AWS Business Intelligence Blog

SANS Institute uses Amazon QuickSight to drive transformational security awareness maturity within organizations

This is a guest post by Carl Marrelli from SANS Institute.

In this post, we go over how SANS Institute uses Amazon QuickSight to serve their security customers. The SANS Institute is a world leader in cybersecurity training and certification. For over 30 years, SANS has worked with leading organizations to help ensure security across their organization, as well as with individual IT professionals who want to build and grow their security careers. We partner with over 500 organizations and support over 200,000 IT professionals with more than 90 technical training courses and over 40 professional (GIAC) certifications.

Our Security Awareness products include more than 70 instructional modules and have been deployed to over 6.5 million end-users to bring cybersecurity training to each employee within an organization.

As the Security Awareness department in particular began developing product strategies to deliver data-driven insights to customers, we were clear on using existing analytics services to rapidly build customer-facing analytics solutions. Building on a proven cloud provider would allow us to focus on our core expertise of helping organizations train, learn, and mature their programs instead of spending extra time and resources building and maintaining analytics from scratch.

We identified Amazon QuickSight, a fully managed, cloud-native business intelligence (BI) service, as the product that fit all our criteria. With it, we found an intuitive product with rich visualizations that we could build and grow with rapidly, allowing us to innovate without monetary risks or being locked in to cumbersome contracts. We considered other options, but they couldn’t support the licensing model that fit our needs.

Helping manage human risk with data-driven insights

SANS Security Awareness helps organizations use best-in-class security awareness and training solutions to transform their ability to measure and manage human risk. Security awareness programs are initiatives aimed at educating individuals about the importance of information security and the best practices for maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information. We deliver expertly authored training materials to organizations, including computer-based video training sessions, interactive learning modules, supplemental materials, and reinforcement curriculum to keep security top-of-mind for all employees.

As organizations rapidly adopt and expand their use of digital technologies in their day-to-day work, the number of touchpoints with humans increases. As threat landscapes become increasingly more severe, managing human risk is critical to the success of the security program in any organization. Not only do organizations have to conduct security awareness training programs, but they also need insights into data and metrics that identify points of weakness to take data-driven corrective courses of action. As a leader in the space, we wanted to innovate by bringing relevant data-driven insights to our Security Awareness partners and customers in the journey to ensuring human-centered security across their organizations.

New data products to enhance and gamify risk assessment

We built one of our first insights products to support our Behavioral Risk Assessment. This service allows senior security and risk leaders to assess human risk with data handling, digital behavior, and compliance in an organization by individual, team, geography, business unit, and more. Leaders use the assessment to mature their security awareness capability with risk-informed interventions, identify process and procedure gaps, surface shadow IT, and reduce overall awareness training costs by focusing attention on the most important areas of risk.

Behavioral Risk Assessment dashboard with various charts

Delivered via a survey customized to the data types and risk profile of an organization, this assessment allows risk management leaders to more easily understand the data handling practices across roles and departments. Dashboards built in QuickSight empower stakeholders to quickly visualize what areas may need added attention by way of training intervention or updated policy.

Another product area where we invested in analytics to help organizations identify human risk is in gamified awareness training. The SANS Scavenger Hunt utilizes QuickSight in a unique way as a real-time game scoreboard. Players compete in the hunt while solving cybersecurity-related challenges, giving security teams a fun way to engage the workforce and promote good cyber behaviors.

Security Awareness challenge dashboard

The Scavenger Hunt was widely deployed during global Cybersecurity Awareness Month—a time for security awareness practitioners to shine a light on the purpose and mission of security awareness and also have a little fun. Typically, programs run during this time take place outside any regulated training cycle and are typically not delivered as mandatory training. This being the case, we identified dashboards as a way to gamify the experience to increase engagement among participants. These dashboards, built using QuickSight, provided users access to a leaderboard to not only track their own progress, but to also see how they compared to their fellow participants.

Building on the success of their experience with QuickSight and the Scavenger Hunt, we wanted to push the gamification and dashboards concept further so Chief Information and Security Officers (CISOs) and security teams could identify and mitigate the human side of ransomware risk. We developed Snack Attack!, a gamified learning experience that shows an organization how employees are performing in six key defensive areas where ransomware can be prevented. In 2021, over 80% of cyber breaches involved human error of some kind. Employees must have a fundamental awareness of cybersecurity and the ability to apply cyber knowledge within the scope of their jobs. Snack Attack! and QuickSight proved to be a great product to visualize and action on areas of human risk and sentiment for senior leadership.

A screenshot of a Snack Attack! dashboard

With Snack Attack!, we looked at Cybersecurity Awareness Month from the viewpoint of the awareness practitioner. The program itself focuses on driving engagement through an entertaining storyline with creative visuals. We chose to use the data from the training to help our customers build their awareness programs going forward. The dashboards included in Snack Attack! give the security awareness practitioner insights into the learned behavior of their users. Quick visualizations of learners’ scoring in Snack Attack! can act as an audit of the effectiveness of their existing program and provide a roadmap for future trainings.

Paving the way in using analytics for customer security

The SANS Institute brings together security awareness training programs with a metrics-based approach through out-of-the-box analytics dashboards so our customers can assess and manage human risk successfully. With QuickSight, we were able to rapidly innovate, developing valuable data products at a speed we could not have otherwise. Without up-front investments to get started and with the low cost to try with usage-based pricing, we were able to quickly ideate, build, and deploy customer-facing analytic products to drive security awareness within our customer organizations. Our analytics solutions differentiate us from existing enterprise products. With QuickSight, we are able to show organizations where they have cyber risk.

With the delivery of analytics solutions to customers, the SANS Institute is not only a top cybersecurity training, learning, and certification platform, but also a technology provider that helps customers use data and insights to make meaningful change in their organization. Moving forward, we have identified an expansion of QuickSight dashboards into our larger suite of assessments as the next logical step. Along with the Behavioral Risk Assessment, we offer Knowledge and Culture assessments to help security awareness practitioners better understand where and how to apply training and gauge the effectiveness of their programs. Because of the success we have had with QuickSight on our existing projects, we feel that similar dashboards can provide even more value to our customers.

To learn more about how QuickSight can help your business with dashboards, reports, and more, visit Amazon QuickSight.

About the Author

Carl R. Marrelli is the Director of Business Development and Digital Programs at SANS Institute. Based in Charlotte, NC, he has extensive experience in cross-functional team leadership, product management, and product marketing. Previously as Head of Product at SANS, Carl led the product management team for the Online Training and Security Awareness divisions through a significant growth period. Carl’s unique perspective and innovative ideas, support SANS as the company continues its mission to empower cybersecurity practitioners around the world.