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How to Create and Deploy Phishing Simulations for Security Awareness

November 28, 20235 min read

Creating and deploying phishing simulations is a critical part of an organization’s security awareness training program. Phishing simulations help in preparing employees to recognize, avoid, and report potential threats that could lead to security incidents. Here’s a detailed guide on how to create and deploy effective phishing simulations:


1. Planning the Simulation

  • Objective Setting:
    • Determine what you want to achieve with the phishing simulation.
    • Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives.
  • Target Audience Identification:
    • Decide who the simulation will target (e.g., entire organization, specific departments).
    • Consider customizing simulations for different groups based on their risk exposure.
  • Choosing the Phishing Scenario:
    • Select phishing templates that mimic real-world scenarios.
    • Use recent phishing tactics reported in the news or observed within the industry.
  • Frequency and Timing:
    • Choose how often you’ll run phishing simulations.
    • Avoid predictable patterns that could tip off employees.
  • Legal and Compliance Considerations:
    • Ensure the simulation complies with laws and regulations.
    • Get buy-in from legal and HR departments to avoid any potential issues.

2. Developing the Phishing Content

  • Email Crafting:
    • Write a convincing email that imitates legitimate senders.
    • Use compelling subject lines and persuasive language to entice clicks.
  • Link and Landing Page Creation:
    • Design fake landing pages that look like authentic websites.
    • Ensure that any links included in the email are not harmful and have tracking capabilities.
  • Attachment Safety:
    • If using attachments, ensure they are harmless and cannot damage recipients’ systems.
    • Attachments should serve as another layer of simulation without real risk.
  • Personalization:
    • Personalize emails for better engagement, using employees’ names or relevant company details.
    • Avoid over-personalization that might cause distress or privacy concerns.

3. Delivering the Simulation

  • Choosing a Delivery System:
    • Select an email delivery platform that enables tracking and reporting.
    • Ensure the system can handle the size of your target audience and provide realistic delivery times.
  • Conducting the Test:
    • Schedule and send the simulated phishing emails.
    • Offer a reporting mechanism for employees to flag suspected phishing attempts.
  • Employee Engagement:
    • Encourage participation by communicating the importance of the exercise.
    • Highlight that this is a safe learning opportunity without penalties for making mistakes.

4. Tracking and Analysis

  • Data Collection:
    • Collect data on how many people opened the email, clicked on links, or submitted information.
    • Track those who reported the phishing simulation to the security team.
  • Evaluation:
    • Evaluate the data against your objectives.
    • Identify any trends, such as departments more susceptible to phishing.
  • Employee Feedback:
    • Gather feedback on the simulation to understand the employee experience.
    • Use this feedback to improve future simulations.

5. Education and Feedback

  • Immediate Feedback:
    • Provide instant feedback to users who fall for the simulation, reiterating educational points.
    • Explain the indicators of phishing they missed and how they can avoid future threats.
  • Organization-wide Results Sharing:
    • Share results with the company to demonstrate the importance of vigilance.
    • Do so without shaming; focus on constructive learning and praise for those who reported the simulation.
  • Training Sessions:
    • Conduct additional training sessions for those who need it.
    • Focus on practical skills such as identifying phishing emails and safeguarding information.

6. Follow-up and Reiteration

  • Continuous Improvement:
    • Use the results to enhance your security awareness program.
    • Adjust training materials and communication strategies based on outcomes.
  • Repetition of Simulations:
    • Plan for regular phishing tests to keep employees alert and aware.
    • Vary the scenarios to cover different phishing techniques.
  • Management Review:
    • Present reports to management about the impact and progress of the phishing simulations.
    • Utilize management support to drive home the importance of cybersecurity awareness across the organization.

Phishing simulations are a dynamic tool for improving an organization’s defenses against social engineering attacks. By following the above steps, you can create an effective phishing simulation program that not only tests employee vigilance but also fosters a culture of security awareness and resilience against cyber threats.

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