Inside Man Series Four: Analyzing KnowBe4's Novel Approach to Security Awareness Training

Helicopter rides, the threat of an exploding gas pipeline, a sinister underground criminal group and complex romance and family problems – you could be forgiven for thinking I was discussing the plot of a James Bond movie. Remarkably, this is a reference to a cybersecurity awareness training video that I had the pleasure of witnessing last week.

The latest series, the fourth, of KnowBe4’s award-winning Inside Man video premiered in the Phoenix Arts Club in Covent Garden, London, UK, on Thursday February 17, and certainly didn’t disappoint, building upon the successes of the first three. The first series was first released in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. KnowBe4’s bold attempt to offer cybersecurity awareness in dramatized, yet very realistic scenarios, has proven highly popular – it has achieved an impressive 4.5-star rating on the KnowBe4 platform and a significant and growing fan base. The first series was also available to be streamed on Amazon Prime for a period.

Plans are afoot to develop three more series of the gripping drama, revealed Jim Shields, creative director of Twist & Shout Communications, a KnowBe4 company, during the press screening event.

The new series follows a similar format to the previous three, following the travails and adventures of Mark Shepherd and his colleagues – AJ, Fiona, Maurice and Violet – in 12 bite-sized episodes. However, it is fair to say the storylines and themes are becoming more ambitious in scope, making for increasingly gripping entertainment.

With a nod to the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May 2021, the first half of the series focuses on the team’s efforts to deal with a ransomware attack on a major energy supplier that threatens gas supplies to a large part of the UK. Will they work out how the attackers breached the company and find a way to regain control of the network before the company’s CEO caves to the attackers’ demands and pays the ransom?

The other half includes a deepfake video impersonating a social media influencer, which offers fascinating insights into how this emerging technology works. There are many other subplots and themes intertwined throughout, including a family dilemma for Violet and a complex relationship between Mark and the leader of the cyber gang, Charlotte, from earlier series; this eventually comes back to haunt him. Overall, the series is filled with an abundance of fun, tension and sadness.

The latest series also takes the action to a truly international stage, with locations in the UK, US, Norway and Berlin.

"Each time it’s getting better; the relationships are getting stronger, which I think shows through the episodes, the performances and the writing"

Kirsty Averton, who plays Violet in the series, joined the press screening alongside fellow series star Abe Jarman (AJ). “Each time it’s getting better; the relationships are getting stronger, which I think shows through the episodes, the performances and the writing. Everything is deepening,” she outlined.

Among the twists and turns, lessons about the human side of cybersecurity are subtly placed throughout the episodes. This includes a hilarious cameo from KnowBe4’s security awareness advocate and industry stalwart Javvad Malik, who ironically plays an employee who isn’t, shall we say, the most cyber-aware person on the planet (please do keep up the acting Javvad!). So aside from the entertainment value, just how much of an impact have these series’ had on its overarching aim; to enhance security awareness?

John Just, chief learning officer, explained that the KnowBe4 research team based in Oslo, Norway (one of whom appeared in the series) is currently analyzing the data to try and quantify its real-world impact. However, although empirical evidence is currently lacking, Just and Shields have observed significant positive feedback and engagement with the series, both from individual fans and security leaders who use it to help train their staff. “My hypothesis would be that through that engagement, through getting people interested who otherwise wouldn’t be interested, there’s some effect,” said Just.

This is a view shared by the two actors, Averton, and Jarman, neither of whom had any particular technology or security knowledge before taking on the roles. Jarman noted: “Every season I realized how little I know about it! It’s great because not only is it an amazing role to play and my other cast members and crew are like a family, but it also makes me aware of how many security issues can happen if you’re not aware.”

Averton added: “The main thing I have learned is passwords, that it’s such a huge thing!” she commented. “I’m way more aware of my passwords and personal security [now].”

The need for good cyber awareness training has never been greater amid accelerated digitization and the shift to remote working during the pandemic. Yet far too many people remain unaware of the security fundamentals, such as secure password practices, putting organizations at high risk of compromise. Therefore, finding ways to make security lessons entertaining, relatable and understandable is critical – Inside Man is making a novel attempt to do just that, and I suspect it is making a significant difference.

Preview a trailer of season four of Inside Man here.

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