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What is Simulated Phishing and How Does it Protect Your Business?

In today’s digital age, cybersecurity is more important than ever. One critical aspect of cybersecurity training that often gets overlooked is phishing simulations. A phishing simulation is much like running a fire drill. Your IT team or a 3rd party crafts fake phishing emails to test your team's ability to identify and report on phishing attempts. These simulations serve as a practical, hands-on way to educate individuals about the dangers of phishing and how to protect themselves and their organizations.

What is Phishing?

Before diving into the details of phishing simulations, it's essential to understand what phishing is. Phishing is a type of online scam where cybercriminals impersonate legitimate organizations to steal sensitive data like credit card numbers, login credentials, and personal identification information. They usually do this by sending deceptive emails or creating fake websites. Common tactics include urgent language, requests for personal information, and links to fraudulent websites.


Why Phishing Simulations Matter?

Phishing simulations matter greatly in today's digital landscape due to several reasons.

First, Phishing threats are getting worse, becoming increasingly complex and harder for the average individual to identify. Big-name companies often find themselves the target of cybercriminals, dealing with the negative effects when their data is stolen.

But what does this mean for your staff? Is there a real chance they could be targeted by an online thief?

A recent report says yes. A study done by Fortra's Terranova Security found that about 76% of workers in France, the UK, Canada, Australia, and the US have either been personally targeted by a cyber attack or know someone who has.

Yet, in the same survey, it was found that 52% of the respondents believed their job role had no connection to cyber security.

When you weigh these alarming statistics against the cost of a single data breach ($4,030,000 in Australia) – which encompasses the loss of data, operational downtime, business lost due to reputational harm, idle workforce, and regulatory penalties – the picture becomes far less rosy.

It's clear that phishing threats pose a significant risk, and this risk is only growing with the continuous evolution of these threats.

Secondly, they provide a hands-on experience. Reading about phishing is one thing, but actually experiencing it in a controlled environment allows individuals to understand the threat better and learn how to respond effectively.

Lastly, phishing simulations help identify areas for improvement. By tracking how individuals respond to simulated phishing attacks, organizations can identify common mistakes and focus their training efforts accordingly. If you're using user-tailored cyber awareness training, reports from your phishing simulation will aid you in identifying high-risk individuals who need to be prioritised for more phishing training.

The reality is that many individuals still have trouble identifying phishing attempts and reporting phishing attempts to the proper individuals in a timely manner. Pishing simulation helps close this gap and shore up your cybersecurity.


How Do Phishing Simulations Work?

Conducting a phishing simulation involves several steps. First, a scenario is created that mimics a real-life phishing attempt. This can be an email, a text message, or a website. The simulation is then launched, and the responses are monitored. After the simulation, a debriefing session is held where the participants can discuss their experiences and learn from their mistakes.

Here's a more detailed explanation:

Craft a Simulation: In this step, the organization, often with the help of cybersecurity experts, designs a simulated phishing attempt. This could be an imitation of common phishing emails or text messages, and deceptive replicas of reputable websites. The scenario should be as realistic as possible to effectively test the employees' ability to detect phishing attempts.

Launch: Once the simulation is designed, it's sent out to the employees. This can be done via email, text message, or any other form of communication that the organization typically uses. The launch must be done in a manner where employees aren't aware that it's a simulation to ensure the responses are genuine. You can segment your employees into different audiences, and stagger messages so that they receive the simulation separately, over a period of hours/days/weeks.

Monitor: During the simulation, the organization closely monitors the employees' reactions. This could involve tracking who clicked on the links, who reported the email as phishing, or who ignored the email. The aim is to understand how well the employees can identify and respond to phishing threats.

Report: After the simulation, a detailed report is generated. This report analyses the behaviour of the employees during the simulation, highlighting areas where the organization is vulnerable to phishing attacks. It also identifies the employees who may need additional training in detecting such threats.

Training: Based on the report, end-users who need further training are identified and funneled into further phishing training. During this session, the employees are educated about the dangers of phishing and how to identify such threats. They are also given practical tips on what to do when they encounter a potential phishing attempt. The objective of the training is to enhance the employees' ability to detect and respond to phishing attempts, thereby strengthening the organization's overall cybersecurity posture.


Phishing Simulations - Best Practices

To ensure the effectiveness of phishing simulations, follow these best practices:

  1. Regularly conduct phishing simulations to keep everyone alert - fortnightly or monthly. Do ensure that you're not sending simulations on a predictable schedule though, mix up the days and times to keep employees on their toes.
  2. Use a variety of scenarios to cover different types of phishing attacks. Try a range of methodologies and simulated senders - shopping, banking, couriers, social engineering, CEO fraud, spear phishing.
  3. Provide immediate feedback to participants, highlighting what they did right and where they went wrong.
  4. Use the results of the simulations to tailor your cybersecurity training program.


Getting started with simulated phishing

Indeed, phishing simulations do play a pivotal role in cybersecurity training. These simulations provide invaluable practical experience and help in identifying gaps in training while reinforcing the critical need for vigilance in online security. As we witness the evolution of cyber threats becoming more sophisticated, our defences must adapt in response. In this context, phishing simulations emerge as a key component in this necessary adaptation to fortify our defences against these evolving cyber threats.

Don't leave your cybersecurity to chance - Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive Human Risk Management platform that includes simulated phishing.