Burnout is endemic in the cybersecurity industry, damaging the mental and physical health of cyber professionals and leaving organizations underskilled, understaffed, and overexposed to cyber risk as security leaders and team members leave for more promising career opportunities elsewhere or drop out of the industry entirely.
There’s an often-underutilized learning method that not only heightens security preparedness but also acts as a balm for the burnout crises: simulation training.
Simulation training that stimulates engagement
In the real world, a single error can have dire consequences. This creates a high-pressure environment where the fear of making mistakes hinders growth. Simulation training turns mistakes into opportunities for learning without actual repercussions and elevates the security readiness of an organization.
Live-fire simulation exercises on a cyber range provide learners with hands-on, immersive training in a controlled and safe environment that mimics the real-world experience as closely as possible. Computer-generated simulators opened the possibilities of simulation training and are now used across industries such as healthcare, military, transportation, construction, space exploration, and others where reducing risk as much as possible is critical to mission safety and success.
How can simulation training alleviate burnout?
Looming feelings of uncertainty about what cyber incidents are outside your control or preventable with your skill set can erode confidence in one’s abilities over time. People with low confidence are much more likely to experience burnout than others.
Simulation training boosts confidence because unlike traditional training methods, the learner gains experience over time through true-to-life virtual cyber warfare training and sparring against simulated malicious adversaries that behave like human opponents. By training in the same IT infrastructure they have at their job— complete with networks, servers, and security tools—they improve competencies, judgment skills, and gain “muscle memory” so they feel prepared to respond to a real cyber incident.
Reduce alert fatigue
Sixty-four percent of digital forensic professionals and incident responders said that alert and investigation fatigue is a likely contributing factor to their burnout. SOC teams receive thousands of alerts every day and sorting through the false positives to identify real threats and then prioritizing those based on their severity can be overwhelming and exhausting.
With simulation training, SOC teams learn to identify false positives and high-priority alerts more effectively over time as they become familiar with the types of alerts that end up impacting their organization’s infrastructure. The training can mimic the high volume of alerts they receive during the day and help teams develop effective triage strategies to streamline their response processes. Practicing this in simulation allows teams to experiment on their approach and fine-tune it without fear of making a mistake during operating hours.
Professional sports coaches don’t leave it up to the players to practice on their own, whenever they get a chance, and only bring them together for game day and expect them to play as a team. Why do we expect professional cyber teams to do the same? Simulation training can be used for individual training, but it makes more sense to practice how you play—together. And being together is important, as feelings of loneliness and isolation are two of the less discussed but often more significant contributors to burnout.
Strong working relationships and interpersonal connections build resilience against burnout. Team training in real-world settings improves communication skills, collaborative problem solving, and other soft skills. But, more importantly, it promotes team cohesion and bonding through simply spending time together. There’s no replacement for the feeling of sharing both failures and victories as a team. It strengthens relationships, lays the groundwork for further meaningful interactions, and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness knowing that you are part of something bigger.
Ensure skill relevance, growth, and recognition
The cybersecurity landscape is continuously changing, with new threats emerging regularly. The fear of skills becoming outdated is real and the stress from needing to perpetually update and prepare against evolving cyberthreats can reach a boiling point.
Simulation training can provide regular exposure to the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by cyber adversaries and recreate advanced persistent threats (APTs) scenarios so cyber professionals can learn attacker patterns and behaviors relevant to their organization and fight anxiety with familiarity.
Performance scores after training sessions let security managers and CISOS know where the skill gaps on their teams are and provide specialized training to level up their teams. Cyber pros get recognized for good performance and can objectively see their skill sets grow through repeated sessions.
Implementing simulation training
CISOs interested in integrating simulation training, here are a few starting points:
- Assess current skills and gaps: Understand where your team excels and where there might be skill gaps or simply a lack of experience. This will help tailor the training to your team’s needs.
- Seek external expertise: If setting up internal cyber range simulation training seems daunting, consider collaborating with specialized providers and learning experts.
- Conduct frequent training scenarios: Ensure that the training scenarios stay relevant. Regularly update them based on current threat intelligence.
- Encourage feedback: After each session, gather feedback. This helps refine the training sessions and ensure they meet the team’s needs.
For CISOs, addressing team burnout is not just a matter of well-being; it is also one of security readiness. Simulation training offers a refreshing and engaging way for teams to spend time together honing their skills while strengthening the organization’s cybersecurity posture.
When considering security budgets, the investment in simulation training has the dual benefit of improving morale and elevating defense capabilities—a win-win for any forward-thinking organization.