How Yu-kai Chou's Behavioral Design Framework Revolutionized Security Awareness Training with Gamification

For organizations looking to strengthen their cybersecurity defenses, applying gamification to security awareness & phishing training based on Yu-kai Chou's Octalysis Framework could be the key to not only improving engagement and participation rates, but also fostering a proactive, security-conscious workplace culture.

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Integrating Yu-kai Chou's Octalysis Gamification and Behavioral Design Framework into cybersecurity training can dramatically improve user engagement and resilience. The approach provides a human-centered way to transform traditional training into an immersive learning experience with culturally transformative outcomes.

While cybersecurity is a new area of application for Octalysis, it’s perfectly suited to using gamification and principles of behavioral science to increase effectiveness.

What led to gamifying cybersecurity?

Around a decade ago, cybersecurity leaders began voicing their frustrations with the security awareness training (SAT) model: it achieved compliance, but not behavior change.

As the threat landscape has become more sophisticated and dangerous, the traditional SAT model has become increasingly ineffective. Despite the fact that 68% of breaches contain the human element (Verizon DBIR), SAT wasn’t actually making people or organizations more secure.

The stagnant participation rates and escalating breaches raised alarm bells that SAT tools weren’t working because they don’t:

  • Engage people
  • Motivate lasting participation
  • Change behavior
  • Build skills
  • Transform culture
  • Reduce risk

Enter Yu-kai Chou. One of the foremost pioneers in gamification, Yu-kai’s Octalysis Framework has been instrumental in transforming user experiences across a wide spectrum of applications, from banking to HR to social media.

Yu-kai’s framework, built on behavioral design concepts, was instrumental in the development of Hoxhunt by co-founders Pyry Avist and Mika Aalto back in 2016.

The Octalysis Framework applied to cybersecurity training

The Octalysis Framework breaks down human motivation into eight core drives. Here’s how each core drive can be applied to enhance cybersecurity training:

  1. Epic Meaning and Calling: This foundational to building a vibrant security culture. Instilling a sense of purpose in employees is essential. By highlighting the importance of their role in protecting the organization, we can motivate them to take an active part in cybersecurity training. When employees understand that they are guardians of valuable data, they are more likely to engage fully.
  2. Development and Accomplishment: Creating a sense of achievement through progression and rewards is key. Gamified cyber security training elements like badges, leaderboards, and levels can make training feel like a journey with tangible milestones, encouraging continued participation and improvement.
  3. Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback: User feedback is vital for engagement. Incorporating interactive elements that allow employees to experiment and receive immediate feedback helps them learn more effectively. In simulated phishing attempts—and in the reporting of real phishing attacks!—employees must be able to see the impact of their decisions in real-time.
  4. Ownership and Possession: Making employees feel a sense of ownership over their cybersecurity practices can increase their commitment. This can be achieved personalizing their training and recognizing publicly how their good security behaviors are making a positive impact on their teams and the whole org.
  5. Social Influence and Relatedness: Creating team-based challenges and friendly inter-departmental competitions, or encouraging knowledge-sharing sessions, helps build a community around cybersecurity practices, making it a water cooler topic and, ultimately, a shared responsibility.
  6. Scarcity and Impatience: Elements of scarcity and urgency can drive engagement, but they must be used carefully. Limited-time challenges or exclusive rewards can motivate employees to act promptly without causing undue stress.
  7. Unpredictability and Curiosity: Keeping training content fresh and intriguing is crucial for maintaining interest. Randomized, fresh training content and alternating frequency of phishing simulations, unexpected challenges, and mystery rewards can sustain curiosity and engagement over time.
  8. Loss and Avoidance: The fear of loss isn’t great for long-term engagement but it can be a powerful motivator when used appropriately. In short campaigns within the broader reward-based training, highlighting the potential consequences of cybersecurity breaches, such as data loss or reputational damage, can encourage employees to take their training seriously. However, it’s important to balance this with positive reinforcement to avoid negative emotions.

Examples of gamification for other business applications

Education and E-Learning Platforms
  • Duolingo: Duolingo incorporates gamified elements such as streaks, levels, and achievements to make language learning engaging. Users earn points   for completing lessons and maintain their streaks for consistent practice.
  • Khan Academy: Khan Academy uses badges, progress tracking, and mastery challenges to enhance the learning experience.
E-Commerce and Retail
  • Amazon: Amazon’s Prime membership program is a prime example of gamification. Members receive benefits like free shipping, exclusive deals, and access to Prime Video. The feeling of being part of an exclusive club encourages loyalty
  • Loyalty Programs: Many retail stores use point-based systems, discounts, and rewards to incentivize repeat purchases.
Social Media and Community Platforms
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn encourages users to complete their profiles, connect with others, and endorse skills. These actions contribute to their “profile strength,” creating a sense of achievement.
  • Reddit: Reddit’s karma system and badges motivate users to participate in discussions and contribute valuable content.
Productivity and Task Management Tools
  • Todoist: Todoist awards users with points and levels for completing tasks. The visual progress and sense of accomplishment keep users engaged.
  • Habitica: Habitica turns productivity into a game, where users create avatars, earn rewards, and level up by completing real-life tasks.
Mobile Games and Entertainment Apps
  • Candy Crush Saga: The addictive gameplay, levels, and rewards in Candy Crush exemplify gamification.
  • Pokémon GO: The augmented reality game encourages players to explore their surroundings, catch Pokémon, and participate in events.
Employee Engagement and Training
  • Salesforce: Salesforce uses gamification to motivate sales teams. Leaderboards, badges, and challenges drive healthy competition.
  • Onboarding Programs: Companies use gamified modules to train new employees effectively

These examples showcase how gamification principles enhance user experiences, boost engagement, and drive desired behaviors. Each industry and product can tailor gamification elements to suit their specific goals and audience.

Hoxhunt's application of the Octalysis Framework

Cybersecurity awareness and phishing training are critical components of an organization’s defense strategy. By leveraging Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework, security teams can create a more engaging and effective training program.

Hoxhunt, the #1 rated human risk management & cybersecurity training platform, was built back in 2016 using the behavioral design concepts of Yu-kai’s framework.

In a recent webinar, Pyry Avist, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Hoxhunt, shared his methods of applying gamification to Hoxhunt's core products, underscoring the importance of making cybersecurity training both challenging and engaging.

“We wanted to make the failure an enjoyable and empowering experience,” said Pyry. "Hoxhunt emphasizes the need to continuously challenge users, noting that failure in their simulated environments often results in higher Net Promoter Scores (NPS) as individuals feel more engaged when adequately challenged."

Hoxhunt's phishing training utilized gamification to disrupt the SAT landscape and pioneered the Human Risk Management category. The deliberate application of gamification to cybersecurity training helps organizations like The AES Corporation see a dramatic uptick in user engagement and participation over time,

Behavioral Design for Long-term Engagement

Principles of behavioral design are essential for ensuring that cybersecurity best practices are retained long-term. By creating a training program that continuously engages employees through varied and meaningful interactions, organizations can foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness that persists beyond the initial training period.

Implementing these gamification and behavioral design strategies can transform cybersecurity training from a mundane task into an engaging and impactful experience, leading to better preparedness and resilience against cyber threats.

Key components of effective gamification in cybersecurity

Implementing gamification and behavioral design strategies can transform cybersecurity training from a mundane task into an engaging and impactful experience, leading to better preparedness and resilience against cyber threats.

Effective cybersecurity training programs should aim to:

  • Apply tasks and challenges that pique curiosity increase in difficulty to make training continuously engaging
  • Utilize scenario-based learning and simulated environments where users are engaged in role-playing exercises to identify security breaches
  • Build a sense of purpose, where every action seems meaningful and contributes to a larger mission
  • Employ White Hat techniques (e.g., epic meaning, development, and accomplishment) are crucial for long-term engagement without creating a sense of urgency.
  • Employ Black Hat techniques (e.g., scarcity, impatience, and loss avoidance) can drive short-term actions but need careful handling to avoid user burnout.
  • Increase social influence and relatedness to foster a collaborative and competitive environment

Moving towards an engaged, motivated workforce

For organizations looking to strengthen their cybersecurity defenses, applying gamification based on the Octalysis Framework could be the key to not only improving engagement and participation rates, but also fostering a proactive, security-conscious workplace culture.

To delve deeper into this transformative approach, Yu-kai Chou's book "Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards" and his upcoming publications are highly recommended.

As the field evolves, staying up-to-date and implementing these educational techniques could make all the difference in a world increasingly threatened by digital adversaries.

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