Corporate training videos. The words alone make you feel bored. They summon dreary memories of wasted hours, terrible acting and worse storytelling. If I told you that it doesn’t have to be that way, that training videos can be informative, engaging and even exciting, would you believe me? You’d be forgiven if you didn’t.
But that’s exactly what KnowBe4’s ‘The Inside Man’ is. For four seasons now, the show has been seamlessly interweaving, believe it or not, cybersecurity awareness training with genuinely entertaining drama.
Sceptical? What if I told you that the inbound fourth season includes air to air helicopter shots, a pipeline on the brink of explosion and original songs? Trust me, this is not your typical corporate training video.
Jim Shields, the series director, has a long history of crafting unconventional training videos. His company, Twist and Shout, has been “entertaining to inform” for nearly 20 years. He does this so well that after producing the first season of ‘The Inside Man’ for the cyber security awareness organisation KnowBe4, they responded by buying his company.
Three seasons and a serious cash injection later, the series has reached almost unimaginable heights. The staggering production value, disarming humour and hypertension-inducing drama all work in synergy to achieve Shield’s goal of “educating you without realising”.
The series follows Mark, a cyber-savant who has just landed a job as IT security analyst at a large corporation. Far from an ideal hire, Mark is in fact a double agent – planted by dark powers to bring down the company’s systems and compromise its data. Before long however, Mark develops an affection for his colleagues and suffers a crisis of faith, questioning who the good guys really are.
That brings us to season four. In a nod to the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in 2021, the series begins with a ransomware attack on a major energy provider, threatening gas supplies to a large part of the UK. Viewers, or rather, students, are kept on tenterhooks as Mark and his team work to uncover the vulnerability and regain control.
If you’re still struggling to envision how a series this dramatic can serve an educational purpose, take this scene as an example.
AJ, one of Mark’s colleagues, is attempting to convince the energy provider’s cyber-ignorant CEO of the importance of cybersecurity awareness training. It’s not going well. As the argument reaches a fever pitch, AJ takes a breath, calms down and explains to the CEO:
“Links are meant to be clicked on. Emails are meant to be opened. Teaching people when not to use tools is hard. That’s what we’re here for.”
See what I mean? Sceptical or no, you would be hard pressed to deny the series’ ability to nestle profound, educational truths into moments of high drama.
The second half of the series provides fascinating insight into deep-fake technology. A social media influencer suffers a major blow as a fabricated video of her espousing unsavoury conspiracy theories emerges. The team work to appease the influencer’s disillusioned fan base by explaining deep-fake tech to them and explaining to the influencer how to avoid the situation in the future.
Interwoven with these plot paths is a tangled web of personal, romantic and familial relationships that never fail to complicate life for the characters and heighten drama for the viewer.
At first glance, cybersecurity and excitement are disparate themes. Night and day, apples and oranges, chalk and cheese. Sit through just 12 bite-sized episodes of “The Inside Man”, and you will no longer see it that way.
That is the magic of the show. It is not a fantasy series, it doesn’t fearmonger, it doesn’t even have to work particularly hard to be exciting. What it does so well is tease out the real life drama of cybersecurity and plaster it on screen for all to see.
If season four is anything to go by, the news that “The Inside Man” has been picked up for a further three seasons promises a continuation of its success.
Shields is particularly excited for the oncoming seasons and the opportunity to further develop the series. “Three more seasons allows us to build the story. The more people fall in love with the characters, the more we are able to teach them,” he said.
John Just, Chief Learning Officer at KnowBe4 and a driving force behind “The Inside Man”, believes that meticulous research is key to walking the line between entertainment and information.
“In focus groups we sometimes get feedback that our ideas could be seen as fear mongering. That’s why we try to keep things realistic, in this season we were inspired by the Colonial Pipeline attack. We’re also not afraid to take on ideas from clients and reinforce ideas that we have already covered,” he said.
Just explained that while verifiable data is still not available, KnowBe4’s research team based in Oslo, Norway is working to quantify the real-world impact of the series. For now, we will just have to settle for the overwhelmingly positive anecdotal evidence of the series’ success. Based on this evidence, Just said that his “hypotheses would be that through engagement, through getting people interested who otherwise wouldn’t be interested, there’s some effect.”
It’s not just KnowBe4’s clients that are benefitting from the series. Abe Jarman, who plays AJ in the show, told press screening attendees that “every season [I] realise how little I know. I’ve done a corporate gig before but this doesn’t feel like one, it just feels like a TV show. The cast feel like my family”.
Kirsty Averton, who plays Violet, also says that she has learned a lot from working on the series. “The main thing I’ve taken from this is passwords! I’m not always as good as I should be but I am way more aware of my passwords and personal security now.”
The success of the series proves that cybersecurity’s image problem is far from terminal. Twist and Shout, KnowBe4 and the cast are a shining example of what can be achieved when a touch of creative flair is added to corporate training videos. Watching the series, you get the sense that it’s not just KnowBe4’s clients that will benefit, but the cybersecurity industry at large. Cyberattacks are more common than ever, and cybersecurity awareness is more important than ever. “The Inside Man” should give the industry hope, and with any luck signifies a change in how we approach cybersecurity awareness training.
You can watch the trailer for “The Inside Man” season four here.
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