What is phishing awareness training?

Do you ever pause to consider your significance in your company’s cybersecurity strategy? Perhaps not? You’re in good company. However, cybersecurity isn’t a matter for the IT department alone. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

So, let’s talk about a critical aspect of cybersecurity – phishing. What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘phishing?’ Perhaps you imagine a sneaky email arriving in your inbox, masquerading as a message from your bank, a popular eCommerce website, or even your boss. Yes, that’s phishing in essence. But how do you arm yourself against such deceptive attacks? That’s where employee phishing awareness training comes into play.

What is phishing awareness training?

Phishing awareness training is an educational program designed to equip employees with the knowledge and skills they need to identify, avoid, and respond to phishing attempts.

Phishing, in case you’re not quite familiar with the term, is a type of online scam in which attackers pretend to be legitimate entities (like banks, internet service providers, or even your colleagues) to trick you into revealing sensitive information. This information could be anything from your login credentials to your bank details or other personal data. Sounds pretty sinister, doesn’t it?

Why is phishing awareness so important?

Now you may be wondering, “Why all the fuss about phishing?” Well, consider this scenario: it’s a busy Monday morning, you’re going through your emails, and you find a message that seems to be from your boss. They’re asking for some sensitive information urgently. You rush to respond and unwittingly, you’ve walked right into a phishing trap.

According to a report by Proofpoint, about 85% of all organizations were hit by a phishing attack at least once. The aftermath of such an attack can range from financial losses and data theft to a severely damaged reputation. This is why phishing awareness isn’t just important, it’s crucial.

What are the different types of phishing awareness training?

Phishing awareness training isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are various formats and approaches, each with its own benefits and best-fit scenarios. Let’s delve into a few of them.

Computer-based training (CBT)

This is an online, self-paced training method. Imagine sitting comfortably with a hot cup of coffee, learning about phishing at your own speed. CBT typically provides interactive modules, quizzes, and videos to educate employees on the latest phishing tactics and techniques.

This training mode is highly flexible, allowing employees to learn at their convenience. It also enables organizations to easily update the training content as phishing techniques evolve. However, the effectiveness of this method largely depends on the learner’s self-motivation and discipline.

Simulated phishing exercises

Ever heard the saying, “practice makes perfect?” That’s the philosophy behind simulated phishing exercises. These are essentially mock phishing attacks designed to give employees a taste of real-world phishing attempts.

Think of it as a cybersecurity fire drill. These exercises expose employees to various phishing scenarios in a safe and controlled environment. They can interact with these ‘fake’ phishing attempts just like they would in a real situation, and learn from their mistakes without any actual harm.

Classroom-based training

This is the traditional, face-to-face approach to learning. Picture yourself in a classroom setting, engaging in interactive discussions, and hands-on activities about phishing. It’s an excellent platform for employees to ask questions, share experiences, and learn from each other’s insights.

While classroom-based training can be highly engaging and effective, it requires a significant investment of time and resources. It also may not be feasible for organizations with remote or distributed teams. However, with the advent of virtual meeting platforms, ‘virtual classrooms’ are now an accessible and effective alternative.

What Is A Phishing Simulator And What Do Phishing Simulations Involve?

A phishing simulator is essentially a tool that emulates real-world phishing attacks. Imagine a virtual reality game, but instead of dodging bullets or fighting off zombies, you’re warding off phishing attempts. It’s designed to expose employees to the different types of phishing emails they might encounter and understand how they can avoid falling prey to them.

Phishing simulations involve creating and sending mock phishing emails to employees. These emails mimic real phishing emails, complete with links to dummy websites where employees can safely ‘fall for’ the phishing bait. The simulator then tracks the employees’ responses to the mock phishing emails, providing valuable data on their behavior and awareness levels.

Create Simulated Phishing Campaigns

Creating simulated phishing campaigns is a great strategy to maintain a high level of phishing awareness among employees. These campaigns, typically run by the organization’s IT or security department, mimic real phishing attacks and provide a safe environment for employees to experience phishing attempts without any actual consequences.

Think of it as a cybersecurity boot camp, where every member of the organization becomes a trainee, learning to identify and thwart phishing attacks. The beauty of simulated phishing campaigns is that they can be tailored to reflect the latest phishing techniques, making them a dynamic and up-to-date training tool.

How does phishing training for employees work?

The mechanics of phishing training might seem like a mystery, but they’re actually quite straightforward. Let’s break it down:

Choose a phishing training scenario

The first step is selecting a training scenario. This could be anything from a generic “reset your password” email to a more sophisticated, personalized message crafted to mimic the communication style of a known individual or organization. It’s like choosing the plot for our phishing defense training story.

Choose your audience

The next step is deciding who will participate in the training. This could be the entire company or a specific department that’s particularly vulnerable to phishing attacks. Remember, everyone in an organization is a potential target, so broad participation is often the best approach.

However, the choice of audience can also depend on the training scenario. For example, a phishing scenario designed to mimic a message from the HR department might be directed towards new hires who are less familiar with the organization’s communication norms.

Choose your delivery

Then, we decide how the phishing email will be delivered. This could be a simple email message or an email with attachments or links. This step is akin to choosing the modus operandi for our villain in the phishing defense training story.

Employee Behavior Reports

Once the training is complete, we generate reports on employee behavior during the simulation. Did they open the email? Did they click on the link? Did they report the email? This feedback helps identify areas of vulnerability and understand how to strengthen our defenses. It also offers insights into the effectiveness of the training and helps refine future training programs.

5 common methods Hackers use to trick employees

Now that we’ve shed light on phishing awareness training, let’s examine five common tactics that hackers employ to trick employees:

  • Deceptive Phishing: This is the most common type of phishing attack. In a deceptive phishing attempt, the attacker impersonates a legitimate entity, such as a bank or a popular online service. The goal is to trick the recipient into revealing their login credentials or other sensitive information. So, always double-check the sender’s email address, and if anything seems suspicious, don’t hesitate to contact the entity directly to verify the email’s legitimacy.
  • Spear Phishing: Spear phishing is a more personalized form of phishing. In this case, the attacker tailors their approach based on specific knowledge about the victim, such as their job role, their colleagues, or other personal information. The emails often appear much more authentic and are therefore more likely to trick the recipient. Be skeptical of any unsolicited emails that seem too personal or request sensitive information.
  • CEO Fraud/Business Email Compromise (BEC): In this sophisticated scam, attackers impersonate a top executive within the company. They usually send an email to the finance or HR department requesting an urgent fund transfer or asking for sensitive employee data. Always verify such requests through another communication channel before acting.
  • Pharming: Pharming is a cyber-attack intended to redirect a website’s traffic to a fake site. In this case, even if you enter the correct address, you could still be redirected to a fraudulent website where your login information can be stolen. Make sure to check the website’s security certificate and ensure you’re on a secure website (https).
  • Smishing and Vishing: Smishing (SMS phishing) and vishing (voice phishing) are phishing attacks carried out via SMS and voice calls. Attackers may send a text or leave a voicemail pretending to be from a reputable organization, luring you into providing sensitive information or calling back a premium-rate number. Be cautious of any unexpected messages or calls requesting personal details.


Phishing attacks can be incredibly deceptive and cause significant damage, but with appropriate awareness training, you can empower your employees to become an impenetrable defense line. Remember, in the realm of cybersecurity, everyone has a role to play. It’s a team effort, and with consistent training and vigilance, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful phishing attack.

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