Phishing simulations are an invaluable training tool and have been proven to help reduce the susceptibility of the workforce to phishing attacks. Phishing simulations are more than just a tool for testing whether employees have understood their training. Quizzes at the end of training sessions are good for that, but phishing simulations test whether the training is being applied when employees are working and not focused on cybersecurity.

If a cybercriminal were to send an employee a phishing email at the moment an employee had finished a training course, chances are the employee would recognize the email for what it is. The longer the time between the training ending and the threat being encountered, the greater the chance that the employee will be fooled.

Phishing simulations test whether employees are likely to be fooled by a real phishing email. The simulations are expected, but employees do not know when the simulations will take place. Phishing simulations mimic real world phishing attacks and tell an organization how an individual is likely to react if a real threat lands in their inbox.

If an employee fails one of these simulations and clicks a link, opens an attachment, or responds in another risky manner, an alert is immediately generated, and the employee is told what went wrong and how it was possible to tell that it was a phishing attempt. The employee can then be provided with a brief training session – generated by the phishing simulator – on how to respond when similar emails are received.

When ongoing security awareness training is provided and phishing simulations are conducted, security awareness improves. Over time, the combination of training and simulations greatly reduces susceptibility to phishing emails – much more than providing training alone. There are, however, some common mistakes that are made by employers that reduce the effectiveness of these phishing tests.

Mistakes to Avoid When Conducting Phishing Simulations

If you want to get the best return on your investment in training and phishing simulations, it is important to set up your program correctly and to avoid making these common mistakes.

Not Telling Employees You Will Be Conducting Phishing Simulations

Don’t broadside employees. Tell them during their training that you will be conducting phishing simulations as part of the training process. If employees are unaware you will be using simulations, they may feel that you are trying to catch them out. Make sure employees are aware that you are conducting these tests to identify training needs and to test how effective your training program has been. Don’t tell employees when you will be sending the emails, and make sure the HR department and other stakeholders are aware that you are conducting phishing simulations.

Making the Simulations Too Difficult

You want to test how employees will respond to a real phishing email; however, building up security awareness is a process. Your simulation program should include emails of varying degrees of difficulty and it is best to start with phishing emails that are relatively easy to identify. That will help build confidence.

Not Conducting Phishing Simulations on the Board

Members of the board are targeted in whaling attacks. They have the highest level of privileges and the credentials for their accounts are the ultimate goal in many phishing campaigns. You want to improve the security awareness of the board, so ensure they are included in your phishing tests. Also don’t avoid conducting phishing attacks on infrequent email users. Any credentials can be valuable. Attackers can use them to conduct internal phishing campaigns and move laterally.

Conducting Phishing Simulations on Everyone at the Same Time

If you use the SafeTitan phishing simulator you can create your simulation program and schedule emails to be sent at set times. Don’t send the same emails to everyone at the same time, as employees will likely tip each other off. You will then not get valid results. Vary the times you send the emails and target different individuals in a department at different times.

Not providing retraining in real-time

You should not be conducting these campaigns and then sitting on the results until you can arrange a training course for everyone that failed the test. The simulator should be configured to automatically tell a user when a test was failed and assign immediate training. The training modules should be brief, and concisely explain how the threat could have been avoided. It should only take a couple of minutes, but that training is likely to be much more effective when delivered instantly.

Punishing employees for failing phishing simulations

It may be tempting to punish employees who repeatedly fail phishing simulations, but this approach is best avoided. The goal of training and phishing simulations is to change employee behavior. You are likely to have far greater success achieving that goal by encouraging employees to take security seriously rather than punishing them for failures. Focus on positives – departments that performed well, individual successes – rather than any failures.

SafeTitan Security Awareness Training and Phishing Simulations

SafeTitan is a comprehensive security awareness training platform that makes it easy for businesses to develop training courses for their employees. The content consists of short training modules on all aspects of security, allowing businesses to create tailored and relevant training courses for the entire workforce, and the phishing simulator has hundreds of customizable templates for conducting realistic phishing tests. The training content is gamified, engaging, and fun, and when combined with simulations, has been proven to be highly effective at changing employee behavior and reducing susceptibility to phishing and other cyberattacks.