What Is A Phishing Simulation?

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Gareth Shelwell Last Updated: February 03, 2024

A phishing simulation is a training exercise designed to improve an organization's ability to detect phishing attacks. It involves creating and sending simulated phishing emails to employees, which mimic real-life phishing attempts without malicious intent. The key to a successfully orchestrated phishing simulation is to use relevant content for the target audience, track user interactions with the phishing material, and provide education through immediate feedback and security awareness training.

What Is The Purpose Of Phishing Simulations?

The purpose of phishing simulations extends beyond mere detection training; it aims to transform a traditional vulnerability, the human aspect of cyber security, into a trusted line of defense. By actively engaging employees in identifying and reacting to simulated phishing attempts, these exercises reinforce critical thinking and vigilance against digital threats. This proactive, hands-on approach helps build a security-conscious workforce, significantly enhancing the company's overall defense capabilities against real-world cyber attacks.

Image depicting a super hero with a message saying The purpose of phishing simulations is to forge cyber defenders capable of evading phishing attacks

Why Are Phishing Simulations Important?

Phishing simulations are important because they function as a critical tool in an organization's cybersecurity arsenal, addressing the human element of cyber defense. They go beyond theoretical training, which is not an effective learning technique for everyone, and provide practical experience in handling phishing attempts in a safe and controlled learning environment. By regularly conducting these simulations, organizations test and sharpen their employees' ability to identify and respond to phishing attacks and create an ongoing learning process. This approach leads to a more resilient workforce adept at recognizing and mitigating potential threats.

Can Phishing Simulations Improve Enterprise Security?

Yes, phishing simulations are a proven and cost-effective method to improve enterprise security significantly. They act as a proactive measure to strengthen an organization's first line of defense – its employees. By simulating real-world phishing scenarios, these exercises enhance the employee's ability to detect and respond to such threats, reducing the likelihood of successful cyber attacks. Regularly conducting these simulations ensures that employees are up-to-date with the latest phishing techniques and are continually reminded of the importance of cybersecurity vigilance. Moreover, the insights gained from these simulations help refine the organization's broader security strategies and protocols.

A text based image with the message, Phishing simulations are a proven and cost-effective method to improve enterprise security significantly.

Head to our dedicated blog post for an in-depth look into how phishing simulations contribute to enterprise security.

Should All Employees Participate In Phishing Simulations?

It is paramount that all employees, regardless of tenure or position, participate in phishing simulations. Cyber threats do not discriminate based on job role or seniority; hence, inclusivity in these training exercises is crucial. Every employee is a potential target and can be a gateway for cyber criminals to access sensitive company information. Ensuring universal participation in phishing simulations reinforces the collective responsibility toward cybersecurity and fosters a uniform level of awareness across the organization. This comprehensive approach ensures that all staff members, from entry-level to executives, are equally equipped to identify and counter phishing attempts, thereby transforming every potential attack gateway into a defense post.

How Often Should Phishing Simulations Be Conducted?

Phishing simulations should be conducted regularly, with a frequency that balances effectiveness and alert fatigue. A recommended approach is to conduct these simulations quarterly. This frequency keeps employees abreast of evolving phishing techniques while preventing the training from becoming too predictable or routine. It's important to note that this recommendation is unsuitable for all organizations. Some may require more frequent training depending on many factors, including compliance regulations, current security posture, industry, and risk appetite.

Powerful phishing simulation tools harness AI to optimize frequency. One approach is risk-based phishing, where employees at higher risk receive more frequent training.

Jump To Features Top Phishing Software Platforms Should Have In 2024

What Are the Common Types of Phishing Attacks Used in Simulations?

In phishing simulations, a wide variety of attack types are used to replicate real-world threats, enhancing employees' ability to identify and respond to various phishing tactics. Each attack type challenges employees differently. Exposing employees to a broad spectrum of attack types helps build a well-rounded defense.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing targets specific individuals or departments with personalized information, making the emails seem more legitimate. It tests employees' vigilance in scrutinizing emails for authenticity, even when they seem relevant and personalized.

Clone Phishing

Clone phishing involves duplicating a legitimate email but replacing the link with a malicious one. These simulations are particularly effective when they utilize services familiar to the organization. It challenges employees to notice minor discrepancies that might indicate an email is not from a trusted source, such as slight changes in the email address, the tone of the message, or the appearance of links and attachments.

Business Email Compromise (BEC)

BEC simulates urgent requests or sensitive information sharing, appearing to come from senior officials or trusted partners. Employees are assessed on their ability to detect misuse of authority in emails.

Attachment-Based Phishing

Attachment phishing involves emails containing seemingly legitimate attachments containing malware or spyware. It evaluates whether employees can detect the red flags associated with deceptive attachments and tests their caution in downloading and opening them.

Image depicting the many types of phishing

As cybercriminals continuously refine their strategies, staying current with the latest phishing trends and incorporating them into simulations is vital. It's important for IT professionals charged with running phishing simulations to keep their finger on the pulse and update their phishing simulations accordingly. This ensures employees are prepared to recognize and counteract emerging phishing threats effectively.

How Do Phishing Simulations Differ From Real Phishing Attacks?

Phishing simulations are designed to closely resemble real phishing attacks in appearance and technique, making them highly effective training tools. The key difference lies in the consequences. In actual phishing attacks, falling for the deception can lead to significant data breaches or financial losses, often with lasting repercussions. However, in a simulated environment, those who fall for the phish face no real-world harm. Instead, they are provided with immediate feedback and learning opportunities.

How Do You Run Phishing Simulations?

Running a phishing simulation involves sending an email to evaluate employees' awareness and response to phishing attempts. For organizations and employees to get the most out of the exercise, it's necessary to have established clear desired outcomes, use the right tools, and understand that phishing simulations are not a one-time event. To run an effective phishing simulation, we suggest this systematic approach.

  1. Planning: Define the objectives of the simulation, such as gauging the current level of awareness or identifying where vulnerabilities lie.
  2. Designing the Campaign: Create realistic phishing emails. The content should be relevant to your organization and employees, mimicking the style of phishing attempts they might encounter.
  3. Selecting the Audience: Ultimately, the whole organization should receive training, but splitting the organization into groups by department can be advantageous, especially in a large business. This allows you to serve more relevant phishing content and subsequent training better suited to the audience.
  4. Execution: Use phishing simulation software to send out the emails. This software can track interactions like who opened the email, clicked on links, or entered information.
  5. Immediate Feedback: Provide instant educational feedback to those who fall for the simulation. This should be constructive and informative, explaining how to recognize such threats in the future.
  6. Follow-Up Training: Based on the individual employee's interaction, conduct targeted training sessions to address identified weaknesses.
  7. Analysis and Reporting: Evaluate the simulation's results to understand the organization's vulnerabilities and the overall effectiveness of current cybersecurity training.
  8. Repetition: Regularly schedule simulations to keep up with evolving phishing techniques and maintain staff vigilance.

Effective phishing simulations demand a strategic blend of planning, execution, and analysis. Each test should assess and enhance your team's readiness against phishing threats. Remember, the goal is to foster an environment where employees are empowered to recognize and respond to threats proactively, which means reflection, refinement, and repetition are key.

How Does Phishing Simulation Software Work?

Running a phishing simulation without the assistance of a purpose-built platform is a mammoth task. Enter phishing simulation software. Most platforms come equipped with pre-designed infrastructure and content, enabling rapid deployment of simulations and security awareness training. Tools typically follow a model similar to CanIPhish, where organizations can dispatch simulated phishing emails directly from the platform to employees' inboxes. Employees who fall for the simulated attack immediately receive on-the-spot training, often supplemented with additional security awareness education.

Image explaning the basic flow of events phishing simulation platforms use

Features Top Phishing Software Platforms Should Have In 2024

Phishing simulation software is a rapidly evolving market space with new platforms regularly entering the scene, offering innovative perspectives on the same crucial concept. With many options and prices ranging from US$0.42 to US$4 per employee per month, it pays to shop around.

In 2024, choosing the right platform means looking for certain essential features that set the best apart. Use this feature guide to help sift through the marketing noise and aid you in selecting a platform that has the right ingredients to serve your organization best.

#1 AI-Driven Security Awareness Training Playbooks

AI-driven playbooks simplify the creation of phishing simulations, leveraging artificial intelligence to automatically generate customized campaigns based on a company’s specific compliance requirements, technology stacks, geographic location, and security training goals. This feature streamlines the process for users, making it easier to deploy targeted training that addresses their unique vulnerabilities and educates employees effectively. It’s a key tool for ensuring phishing simulations are both relevant and efficient, enhancing an organization's cybersecurity measures with minimal manual effort.

#2 Dynamic Phishing Simulations

Harnessing AI to create dynamic phishing campaigns has quickly become a must-have feature for phishing simulation platforms. This type of feature leverages artificial intelligence to analyze employee behavior, vulnerability, and past interactions with phishing simulations. By doing so, the platform can serve phishing simulations that differ in frequency and difficulty on a user-by-user basis. The result is a more effective training experience, with training that aligns with the employees' individual risk profiles and learning curves.

#3 Realistic Phishing Email Templates

Realistic phishing templates are a marker of a top-tier platform. The key is quality over quantity, so be wary of platforms that offer many templates without carefully vetting their quality. These templates should be indistinguishable from actual phishing attempts, encompassing a range of scenarios from basic phishing to more sophisticated spear-phishing attacks. Updated regularly to reflect current trends and tactics cyber criminals use, these templates are crucial in providing a training experience that truly tests and enhances an organization's phishing awareness and defenses.

#4 Customizable Phishing Content

This allows organizations to tailor the content of phishing simulations to their specific industry, company culture, and prevalent threats. Customization not only increases the relevance of the training but also boosts engagement, as employees are more likely to encounter simulations that resonate with their daily work and communications.

#5 Customizable Communications

An essential feature for phishing software in 2024 is the ability to customize automated communications and be white-labelled, ensuring the platform aligns with your organization's tone, communication style and branding. These features foster a more seamless and integrated learning experience, making the phishing training a natural extension of the organization's cybersecurity culture.

#6 Integrated E-Learning Capabilities

Integrated e-learning allows for immediate educational moments when an employee interacts with a simulation, but equally as important, the platform has the ability to assign the user pre-determined or AI-driven micro-learning modules. These modules should be concise, engaging, informative, customizable, and regularly updated as new cyber threats and phishing tactics emerge.

#7 Transparent Pricing

This means providing clear, upfront cost information without hidden fees or complex pricing structures. Organizations should have the ability to easily understand what they are paying for and assess the value they're receiving in return. A straightforward pricing model, whether it's based on the number of users, frequency of simulations, or depth of features, is essential for companies to make informed decisions. Moreover, customers should be able to select from flexible monthly or annual pricing models, ensuring they only pay for what they need.

Learn how CanIPhish ticks all the boxes

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