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Driving a Security-First Culture: The Key to Cyber Success

By Panayiota Smyrli, Cyber Security Analyst at CYNET-CSIRT

In today’s smart, connected, and increasingly automated landscape in which organisations operate, the risk of exposure of sensitive data or infiltration by cyber criminals is becoming prevalent. Any single slip-up can cause significant damage – and not just to an organisation’s bottom line, but to its reputation and the trust it has built with constituents, partners and stakeholders. Core to creating an effective cybersecurity culture is recognising that it is primarily people that make an organisation secure, not technology. People are both the best response to cyber attacks and the weakest link in cybersecurity chains. Therefore, it is critical for any organisation to foster a sustainable security-first environment and culture where employees have the knowledge and instinct to be the first line of defence.

This blog will explore the importance of building a strong security-first culture, the elements that make up a thriving security-first culture, and how organisations can implement a sustainable security-first culture. 

What does security-first culture mean?

A security-first culture involves getting everyone in an organisation on the same page when it comes to data security posture management. A security-first culture  weaves security into every process that an organisation carries out at every level. An organisation that has a security-first mindset constantly seeks ways to implement security and employs a set of practices that help prevent, monitor and tackle security threats.

Just as your organisation’s culture encompasses the values you align with and the mission you aspire to, bringing security to the forefront of your organisation will greatly emphasise the focus you want your employees to have, making it a unified effort. Certainly, creating a cybersecurity culture is a time-consuming process that requires strong commitment, but it could prove to be beneficial in terms of preventing cyber attacks.

What are the benefits of fostering a security-first culture?

 A strong security-first culture can provide several benefits to your organisation:

  • Protecting Sensitive Information: A security-first culture can help team members understand the wider importance of protecting sensitive information and encourage them to take the necessary measures to safeguard it. Building your ‘human firewall’ within your organisation means that you have more eyes on potential risks to the business, and strengthens your weakest link when it comes to security – your people.
  • Mitigating Cyber Risks: A security-first culture can help identify potential risks and take steps to mitigate them before they become major security incidents.
  • Compliance with Standards & Regulations: A security-first culture can help your organisation meet regulatory requirements and avoid costly fines and penalties.
  • Building Trust & Reputation: A strong security-first culture can help build trust and goodwill with your constituents and your partners by demonstrating a commitment to protecting their information.

How to create a security-first culture within your organisation?

A security-first culture is the fundamental key when it comes to protecting the sensitive data of an organisation, its constituents and collaborators. “Better safe than sorry” should be the motto for every organisation facing today’s unpredictable threat landscape. Security and compliance are no longer a tick box exercise. For an organisation to stay alive and thrive, it has to opt for a security-first mindset.

There are a few ways to shift your organisation to a security-first mindset/culture.

Get everyone on board

Provide regular interactive security awareness training sessions to engage your employees and run workshops where they can put into practice what they’ve learned. Keep people updated and more vigilant on new cyber threats that may be a risk to the business and let them know what to do if they encounter any. 

It is necessary for every single employee in an organisation to be aware and responsible of the best security practices they should be following. Employees are at the front line of cyber defence; indeed, they can often be the cause of breaches by falling victim to phishing attacks. The burden of security should not be placed on the security team alone.

Always keep the security team in the loop for cyber-resilience building

Communication between the security team and all other departments is vital for a security-first organisation. The security team should be involved in every aspect of the business strategy from top management, through the back-office function, right to the frontline. Any change in operation, tools and architecture should be discussed with the security team before it is implemented. As any change may pose a security risk. The security team should review the changes and implement the security practices that apply to them, ensuring that they do not make the organisation vulnerable to security threats. This collaborative effort is necessary to help the organisation advance securely.

Leadership must prioritise and embed security as a core competency across the entire organisation

A security-first mindset should start from the top. Leaders need to set the tone for the organisation and lead by example. By prioritising security, leaders can instill a sense of responsibility in team members and create a culture of security awareness. Building a strong security culture is an ongoing process. Leadership must continually assess its security posture and proactively improve it.

Come up with a cyber incident response plan

Creating a cyber incident response plan, including a respective roadmap will enable employees, stakeholders and partners to prepare for, prevent, recognise and recover from security threats. Organisations need to create a culture of transparency where employees feel comfortable reporting security incidents without fear of retribution. Encouraging employees to report incidents can identify potential threats early and take proactive steps to mitigate them.

Document Security Policies and Procedures

By documenting your security policies and procedures, your organisation minimises confusion regarding its security practices. Having them in writing provides clarity to employees across the organisation and helps in reinforcing a security-first mindset. The documents should outline in simple terms how security threats can be prevented and what are the necessary steps in case of any security breach. All employees across departments must be on the same page when it comes to security practices. Fragmentation of security practices should be kept to a minimum to avoid lags in the implementation of security. As an extra tip, start codifying policies and procedures into source code. This strategy not only helps team members know what went on before their involvement, but it also has operational benefits.

Use automation tools

Using automation is an effective way to strengthen your organisation’s security posture. Security automation tools can monitor and analyse security threats quickly and efficiently. Fast incident response and 24/7 monitoring make automation a handy tool to combat security threats. Another efficient way to shift your organisation to a security-first culture is to invest in automation.

Keep it fun and catchy

The security reputation isn’t known to be much fun either. But incorporating security into actions like organisation quizzes or quarterly hackathons or tabletop exercises can change that point of view. The competitive element of these can bring out the best in your team, helping them to think outside the box when it comes to security and helping them reinforce a security-first mindset.


Building a strong security first culture is critical for organisations to protecting sensitive information and mitigating risks. By adopting a proactive mindset, staying current with emerging cyber threats, fostering collaboration, providing interactive training sessions, promoting open communication, having clear policies and procedures, holding employees accountable, investing in technology and continually improving, organisations can create a security-conscious workforce better equipped to protect themselves. Building a strong security-first culture is an ongoing process that requires commitment and effort, but the rewards are well worth it.

About the author

Panayiota is a PhD candidate in Post-Quantum Cryptography and a Cyber Security Analyst at CYNET-CSIRT. Her research interests focus on cognitive areas of Cryptography and Network Security, as well as their applications in Computer Science and Telecommunications. The actualisation of doctoral studies in this interdisciplinary field, stemmed from her postgraduate training and predominantly her M.Sc. thesis that concerned the study of code-based public key cryptosystems.

Also this year GÉANT joins the European Cyber Security Month, with the campaign ‘Become A Cyber Hero’. Read articles from cyber security experts within our community and download resources from our awareness package on 

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