CCE Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Information Systems (DISS)


College of Engineering and Computing


Gertrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Maxine S. Cohen

Committee Member

Kim Round


Information security (IS)-related risks affect global public and private organizations on a daily basis. These risks may be introduced through technical or human-based activities, and can include fraud, hacking, malware, insider abuse, physical loss, mobile device misconfiguration or unintended disclosure. Numerous and diverse regulatory and contractual compliance requirements have been mandated to assist organizations proactively prevent these types of risks. Two constants are noted in these requirements. The first constant is requiring organizations to disseminate security policies addressing risk management through secure behavior. The second constant is communicating policies through IS awareness, training and education (ISATE) programs. Compliance requirements direct that these policies provide instruction about making compliant and positive security decisions to reduce risk. Policy-driven and organizationally-relevant ISATE content is understood to be foundational and critical to prevent security risk. The problem identified for investigation is inconsistency of the terms awareness, training and education as found in security-related regulatory, contractual and policy compliance requirements. Organizations are mandated to manage a rapidly increasing portfolio of inconsistent ISATE compliance requirements generated from many sources. Since there is no one set of common guidance for compliance, organizations struggle to meet global, diverse and inconsistent compliance requirements. Inconsistent policy-related content and instructions, generated from differing sources, may cause incorrect security behavior that can present increased security risk. Traditionally, organizations were required to provide only internally-developed programs, with content left to business, regulatory/contractual, and cultural discretion. Updated compliance requirements now require organizations to disseminate externally-developed content in addition to internally-provided content. This real-world business requirement may cause compliance risks due to inconsistent instruction, guidance gaps and lack of organizational relevance.

The problem has been experienced by industry practitioners within the last five years due to increased regulatory and contractual compliance requirements. Prior studies have not yet identified specific impacts of multiple and differing compliance requirements on organizations. The need for organizational relevance in ISATE content has been explored in literature, but the amount of organizationally-relevant content has not been examined in balance of newer compliance mandates.The goal of the research project was to develop a standard content definition and framework. Experienced practitioners responsible for ISATE content within their organizations participated in a survey to validate definitions, content, compliance and organizational relevance requirements imposed on their organizations. Fifty-five of 80 practitioners surveyed (68.75% participation rate) provided responses to one or more sections of the survey. This research is believed to be the first to suggest a standardized content definition for ISATE program activities based on literature review, assessment of existing regulatory, contractual, standard and framework definitions and information obtained from specialized practitioner survey data. It is understood to be the first effort to align and synthesize cross-industry compliance requirements, security awareness topics and organizational relevance within information security awareness program content. Findings validated that multiple and varied regulatory and contractual compliance requirements are imposed on organizations. A lower number of organizations were impacted by third party program requirements than was originally expected. Negative and positive impacts of third party compliance requirements were identified. Program titles and content definitions vary in respondent organizations and are documented in a variety of organizational methods. Respondents indicated high acceptance of a standard definition of awareness, less so for training and education. Organizationally-relevant program content is highly important and must contain traditional and contemporary topics. Results are believed to be an original contribution to information/cyber security practitioners, with findings of interest to academic researchers, standards/framework bodies, auditing/risk management practitioners and learning/development specialists.