Phishing Simulation and Testing Solutions: Everything You Need To Know (FAQs)
What Is Phishing?
Phishing is a type of cyber-attack where malicious actors attempt to lure unsuspecting users into carrying out a specific action that benefits the attacker. In some instances, the user may be encouraged to click on a link, or download a file, that appears to be innocent and harmless, but is in fact malware. This malware can wreak havoc on a user’s system. Alternatively, a malicious actor may pose as a reputable individual or organization and encourage the target to divulge sensitive information.
These attacks are all forms of social engineering attack where the user is targeted, rather than a loophole within your technology stack.
Phishing attackers often use a “scatter gun” approach. They will spam hundreds and thousands of accounts with the same phishing attack, in the hope the one or two of the users will fall for it. While this type of attack is not particularly sophisticated, it only needs to trick one single user to allow the attacker to carry out a successful attack. One user can put an entire organization in jeopardy.
How Can Phishing Simulation And Testing Solutions Help?
Phishing simulation and testing is a particularly effective part of your cybersecurity strategy that can be used to ensure that users know how to respond to phishing attacks. This type of solution takes the training “out of the classroom”, allowing users to experience a phishing attack in their own inbox. By seeing a phishing email in an active environment, users must use what they have learned in order to prevent them from becoming a victim.
From an admin’s perspective, deploying simulations and training is a valuble process as it gives insight into how effective the training is, ensuring that their organization is being kept safe. Individuals who fail the test can identified easily and assigned further training modules to ensure they do not put your organization at risk.
Phishing simulation and testing is often delivered as part of a Security Awareness Training (SAT) solution. These training courses tend to be comprised of short, snappy modules with creative and fun content to keep users engaged. This type of training is very effective when completed at regular intervals throughout the year. For the sake of a couple of hours training per year, you can greatly decrease the potency and effectiveness of any actual phishing campaigns that make it past your firewall and into your inbox.
What Are The Different Types Of Phishing?
Phishing is an umbrella term for the type of speculative cyber-attacks that encourage users to perform a specific, risky action. There are an ever-increasing variety of phishing attack types, each with its own target or method and tell-tale signs. These are known as Tactic, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs)
- Vishing– Vishing is an amalgamation of ‘Voice Phishing’ and refers to phishing attacks that use phone calls or Voice Notes. In this case, we might be more easily convinced as we are not expecting a phishing attack to be carried out in this way.
- Spear Phishing– Rather than describing a method of phishing, spear phishing refers to the target. Instead of using a scatter gun approach, this method is more specific and may impersonate real employees. This attack is more convincing as spoofed domains and other fraudulent material may be used to make the attempt more realistic.
- Whaling– This attack is a form of spear phishing, and is used to target a senior individual. Namely, someone big and important within an organization, such as a CEO or board member. These attacks will be highly specific, giving them the greatest chance of fooling their target. If they succeed in fooling someone with privileged access, they will be able to have a greater impact than if a more restricted employee is duped. As with spear phishing, impersonation is likely to be used to make the communication more convincing.
What Is Phishing Simulation?
Phishing simulation is when a phishing email is deliberately sent to the users within your organization to test how they respond. The critical difference here is that the phishing mail is actually harmless. It will be designed to look like an authentic phishing email, but will only result in a warning popup and an admin notification if the user is tricked into completing a dangerous action. From there, the admin can decide if the user needs to undertake further training to ensure they can identify phishing mail.
Phishing simulations often use templates from genuine phishing attacks. This makes the training more realistic, ensuring that admin can understand how a user will actually respond. Ideally, when a phishing simulation message is sent out, users will be naturally suspicious and either report the message or delete it. If they act correctly to the phishing simulation, they are likely to respond cautiously and correctly to any genuine attack.
Phishing attacks are ever evolving, so it’s important that your phishing simulation adapts too. The latest attack methods, such as voice phishing (vishing), should be included in the training platform. A good phishing simulation solution will be able to distribute a range of realistic phishing messages and collect the response. The available templates that are selected from your platform’s library should be regularly updated to ensure that users are exposed to the most recent threats. Your solution should also be able to automate the frequency of phishing simulation tests to ensure that testing is ongoing and continuous, rather than intermittent.
How Do Email Phishing Tools Work?
Phishing email tools work by scanning emails for “tell-tale” signs that they are malicious. This could be an email address that uses a special character to make an email look like it is from a reputable brand. For instance, the letter “o” might be replaced by the number “0”. In a URL, this will take you to a completely different site, but to the average reader it appears valid.
Email phishing tools will monitor mail for a range of these indicators, using an ever-expanding database of known phishing threats and templates. If a phishing attempt is detected, the tool can block an email from being delivered, or attach a warning notification instructing the user to exercise caution.
Many email phishing tools will also install a button within your email application that allows you to report suspicious mail. This can then be flagged to admin users, who can investigate the message. When a user reports an email as suspicious, some platforms are capable of removing all instances of that email across different user’s inboxes.
Email phishing solutions often include additional features to detect and remediate phishing attempts.
- URL Scanning– this assesses URLs at the moment that users click on them to ensure that the link is not malicious
- AI Analysis –this allows the tool to detect new phishing attempts that cannot be identified from the database
- Header Analysis –this is the ability to assess an email’s metadata to understand its provenance and risk likelihood
- Compliance –many solutions will align with regulatory frameworks, and produce audit reports to prove compliance
Despite all these technologies and capabilities, attackers will not stop trying to find ways of getting around the defenses. Unfortunately, they will succeed. Even if they only succeed once in a thousand attempts, your organization may be put at risk. It is, therefore, important that your employees know how to identify phishing emails and are confident in responding appropriately.
How Does Artificial Intelligence (AI) Affect Phishing Attacks?
Generative AI tools can be used by malicious actors to generate vast quantities of phishing content that is realistic and varied. This allows attackers to develop content that can be highly specific to you and your organization, making it more convincing.
Due to these developments, users and organizations, as a whole, need to take a cautious and naturally suspicious approach to unsolicited communication.
Firewalls and secure email gateways are also adapting to the increase in AI generated attacks. Through analysing the word choice and formatting of the phishing email, for example, they are able to flag content that is likely to have been generated by AI.
How Can You Get The Most From Your Phishing Simulation Solution?
Usually, we might talk about the specific settings that you should select to ensure that your security tool is as effective as possible. As phishing simulation is a training tool, we should consider how your users can get the most out of the platform.
- Don’t use simulation in isolation. This type of platform is designed to be used in conjunction with a full training course. This will include informative modules that instruct your users on what to look out for, and how to respond. If you deploy phishing simulations that your users have not learned about, they are likely to fail the tests. Rather than giving an insight into user behavior, the test gives no indication as to what your users have retained.
- Target your users. Depending on user department, time at organization, and position, they may face different types of attack. Spear phishing attacks target specific groups of users, so it is helpful to include this in your training. Even an email is directly addressed to a user should be treated with caution.
- Ensure you update your templates. In order to make the training as accurate and effective as possible, you should ensure that the simulations are authentic. There is no point deploying out of date attacks that are no longer in use.
- Deploy the simulations simultaneously. When you send out phishing attacks individually, any tricked users are likely to talk about what has happened to their colleagues. This encourages other employees to be more cautious, thereby resulting in unrealistic identification rates.
The Benefits Of Phishing Simulation And Testing
Prevent Data Breaches
This one speaks for itself, really. Simulated phishing emails teach your employees how to spot a phishing attack so that they won’t fall victim to a real one, should it find its way into their inboxes. This means that they’re far less likely to click on a malicious attachment or URL if they’ve learned to be suspicious of it.
Phishing simulations can also enable you as an admin to identify any individuals or user groups who aren’t so tech-savvy or security-aware, so that you can recommend or assign further training to them. This will help you patch any vulnerabilities in your workforce’s knowledge and create a stronger line of defense.
Monitor Your Attack Rate
The best phishing simulation solutions come with robust reporting and analytics capabilities that collect information on the success rate of the attacks. These reports usually include how many users opened the email, how many users clicked on a link to a “compromised” website or downloaded an attachment, and how many users reported the email. You can use this information to monitor the progress of the simulation campaign and each of your employees’ learning, as well as target training to make sure that all of your employees will respond correctly should they face a real attack.
You can also track the improvement of your organization’s phishing awareness over time and demonstrate to senior leaders within the company just how widespread and serious the threat of phishing is. This could—drum roll, please—motivate an increase in security funding.
Ensure Employees Complete Training
Testing employees at the end of their awareness training program is a good way to measure that they’ve actually completed the training, but it can also motivate them to really engage with the program so that they do well in the test. In other words, they’re less likely to just skip through each activity if they know they’re going to be assessed on it.
Some simulation solutions take this a step further by turning campaigns into a competition. The organization is split into teams, and each campaign adds points to a leader board according to how well the team responded to the simulation.
Cultivate A Culture Of Security
Continuous awareness training and testing ensure that cybersecurity is always at the forefront of your employees’ minds. Helping employees not only to become aware of the topic but also to actively engage with it will help to foster a culture of security across your entire workforce.
This means that employees will be prepared when faced with a real phishing attempt, and are far more likely to report malicious content to their IT team, who can respond before any damage is done.
Become Compliant And Ensure Insurance
A lot of regulatory frameworks, including GDPR and PCI, require organizations to undertake security awareness training in order to become compliant. Testing is recommended as a part of this training in order to track progress and improvement over time. Organizations that aren’t compliant can face huge fines. The European Union’s GDPR, for example, sets a maximum fine of 20 million euros or 4% of the company’s annual turnover—whichever is greater—for infringements. Most companies would find it impossible to recover from such a loss.
Awareness training can also affect your organization’s security insurance claims by reassuring a cybersecurity insurer that you take cybersecurity seriously and are taking proactive steps to reduce your human risk levels, which in turn can help reduce your insurance premium.
Protect Your Employees At Work And At Home
A happy employee is a productive employee—if someone is struggling with challenges at home, they’re going to find it harder to focus at work. Phishing simulations extend cybersecurity knowledge to users’ home lives, too, which helps to keep their personal data safe. A lot of us have experienced the pit in our stomachs as a result of an “attempted sign-in” or “password reset confirmation” email, and that feeling becomes a whole lot worse if the breach is actually successful. Helping to keep your employees’ personal data safe will give them one less thing to worry about outside of work, so they can focus that energy on being productive.