Phishing Simulation Training: How it Works + Results

All the information you need to make an informed decision on phishing simulation training - the mechanics, realistic results you can expect to achieve and maximizing ROI.

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Phishing campaigns remain a top concern for security teams worldwide...

3.4 billion malicious emails are sent every day.

And Verizon’s 2023 DBIR found that 36% of all data breaches involved phishing.

But what exactly is phishing simulation training, and how does it work?

Below, we'll cover all the information you need to make an informed decision - the mechanics of phishing simulation training, realistic results you can expect to achieve and how to get maximum value from your vendor.

Overview: what is phishing simulation training?

📚 Quick definition: Phishing simulation training is a proactive approach to cybersecurity education that involves simulating phishing attacks to train employees on how to recognize and respond to phishing emails.

Using simulated attacks that mimic real-world phishing attempts, allow security teams to assess employees' susceptibility to phishing and provide targeted training to improve their awareness and response.

The main goal is to educate employees about the tactics used by bad actors, reduce the likelihood of falling victim to phishing scams, and strengthen the overall security posture of your organization.

Why do security teams use this kind of training?

Phishing attacks will usually target either your organization as a whole, or specific individuals (often C-level executives, directors, or managers).

Attackers will find and gather information on social media to create personalized  phishing attacks. 

And whilst some attackers are amateurs using more primitive methods, others are experts who will use sophisticated tactics to access your organization's sensitive information.

97% of companies have been the target of a sophisticated phishing attack...

And 90%of corporate security breaches are the result of email-based phishing attacks.

The data is clear: raising awareness alone just isn't effective.

This is why organizations use training that actually simulates phishing emails - so that employees get frequent practice dealing with realistic threats.

What kind of attacks can you simulate?

Phishing simulation training tests employees on a range of tactics commonly used in phishing attacks.

Here's what you can expect to simulate:

  • Email spoofing: Simulating emails that appear to come from legitimate sources but are actually from malicious actors.
  • Social engineering: Crafting persuasive messages that exploit human psychology to trick recipients into taking a specific action, such as clicking on a malicious link or providing sensitive information.
  • Malicious attachments: Sending emails with attachments containing malware or ransomware disguised as legitimate documents, invoices, or software updates.
  • Urgency and fear tactics: Creating a sense of urgency or fear in the email content to pressure recipients into responding quickly without verifying the legitimacy of the message.
  • Deceptive links: Including hyperlinks in emails that lead to fake login pages, phishing websites, or malware downloads.

Here's how phishing simulation training works

What does the process usually look like?

Planning and defining objectives

You'd typically begin by identifying what you're looking to achieve with phishing simulations.

This might involve assessing employees' susceptibility to phishing attacks or evaluating the effectiveness of existing security controls.

You can then determine the scope of your simulated phishing attacks - such as the number of participants, the frequency of simulations, and the types of phishing scenarios being tested.

Create your scenarios

Once you know what you're objectives are, you can then develop realistic simulated phishing emails specific to your industry, business processes, and common communication channels.

These scenarios may include email messages, text messages, or social media posts designed to mimic genuine communication from trusted sources.

Execute your simulations

Once your phishing scenarios are created, you'd then deploy these simulated phishing emails to targeted employees or groups within your organization.

Emails can be sent at predetermined times and can vary in complexity and sophistication to assess employees' ability to recognize and respond to different types of phishing threats.

Monitor and analyse results

Throughout the simulation period, you can monitor employees' responses to the phishing emails, tracking metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and interaction with malicious links or attachments.

Any trends, patterns and areas of vulnerability you spot can be used to inform your cyber security awareness training initiatives.

Use results to inform your training and awareness

To get the most out of your simulations, you can use the results to feedback to employees on their performance and offer targeted training to address gaps in knowledge or behavior.

Phishing simulation best practices: how to maximise the impact of your training

Use a wide variety of simulations

You can use simulations to test employees on different types of real-world threats.

If you run into issues with employees downloading malicious attachments, you can  send out simulated attacks with attachments.

Or if they're clicking malicious links you can add a URL to the vector.

We'd generally recommend combining different types of attacks to test every possible scenario.

Continuously practice simulations

Practice makes perfect...

And so the more practice employees have, the better they will be able to spot suspicious emails.

Yearly or quarterly tests aren’t sufficient to tangibly change employee behavior. According to our own data here at Hoxhunt, running tests at least a few times a month is the most effective.

Give constructive feedback to employees

However employees perform, you need to provide them with feedback (be sure to let them know it was a simulation).

Strong security cultures aren't built on punishment and criticism.

Always use positive reinforcement and reward systems in your feedback if you want to increase the overall motivation and engagement of employees.

Beware of missed simulations

When companies first begin with Hoxhunt, they'll usually have a failure rate of 25%, a success rate of 4%, and the rest are missed.

Which is a pretty significant unknown when it comes phishing risks.

Neglected phishing simulations are the single biggest unknown in human risk.

Missed phishing simulation is not a good thing.

And although most traditional failure-focused training programs frame this a s a positive, our data tells us that high miss rates predict higher risk of a breach.

Failure rate doesn't tell you anything about your unknown risk (your employee's ability to spot and respond to a phishing attack).

So, we'd strongly recommend that you track these 5 metrics too:

  • Miss rate: The phishing simulations that they neglect for whatever reason.
  • Success rate: The phishing simulations that are correctly reported
  • Real threat reporting: The number of real phishing attacks- per-user that get reported
  • Engagement rate: the proportion of the organization who are enrolled and participating
How big is your unknown risk?

Results you can expect from using phishing simulations

Improve employee awareness and behavior

Phishing simulation training raises employee awareness of phishing threats.

Studies show that 80% of organisations find that phishing awareness training reduces the risk of falling for a phishing attack.

Reduce the effectiveness of real-life phishing attacks

Phishing simulation training will reduce the risk of successful phishing attacks by identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in employee behavior.

Research by the Aberdeen Group found that companies with attack simulation training in place experience a 50% decrease in successful phishing attacks.

Strengthen your security culture

Effective training will build a culture of security awareness within your organization, where employees become active participants in defending against cyber threats.

A report by the Ponemon Institute revealed that organizations with a strong security culture are 5.5x more likely to have well-defined security policies and procedures.

Stay compliant

Phishing simulation training helps organizations meet compliance requirements for security standards and regulations, such as GDPR and HIPAA.

Studies show that organizations using phishing simulation training programs are 70% more likely to meet compliance requirements for data protection regulations.

How to research training vendors

Before you start talking with with potential vendors, you'll want to create a list of questions and criteria.

Below are some of they key topics and questions we tend to get asked here at Hoxhunt...

User experience

  • How do you encourage employees to participate in training?
  • How much time will training take away from day-to-day work?

Personalization

  • What language options do you have?
  • What happens when an employee fails a phishing simulation?
  • Does everyone receive the same training or is it personalized to employees?
  • How often is the training content updated?

Reporting & metrics

  • What type of progression can you expect to see after 1 month/ 6 months/ 1 year of training? (reporting rates, participation rates, etc.)
  • What KPIs do you measure?
  • What are the reporting capabilities do you offer?

Automation

  • How much manual admin is required to send out a campaign to 100/ 10,000/ 20,000 employees?
  • Where does malicious content (phish emails) go once it has been reported by an employee?

Implementation

  • What does the onboarding process look like?
  • Will I receive help with communication before the roll out of phishing training?
  • Do you have threat reporting tools?
  • Can the training be integrated with other tools? e.g. Microsoft ATP
  • Does it work on all devices/ email clients?

🚨 Warning: inefficient training leads to errors

Security awareness training programs that don't require frequent practice leave employees with enough knowledge and skills to effectively avoid cyber threats.

Employees are the biggest attack surface for your organization.

And the more employees you have, the bigger the risk of attacks.

Employees that don't receive continuous practical training can become an enormous risk for your company.

What separates Hoxhunt from other solutions?

To measurably reduce human risk levels, your phishing training must focus on behavior change.

But how do you get employees to absorb learning materials?

And how can you actually engage them with practical simulations? 

Hoxhunt training simulates real phishing attacks and delivers interactive, bite-sized trainings that employees genuinely enjoy.

Only 3-5% of people report real cyber-attacks...

And Companies that contained a breach in less than 30 days saved more than $1 million compared to those that took more than 30 days.

Hoxhunt uses continuous engagement to increase reporting rates to 60-75%and failure rates down to a sustained 2%.

Here are some of the outcomes you can expect from using Hoxhunt's award-winning phishing simulation training:

  • 20x lower failure rates
  • 90%+ engagement rates
  • 75%+ detect rates
Hoxhunt phishing simulation training

Case study: Avanade

Avanade is a global professional services company providing IT consulting and services focused on the Microsoft platform.

Industry: IT consulting

Headquarters: Seattle, WA and London, UK

Number of employees: 50,000+

The Challenge

Legacy security awareness training services were overly manual, did not integrate optimally with the Microsoft environment, and were not sufficiently lowering human risk.

The Results

  • Resilience without resources: 5 FTEs of SOC analyst work saved per month with automated Response Platform
  • Over 900 hours / month of SOC analysis saved
  • Real threat reports up to tens of thousands per month
  • Resilience ratio today is up 259% from baseline
  • 98% reduction in false positives and incident escalations due to response platform
  • Making sense of the threat feed and orchestrating Spam, legit email, threats, and incidents
  • Over 50% reduction in Spam reports

Phishing simulation training FAQ

What is phishing simulation training?

Phishing simulation training is a cybersecurity awareness program that uses simulated phishing attacks to educate employees about the tactics used by cybercriminals in real-world attacks.

How does phishing simulation training work?

Phishing simulation training involves sending simulated email phishing attacks to employees and monitoring their responses. These emails mimic real phishing attempts but are designed to be harmless.

What tactics does phishing simulation training test employees on?

Phishing simulation training tests employees on an assortment of threats, including deceptive email content, spoofed sender addresses, malicious attachments or links, urgency or fear-inducing language, and social engineering attacks aimed at eliciting sensitive information.

How often should phishing simulation training be conducted?

Phishing simulation training should be conducted regularly to reinforce cybersecurity awareness and ensure employees would be able to identify and report genuine threats. Many organizations conduct phishing simulations on a monthly or quarterly basis, but the frequency may vary depending on your risk profile and compliance requirements.

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