Learn how combining phishing awareness training and security awareness can help reduce your organization’s most significant cyber security risk factor: your employees.

Security awareness training courses, while inherently valuable to any organization’s information security strategy, need practical support to be effective. In other words, just showing employees videos or asking them to complete quizzes isn’t enough on its own – an organization must ensure they’ve acquired the knowledge they need through simulated phishing attacks.

What is Phishing Awareness Training?

Phishing awareness training refers to a training campaign that educates end users on specific phishing threats they may encounter in their daily lives. Effective phishing awareness training initiatives leverage phishing simulations to enhance employee understanding, allowing them to detect and avoid phishing attacks in a safe environment.

Simulating phishing attacks on your workforce also allows you to assess your organization’s maturity regarding its security awareness posture, and subsequently, optimize future iterations of campaign learning material and components. Testing your users and measuring where their security awareness knowledge and skills are at any given point strengthens data protection long-term.

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The Importance of Phishing Awareness Training in 2021

Phishing threats are continuously evolving to become more complex. As a result, they continue to grab international headlines, with many well-known organizations bearing the brunt of a very public fallout. But what does that mean for the average user? Are they really at risk of being targeted by a cyber criminal?

The following story reveals some of the devastating effects phishing attacks can inflict on the unsuspecting user. It also sheds some light on how phishing simulations can help build security resilience in your workforce.


Sam gets about 40 emails in her work account on a typical morning. She goes through the emails, deleting unwanted ones, reading ones of urgency, sending some out, scanning newsletters, opening shared documents, and checking her schedule for the day. All standard stuff.

These days, however, Sam faces her inbox with grim determination. Two weeks ago, she was under attack by a team of hackers whose goal was to phish Sam’s company. Sam got an email with a link to another site that appeared to be almost identical to the company name, but the domain ended with “.org” when the site’s actual URL should have been “.com.”

Sam did not notice the subtle difference. After clicking on the link, she was directed to a page that looked like the original website, which asked her to input her username and password to exchange a downloadable document. Sam complied.

Our unfortunate employee’s inbox was flooding with unrecognizable emails within three days. Sam’s account was getting hit with unexpected messages. It became full of messages with subject lines like “Autoreply: Out of office” or “Delivery Failure” and messages from unknown senders asking her to stop emailing them.

After informing leadership of the suspicious activities, with a single glance, the CISO identified that Sam’s email account was taken over and that the hacker used it to send phishing messages to other targets.

This event instilled paranoia in her. Every email from an unknown recipient could have been fake. Every shared link, a trap.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

If so, you are undoubtedly asking: How do I avoid this from happening again?

Phishing Awareness Training: 3 Phishing Simulation Essentials

Simulating phishing is an efficient way to test your employees’ skills and measure their progress. A test provides data on which employees have been baited by the phishing email by clicking on the corresponding links. Your users can learn to identify suspicious emails, and in turn, apply security awareness best practices by having the chance to experience a phishing attack.

So, how do you run an effective simulation?

1. Get Buy-In From Your Internal Leaders

The first step to any good phishing simulation is getting approval from management. Notify the few people and instruct them on handling calls from users who report the phishing message.

Don’t forget, a user’s reaction once he detects a phishing message, actual or simulated, should always be the same: Alert someone or contact the IT Service Desk. During simulations, you may not want to notify users that it is a test and inform them that the IT department is handling it.

2. Craft an Actionable Phishing Simulation Strategy

Next comes planning. Create a plan not to send tests too frequently, as your employees will come to expect them, and don’t send them too infrequently since you need to gather statistics, draw reports, and always keep users sharp.

Don’t send phishing emails to the entire company at once, which might spark suspicion. Instead, please send them to specific departments. For example, to the invoicing department, imbue your email with an urgent tone so that your employees act with haste. This technique is commonly used by hackers to get people to click on links or download attachments.

Start thinking like a cyber criminal. What is going to get your employees clicking? Subject lines that include the terms ‘unpaid invoice’, ‘free’, or ‘exclusive offer’ draw users’ attention – greater the chances of falling prey to the attack.

3. Leverage Your Data-Driven Insights

During your phishing simulation campaign, make sure to track email open rates, attachment downloads, and information disclosure, and clickthrough rates. Draw reports on the number of users who have fallen for the phishing attack and how many employees have reported the incident.

This phishing simulation data is essential to growing and optimizing your training program. It will give your leadership insight into the effectiveness of behavior change initiatives and take them to the next level. Your organization can fine-tune its long-term strategy to align with its larger business goals with that intel.


Phishing is arguably one of the most considerable problems’ organizations face. No two attacks are the same. Nonetheless, when you train employees on security awareness, you create a workforce that is quick to detect malicious emails and react according to cyber security best practices. For example, having the reflex to refer phishing emails to the appropriate security unit and notify colleagues of the threat so that they do not fall for the bait.

As you conduct your phishing awareness training, you add value to your overall security awareness initiative. By testing your employees’ knowledge and skills, you contribute to behavior change at a more extensive scale, whereby users are encouraged to train and become more informed and alert in cyber security matters.

Do you have experience in simulating phishing attacks on your workforce? If so, were you successful in getting victims? What group did you target, and which type of phishing emails did you distribute? These are some of the many questions that will arise when deploying a phishing simulation campaign.



Free Phishing Benchmarking Data to Train Your Cyber Heroes

For more information on how your organization’s click rates currently stack up against your peers, as well as additional insight into how you can construct the best phishing awareness training program, down the latest Phishing Benchmark Global Report!