Phishing Training For Employees: Top 10 Threats You Need to Cover

Want phishing training for employees that actually reduces human risk? Here's your ultimate guide to the most pervasive threats out there right now.

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What is one of the most significant risks to the cybersecurity of any business

Employees present one of the most significant risks to the cybersecurity of any business.

Human errors can (and very often do) lead to severe data breaches - losing organizations millions.

New attack types are always emerging...

Whether its attackers sending fake emails and cloning official login web pages or combining modified files with regular zipped files to trick users.

This is why it’s essential to arrange organization-wide phishing training for employees.

This guide will walk you through the most pervasive types of phishing currently being used by attackers so that you can incorporate them into your training exercises and simulated attacks.

Phishing training for employees: 10 essential threats

Around one-third of all data breaches involve phishing.

And around 75% of the business worldwide experience a phishing attacks each year.

Employees within your organization access business-critical information, client data, financial information, and other confidential data every day...

And so when cybercriminals steal employees' information, such as login details and account passwords, things can turn ugly.

so whether your employees work remotely or in a hybrid office, you'll need to make sure your anti-phishing training covers the cybersecurity threats below to protect your organization against all eventualities 👇

1. Domain Spoofing

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Domain spoofing is a tactic used by cybercriminals to manipulate email recipients into believing that a message is from a legitimate sender or organization.

Domain spoofing is one of the most common types of phishing attacks.

More than 96% of companies suffer from various types of domain spoofing.

Attackers will forge email addresses to mimic a trusted domain, often that of a well-known company, government agency, or financial institution.

Domain spoofing can be classified into:

  • Email spoofing: This is when cybercriminals send emails using false domain names appearing legitimate.
  • Website spoofing: They may also set up websites that look authentic by using attractive visual designs, branding, logos, and styling.

These emails and websites will usually ask users to enter their personal information, such as company login ID, passwords or credit card details.

Here what the domain spoofing process looks like 👇

  1. Trusted domain targeted: Attackers identify a target domain that is widely recognized and trusted by the intended recipients.
  2. Spoofed email created: Emails are then crafted to appears as if they are from the target domain. This involves spoofing the sender's email address to make it look authentic.
  3. Malicious attachments or link added: The spoofed email will likely prompt the recipient to take action, such as clicking on a malicious link, downloading an infected attachment, or providing sensitive information.
Domain spoofing example
Source: Securelist

What should your training cover?

Besides implementing cybersecurity, such as sender policy framework (SPF), DomainKeys IdentifiedMail (DKIM) etc, you'll need must train employees to identify and prevent spoofing attacks.

Recognizing spoofed emails: Your training program should teach employees how to spot the signs of domain spoofing in emails (things like discrepancies in sender email addresses, spelling and grammar errors, requests for sensitive information, or urgent calls to action).

Verifying sender identities: Employees can be trained to verify the authenticity of sender identities and scrutinizing the content of emails for signs of phishing or impersonation. An effective training programs will provide guidance on how to perform these verification checks effectively and accurately.

2. Spear Phishing

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Spear phishing is a targeted form of attack in which malicious actors tailor their phishing attempts to specific individuals or organizations.

Around 50% of large organizations are targeted with spear phishing every year, receiving an average of five spear-phishing emails per day.

Unlike your traditional phishing threat that casts a wide net, spear phishing involves careful research and customization to maximize the likelihood of success.

At its core, these attacks rely on social engineering tactics to manipulate recipients into taking a desired action, such as clicking on a malicious link, downloading malware-infected attachments, or divulging sensitive information.

Spear phishing attacks use targeted open-source intelligence (OSINT) to gain unauthorized access to organization information via the website and social media.

Hackers will perform extensive social engineering to steal financial information and other sensitive data from the target employees.

Then, they'll target the employees using real names and job designations, so that the email looks like its from a legitimate sender.

The attackers access your social media accounts to get their real name, email ID, hometown, and other visited locations.

Once the attackers have all these personal details, they disguise themselves as acquaintances of the targets, such as co-workers and friends, to lure them into sharing sensitive information.

Note: This is why employees with an in-depth understanding of cyber security don’t tend share their login details within and outside the office.

What should you training cover?

To protect you're organization from spear phishing, you'll need to implement robust email security protocols, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and email authentication mechanisms like Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC).

And when it comes to your training content, it'll need to have include the following...

Knowing the red flags of spear phishing: Spear phishing attacks can sometimes be hard to detect. However, employees can still identify phishing attempts by things like unexpected requests for sensitive data or suspicious-looking links.

Scrutinizing sender email addresses: Employees should be taught to use additional verification methods when an email looks off, such as contacting the purported sender through a known, trusted channel.

3. CEO Fraud

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: As the name suggests, CEO fraud is when hackers impersonate the CEO of an organization to send an email to the new and low-level employees to trick them into sharing their personal information and company login details.

CEO fraud typically begins with reconnaissance, where cybercriminals gather information about your organization and its key personnel.

This may involve researching company websites, social media profiles, and public records to identify potential targets and gather details about organizational structure, key decision-makers, and internal processes.

Armed with this information, attackers then create highly personalized emails designed to mimic legitimate communications from the CEO or other executives.

These emails often exploit a sense of urgency or authority, urging recipients to take immediate action, such as wiring funds to a specified account or providing sensitive financial information.

For instance, the 'CEO' might ask the employee to pay for the vendor or supplier invoice attached in the email using new account details.

According to the UK Finance report, CEO Fraud is among the top eight types of fraud that target the organizations - targeting at least 400 firms per day.

What should your training cover?

Basic phishing email identification: CEO fraud emails will have the same tell-tale signs as any other kind of phishing attack. However, you'll want to make sure your training emphasises that employees should be vigilant no matter who an email is from - even if its their CEO.

Verifying requests: Training should emphasize the importance of verifying requests for financial transactions or sensitive information, particularly when they come from high-ranking executives.

4. Whaling

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Whaling is a form of spear phishing in which cybercriminals specifically target the organization's executives and high-level employees known was “whales”.

Whaling attacks are generally characterized by their sophistication, customization, and attention to detail.

Since the targets are usually more aware and trained against social engineering attacks, cybercriminals use methods that are tailored to the victim, often referencing to accurate details about the business.

Successful whaling attacks are especially dangerous as top executives often have greater access to company data, intellectual property and financial systems.

Whaling attacks can take various forms, depending on the attacker's objectives and the level of sophistication employed. Some common examples include:

  • Fake invoice scams: Attackers impersonate a company executive or vendor and request urgent payment for fictitious invoices or business expenses.
  • CEO impersonation: CEO fraud (covered above) is actually a type of whaling.
  • Credential theft: Attackers trick executives into disclosing their login credentials or other sensitive information by sending phishing emails disguised as urgent requests for password resets, account verification, or security updates.
Whaling example
Source: ResearchGate

What should your training cover?

Any training you implement should provide training specifically for high-level employees and offer some sort of customization to tailor content to specific roles.

Executive awareness: You'll need to make sure executives and top-level employees are aware of these attacks in the first place - training programs should specifically target executives and high-level decision-makers to raise awareness about the prevalence and potential impact of whaling attacks.

Trust-but-verify culture: Effective training will instil a verification procedures for high-risk transactions or requests initiated via email. For example, teams might double-check with the CXOs if they have sent an email requiring an online transaction or funds transfer from the employees.

Role-based training sessions: Tailoring cybersecurity training programs to the specific roles and responsibilities of your employees is essential for mitigating targeted cyber threats like whaling attacks. Executives may receive training on the risks associated with whaling attacks while finance and accounting staff may receive training on identifying fraudulent payment requests and verifying the authenticity of financial transactions.

5. Vishing

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Vishing (short for “voice phishing”) is an attack in which hackers trick employees into sharing confidential information over the phone.

Similar to traditional phishing scams conducted via email, vishing relies on social engineering techniques to manipulate victims and exploit their trust.

Vishing attackers usually pose as bank personnel to verify the account information and conduct a transaction.

They might also impersonates an employee from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to validate the tax returns by requiring access to the Social Security number.

Below are a few of the tactics that attackers might use:

  • Caller ID spoofing: Vishing perpetrators often use caller ID spoofing techniques to mask their true identity and make their calls appear to originate from legitimate sources - often by displaying familiar or official phone numbers on the recipient's caller ID.
  • Urgency and threats: Vishing scams rely on creating a sense of urgency or fear to prompt victims into immediate action. Callers may claim that the victim's account has been compromised, that suspicious activity has been detected, or that legal consequences will ensue unless immediate action is taken.
  • Social engineering tactics: Social engineering is often used to build rapport with targets and establish credibility. Attackers may employ persuasive language, authoritative tones, or insider knowledge to gain the victim's trust and credibility.

What should your training cover?

If you train employees on vishing, they’ll be able to verify the sender by evaluating the caller number - these numbers are usually different from the regular ones with unusual country codes. Here are few extra factors to consider...

Critical thinking skills: Training should encourage employees to adopt a skeptical mindset when receiving unexpected or unsolicited calls. Employees can then be trained to question the validity of requests for sensitive information, especially when the caller exhibits coercive or manipulative behavior.

Security policies for phone calls: You may want to ensure your training reinforces any security policies and procedures related to handling sensitive information over the phone (e.g. never sharing passwords or account details over the phone and reporting suspicious calls).

Simulated vishing exercises: Whilst you'll need phishing simulations for all of the attacks in this list, this can be particularly useful for protecting against vishing since employees will be able to get hands-on experience with these calls - which are harder to get a feel for without direct simulation.


6. Smishing

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Smishing is a technique that involves the use of text messages to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive information, clicking on malicious links, or downloading malicious software onto their devices.

In this kind of  phishing attack, perpetrators will typically send fraudulent text messages to large numbers of recipients, posing as legitimate entities such as banks, government agencies, or well-known companies.

These messages often contain urgent prompts, like warnings of account suspension or requests for verification of personal details.

The text message will usually contain a link to a website URL which seems accurate...

But clicking the link then installs malware automatically in the background on the user’s device.

What should your training cover?

Whilst there are steps you can ask employees to take such as enabling spam filters, training is absolutely vital, since there's not much an organization can do to police its employees' personal devices.

Recognizing warning signs: Employees well-trained in cybersecurity awareness will be able to distinguish between real and fake URLs by reviewing things like the prefixes, sender number, and text message content.

Skeptical mindset: Promoting skepticism and encouraging users to verify the authenticity of messages through independent means will help prevent successful smishing attacks.

Best practices for mobile use: Your training program should best practices for securely managing text messages and responding to suspicious or phishing attempts. This might include things like avoiding clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources, refraining from disclosing sensitive information via text message, and reporting suspected smishing attempts to your security or IT team.

Simulated exercises: Some cybersecurity training programs (like Hoxhunt) incorporate smishing into their simulated attacks to give employees a feel for identifying and responding to potential threats.

7. Angler Phishing

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Angler phishing is a sophisticated form of attack that aims to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing unauthorized actions by impersonating trusted entities or organizations.

In angler phishing attacks, perpetrators exploit social engineering techniques to manipulate victims into believing that they are interacting with legitimate sources.

Hackers will send direct messages or notifications on social media platforms to the users asking them to take action.

For instance, attackers usually impersonate customer service social media accounts to reach out to potential targets and consumers.

Hackers are getting smarter...

Once a consumer posts a complaint about a company, the attackers get the alerts.

So, they can then reach out to them as customer support.

Since they were expecting to hear from someone, often users won't verify the account details and willingly share their personal information.

Smishing example
Source: IT Governance

What should your training cover?

Ideally your training should also be accompanied by measures such as spam filters, email authentication protocols threat intelligence tools and MFA.

Critical analysis of URLs and links: Your training should teache users how to critically analyze URLs and hyperlinks contained within emails to determine their legitimacy - even when the sender address looks to be safe.

Personalized content for most targeted employees: Angler phishing attacks often target specific individuals within organizations, such as executives, finance personnel, or IT administrators. So, make sure any training you implement makes sure training resources get to those who need it most.

Email security measures: Training should empowers individuals to leverage email security features and tools effectively to mitigate the risk of angler phishing. This may include using email filtering technologies to block malicious messages, configuring spam and phishing detection settings, and implementing email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM and DMARC.

8. Pharming

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Pharming is an advanced type of cyberattack that redirects internet traffic from legitimate websites to fraudulent ones without the user's knowledge or consent.

Unlike phishing campaigns, which rely on social engineering, pharming operates at the DNS level, manipulating the resolution process to reroute users to malicious websites.

In a pharming attack, the attackers clones an authentic website and redirects online website traffic from an authentic website to a fake website to steal important personal information.

For example, the hacker can spoof a website that the user regularly visits, such as e-commerce, where they enter their financial information.

This might be done via a fraudulent link sent through email, manipulating search engine results or though hacking the domain’s DNS.

One common technique used in pharming attacks is DNS cache poisoning, where attackers inject false DNS records into the cache of recursive DNS servers.

When users attempt to access a legitimate website, their requests are intercepted and redirected to the malicious site controlled by the attackers.

Another method involves compromising the user's local DNS settings, either through malware or unauthorized modifications, to achieve the same objective of redirecting traffic to fraudulent domains.

What should your training cover?

Pharming may be slightly more sophisticated than typical phishing tactics - but thoroughly trained employees should be able to successfully distinguish a fake website from a real one as long as your training offers the following...

Education on DNS security: Employees will need to be brought up-to-speed on the risks associated with pharming attacks. Users should understand how DNS works, the potential vulnerabilities in the DNS infrastructure, and the techniques used by attackers to manipulate DNS resolution.

Detecting of suspicious redirects: Training should teach employees how to recognize signs of a pharming attack, such as unexpected website redirects or warnings from web browsers about invalid security certificates.

Verifying website authenticity: Employees should also be trained to verify the authenticity of websites before entering sensitive information. This may include things like checking for secure HTTPS connections, examining SSL/TLS certificates for validity, and comparing domain names and URLs to ensure they match the expected destination.


9. Pop-up Phishing

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Pop-up phishing tricks users into divulging sensitive information or installing malicious software through pop-up windows that appear on their screens while browsing the internet.

Why would someone click on a phishing pop-up?

Well, these pop-up windows often masquerade as legitimate alerts, warnings, or notifications, aiming to create a sense of urgency or fear to prompt users to take action hastily.

In a pop-up phishing attack, the hackers implant a malicious code in the pop-up or prompt windows that appear on the websites on the browser.

As a result, when a person clicks on the pop-up window, it installs malware on the computer or laptop.

The malware or the virus further spreads via the network to disrupt the daily operations, corrupt the critical information, damage, or delete it.

Pop-ups can also be used to collect credentials by imitating a login screen.

Windows pop-up phishing example
Source: Office of Information Security Washington

What should your training cover?

Whilst there are steps you can take to protect employees devices, a strong human firewall is going to be your first line of defence against these kinds of attacks.

Use of ad blockers: Employees should be encouraged to install and enable ad-blocking software or browser extensions to prevent malicious pop-up advertisements from appearing while browsing the internet.

Secure browsing practices: Training should cover best practices for safe browsing habits, such as avoiding clicking on suspicious links or advertisements, verifying website URLs before entering sensitive information, and being cautious when interacting with pop-up windows, especially those that request personal or financial details.

10. Clone Phishing

What is it?

📚 Quick definition: Clone phishing is when hackers take an existing email template and turn it into a malicious email by making small tweaks.

As the name suggests, clone phishing attacks use original email sent from a trusted source and then makes subtle changes to it such as replacing genuine links or attachments with malicious links or attachments.

Once the user clicks on these, a virus or the malware installs on the receiver’s computer or credentials or an attempt to harvest the receivers credentials is launched.

Clone phishing emails are usually sent from an address that impersonates the genuine email address which the user expects from the original source. As a result, the attackers exploit the victims,' trust to trick them into opening the malicious document.

What should your training cover?

Training plays a crucial role in protecting against clone phishing, since malicious emails can look just like the real thing.

Spotting cloned websites: Since cloning attacks can look very similar to legitimate emails, training should teach employees how to identify cloned websites by examining the URL, looking for inconsistencies or discrepancies, and verifying the legitimacy of the site.

Avoiding suspicious links: Similarly to most other types of phishing, employees need to be trained to avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails.


What features should you look for in a phishing training solution?

The following criteria should give you an idea of how to evaluate your options when comparing training vendors.

We'd recommend looking for a human-first phishing training that can tangibly reduce risk in a way you can track and measure.

User experience

As you'd expect employees generally appreciate having their regular workflow interrupted for long periods of time.

Instead of dragging them away from their work, opt for a phishing awareness training solution that will incorporate interactive content into an employee's regular workflow (ideally in 5-7 min chunks).

Personalization

Personalization is absolutely necessary to if you want your employees to feel like training is actually relevant to them.

When shopping around for vendors, be sure to compare how much personalization they offer (start with factors like employee cyber knowledge (IQ), role, department, and language of training content).

Personalized learning paths also make for an effective solution.

If an employee keeps failing simulation exercises, your training should adapt accordingly - sending easier attacks that will gradually increase in difficulty to meet their skill level.

Reporting

If you want to be able to showcase the impact of your training, you'll need a vendor with a robust analytics and reporting engine.

Most vendors will give you the reporting rates of phishing simulations but this usually doesn't give you the full picture.

Using overly simple or difficult simulated phishing attacks will skew your results to one side of the bell curve.

Passing a few tests per year doesn't mean you'll be prepared for more advanced real-world attacks.

Two of the main KPIs in anti-phishing training are:

  • Reporting rates
  • Failure rates

When employees are engaged in training, reporting rates of simulation exercises will increase...

And reporting rates of real-world threats will likely increase too.

Looking at failure rates by vector types will show you exactly where employees may need additional training - and your failure rate over time will tell you how effective your training is.

Hoxhunt benchmarking

Behavior change

If you want your training to actually change employees' behavior, continuous reinforcement and repetition will transform your behavior into a habit are the two key drivers of this.

Scaring people into action just doesn't work.

Instead, training should highlight when employees do the right thing or reach their goal with a reward or positive feedback.

If employees are rewarded for reporting simulated phishing attacks, they'll be more likely to report real phishing threats.

This is the what makes regular phishing awareness training successful.

Its also worth thinking about the frequency of training.

Find out the quantity of phishing simulations vendors offer per employee on an annual basis. 

Continuous, on-going training is necessary for changing behavior in any measurable way.

Automation

The level of automation on offer will vary from vendor-to-vendor.

The two most important things you'll want to automate are:

  • Delivery of personalized frequent training
  • Potential threat identification, classification, and escalation

Here at Hoxhunt, many of the organizations we speak to were building their phishing attack simulations and training content manually before working with us.

If you want your training to be up to date with the latest real-world scenarios, this can get very costly and time consuming.

Choosing a vendor that regularly updates their content and automates the delivery of  simulated attacks will save you a serious amount of manual legwork.

Deliver personalized phishing training with Hoxhunt

Hoxhunt's phishing training gives your employees personalized, rewarding micro-trainings that incentivize proactive security behaviors.

Drive results with realistic phishing simulations that cover all of the threats covered in the guide above and track your employees' performance through our reporting dashboard.

  • Automate your workload: Hoxhunt's AI will do the heavy lifting or operate your training program on your own
  • Training library up-to-date with latest threats: Stay at the cutting edge of the constantly evolving threat landscape as our global threat intel team turns real phish into powerful phishing simulations.
  • Create a strong security culture: Build a resilient culture on secure habits and measurable behaviors by rewarding employees for reporting phishing attacks - with powerful dashboards to identify elevated risk areas.
Hoxhunt reporting dashboard

Phishing training for employees FAQ

How does phishing training help protect against real-world threats

Phishing training equips employees with the knowledge and skills needed to identify suspicious emails, harmful attachments, and phishing schemes.

By fostering a culture of security awareness and providing regular training, organizations can strengthen their security posture and defend against real-world phishing attacks.

How effective are simulated phishing campaigns in training employees?

Simulated phishing campaigns are an essential component of phishing training programs as they mimic real-world phishing scenarios.

By exposing employees to simulated phishing emails and assessing their responses, organizations can measure susceptibility to phishing attacks and identify areas for improvement.

How can phishing training platforms help organizations mitigate phishing risks

Phishing training platforms offer comprehensive reporting metrics and advanced reporting tools to track training progress and measure behavioral changes.

These platforms enable organizations to identify trends, assess risk profiles, and make continuous improvements to their security awareness programs.

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