How To Send A Phishing Awareness Email To Employees In 2024

Phishing Awareness Strategies in the Workplace Banner
Sebastian Salla, Chief Executive Officer at CanIPhish
Sebastian Salla Published: December 22, 2022 (Updated: January 08, 2024)

In this blog, we explore the difference between sending phishing awareness emails and simulated phishing emails (with free phishing awareness posters and step-by-step instructions on how to do both!).

First, we explore the concept of phishing awareness emails - those essential emails that educate and alert your employees about the dangers of phishing.

Then, we'll dive into the more hands-on approach of deploying simulated phishing emails and give you a step-by-step blueprint on how to get started, whether you are DIY'ing your approach or using a paid phishing simulation tool.

Why You Should Educate Employees On Phishing

Phishing attacks are a formidable challenge to organizations, with over 300,000 complaints reported to the FBI in 2022 alone. Educating employees is crucial. It's not just about compliance but empowering them to identify and navigate around these threats while still allowing them to perform their usual duties, unencumbered.

Image explaining why it's important to educate employees on phishing

There are several reasons why you need to educate employees on phishing:

  • Phishing attacks can result in financial losses. Phishing attacks often aim to steal sensitive information or funds. Training employees in recognizing these threats protects the company's financial assets and confidential data from unauthorized access.
  • Phishing attacks can result in reputational damage. If a phishing attack results in the theft of sensitive information, it can incur reputational damage. By raising employee awareness on recognizing and preventing phishing, you can help protect your company's reputation and prevent long-term damage.
  • Enhanced protection against cyber threats. Educating employees on phishing equips them with the knowledge to identify and avoid malicious attempts, significantly reducing the risk of security breaches and data theft.

As the first line of defense, employees can significantly reduce the likelihood of a breach.

Crafting Effective Phishing Awareness Emails

These emails serve as educational tools, alerting employees to the common tactics used by cybercriminals in phishing attacks. Exposing staff to simulated phishing tactics and scenarios makes them more adept at recognizing and avoiding real threats in the wild.

Phishing awareness emails are a rudimentary yet critical component in strengthening an organization's first line of defense against cyber threats.

Step 1. Make The Emails Relatable

Use real-life examples of phishing attacks that have affected your company or industry to illustrate the importance of vigilance. This will help employees understand the issue's relevance and make the message memorable. Here are some real-world examples. that dives into specific examples and helps hammer the message home.

Step 2. Use Clear And Concise Language

Not everyone has a subscription to WIRED magazine like you! Keep that in mind and avoid technical jargon. Instead, opt for simple, straightforward language to explain the issue. This will ensure the message is easy to understand and accessible to all employees.

Step 3. Include Actionable Tips

If you rely solely on awareness emails for your organization's security awareness training (which I strongly advise against), at the very least, ensure the email provides employees with specific steps to protect themselves and the company from phishing attacks. This could include guidelines on recognizing suspicious emails, best practices for creating and protecting passwords, and instructions on what to do if they suspect they have fallen for a phishing attack.

Step 4. Make The Emails Interactive

Consider including quizzes, puzzles, or other interactive elements to gamify the training and increase employees' chances to pay attention to and retain the information.

Step 5. Provide Additional Resources

Include links to additional resources, such as company policies on phishing, posters that can be printed out, or industry-specific guidelines, to help employees further educate themselves.

Pro-tip: We've done the hard work for you! Download your free poster below.

Sending Simulated Phishing To Train Employees

While sending out phishing warning emails is a great first step, if that's all it took to create a rock-solid security posture, every organization would have it. Fostering a culture of security awareness requires a consistent and repeated effort. How is this done?

Simulated phishing is the most effective way to transform click-happy employees into your frontline defenders.

This can be done using open-source or paid professional tools. We have conducted a comprehensive comparison to help you decide which is best for your organization.

Here are the steps to help you get started with your first simulated phishing campaign. If you've decided to use paid professional tools, skip the technical details and move straight to step 3.

Step 1: Create the Infrastructure and Phishing Content

  • Email Server: You will need an email server to send the simulated phishing emails to employees. This can be an in-house server or a third-party service.
  • Phishing Emails: Creating highly realistic content is crucial for a successful campaign. It is essential to create phishing emails that look like the real ones out there. If you need more information on creating a phishing email, check out our 7-step guide. If you're after some inspiration, check out our article showcasing the 12 most dangerous phishing emails in 2024 using real-world statistics.
  • Phishing Websites: If the simulated phishing campaign involves employees clicking on a link and entering personal information, you must create a phishing website. This page should be hosted on a secure server and should mimic the appearance of a legitimate website or login page.
  • Tracking system: It's essential to track the success rate of the simulated phishing campaign to measure the effectiveness of the training and identify areas for improvement. You will need a system to track which employees fell for the simulated phishing attempt. This step often proves to be a significant challenge, and where would-be "DIY'ers" throw in the towel, opting for paid solutions that natively offer this capability.

Image which lists the 4 phishing infratstructure requirements

Step 2: Decide On A Training Mechanism

  • Instant feedback: After falling for a phishing attempt, the employee will feel vulnerable and surprised; it is essential to provide prompt feedback to the victim in a non-threatening and constructive manner. Typically, this is achieved by redirecting the victim to an educational page that informs them they have been phished and teaches them how to identify future phishing attempts.
  • Training Modules: Take it to the next level and add training. If you have the infrastructure, this can be facilitated through an LMS or be as simple as an online quiz. Plenty of online resources exist, such as Typeform, which can be used to create online quizzes. Paid solutions offer the ability to pair simulated phishing with training. This way, training can be assigned to employees who fall for phishing. For fresh ideas on training topics, click on the image below for the entire library of CanIPhish training modules, or head to our countdown of the 15 most popular security awareness training topics of 2024, which includes Web 3.0, Blockchain, and AI security awareness training.

Collage of CanIPhish training modules

Step 3: Let's Go Phishing

  • Establish your goals: Before you begin your journey, determine the destination. If your goal is to educate, ensure your content is aimed at education. If your goal is to bolster cybersecurity culture, ensure your content is engaging. If your aim is to build resilience against sophisticated attacks, use advanced phishing techniques and highly realistic phishing emails.

The different goals an organization can have when it comes to phishing awareness

  • Create a baseline: We recommend establishing a baseline by sending out a widespread phishing campaign. This determines your organization's phishing spotting competency and helps to guide you when selecting the material for your subsequent campaigns.
  • The Campaigns: Once you understand your organization's competency, create relevant campaigns tailored for your employees. Splitting your organization up by department or risk level may be necessary. This way, you're ensuring phishing material is at the right difficulty, thus providing a learning experience for each person regardless of skill level. Training should also be tailored and relevant to the audience.
  • Engagement: Let's face it - training can sometimes feel like a drag. But what if you brought some of the excitement of games night into the learning process? To boost employees' motivation and involvement in training, consider integrating personalized quizzes and leaderboards into the program. Quizzes can help employees evaluate their comprehension of the materials, while leaderboards can inspire healthy competition and drive them to improve their performance.

Step 4: Review and Repeat

  • Review the results: Did your campaign meet its goals? Use this opportunity to analyze the results and refine your campaign before repeating it. Evaluating whether your campaign brings your organization closer to its cyber security goals is critical. If you're on track, keep going. If you're not, identify why and tweak the formula accordingly.
  • Get feedback: Consider creating a quick, anonymous survey or feedback form after the campaign. Ask about the content, difficulty, and relevance of the material.
  • Repeat: Repetition is key to getting the message to stick. It's so crucial that some compliance frameworks even mandate regular phishing simulations. For example, SOC 2 requires periodic phishing simulations to remain compliant.

Wrapping up

Phishing attacks are a serious threat to both individuals and organizations. Educating your employees on recognizing and preventing these scams can protect your company from financial losses and reputation damage. Use the tips above to craft a compelling phishing awareness email and create an effective simulated phishing campaign to help your employees stay vigilant.

Learn how CanIPhish transforms security culture!

Image depicting a file with a checklist

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between phishing awareness emails and simulated phishing emails?

Phishing awareness emails are educational tools that inform employees about the tactics used in phishing attacks. In contrast, simulated phishing emails are practical exercises where employees receive fake phishing emails to test their ability to recognize and respond to these threats.

Why is it important to educate employees about phishing?

Educating employees helps prevent financial losses and protect sensitive information, as they are often the first line of defense against cyber threats. Awareness reduces the risk of security breaches and reputational damage by equipping employees with the knowledge to identify and avoid phishing attempts.

How can I make phishing awareness emails effective?

To craft effective phishing awareness emails, use relatable real-life examples, clear and concise language, actionable tips, and interactive elements like quizzes. Providing additional resources and company-specific guidelines can also enhance understanding and retention.

What are the steps to start a simulated phishing campaign?

To start a simulated phishing campaign, first create the infrastructure, including an email server and realistic phishing content. Decide on a training mechanism with instant feedback or training modules. Establish your goals and create a baseline to understand your organization's current competency. Design relevant campaigns, engage employees with interactive elements, and regularly review and repeat the process to improve effectiveness.

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Written by Sebastian Salla

A Security Professional who loves all things related to Cloud and Email Security.