training to ensure the employees retain the knowledge and skills learned during the training. You can reinforce the training material through refresher courses, job aids, and ongoing communication. Provide data protection checklists or cheat sheets to help them remember the important steps they can follow.

(iv) Assessments & feedback - Training should have clear objectives and measurable outcomes to assess its effectiveness. Organisations can conduct assessments to measure the effectiveness of the training and make improvements. Employees can be tested and evaluated through quizzes and questionnaires to ensure they have retained the information and are applying it. By collecting employee feedback through surveys, you can improve training effectiveness and identify areas where additional support or clarification is required.

Who is responsible for the training?

The responsibility for providing data protection training to employees may vary depending on the organisation. Sometimes, the privacy officer or the Data Protection Officer (DPO) may be responsible for developing and delivering the training. However, the responsibility for providing data protection training may also be on other teams, such as operations, HR or IT.  This is because these teams may have a more hands-on role in managing personal data and, therefore, must ensure that employees are trained in the best practices for handling personal information. The executive leadership should support and participate in data protection training to set the tone for a culture of data protection and privacy within the organisation.

Data protection training requires specialized knowledge and expertise. In some cases, it might not be possible for the organisation to provide training due to the lack of resources. As a result, organisations outsource their data protection training. In many cases, outsourcing data protection training can also be more cost-effective as organisations need not invest in developing their own training programs or hiring their own trainers.

Benefits of providing data protection training

Employee training provides a wide range of benefits for organisations. Trained employees are less likely to cause data breaches. By providing effective training, organisations can ensure that they comply with these requirements and avoid legal and financial penalties. Data breach detection and reporting can be made easier when employees are trained in incident response procedures. This can minimise the potential damage to the organisation and reduce the risk of legal and financial penalties.

An organisation that takes data protection seriously and has employees who understand the importance of safeguarding personal information is more likely to be trusted by customers. Data protection training can help organisations foster a culture where the protection of personal data is seen as a collective responsibility.



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