How to Undertake Advanced Phishing Campaigns for Red Team Exercises

November 27, 20234 min read


Advanced phishing campaigns for Red Team exercises are simulated attacks that mimic the tactics and techniques of real-world attackers aiming to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information. Unlike basic phishing scams that typically involve sending out generic emails en masse, advanced phishing involves careful planning, customization, and execution to effectively test and improve an organization’s security posture. The following sections outline the detailed steps necessary to carry out such exercises.

Planning the Phishing Campaign

Set Clear Objectives

  • Identify what you aim to achieve with the phishing campaign.
    • Test employees’ awareness regarding phishing attempts.
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of security controls.
    • Measure response time of the incident response team.

Understand the Target Audience

  • Collect detailed information about the staff and departmental structure.
  • Analyze the organization’s culture and communication style.
  • Take note of recent events within the organization that can be leveraged.

Choose the Type of Phishing Attack

  • Decide on the complexity level:
    • Spear Phishing: Highly targeted attacks toward specific individuals.
    • Whaling: Aimed at high-level executives.
    • Business Email Compromise (BEC): Impersonating high-level personnel to authorize fraudulent transactions.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

  • Obtain authorization from the appropriate level of management.
  • Ensure the exercise abides by all relevant laws and organizational policies.

Designing the Phishing Content

Craft Compelling Scenarios

  • Create a believable pretext that fits within the context of the target’s work or personal life.
  • Use current events or relevant themes to increase authenticity.

Develop the Phishing Payload

  • Determine whether the campaign will utilize links, attachments, or straight-text requests for information.
  • Build safe but realistic payloads that could include mock malware, tracking pixels, or fake login portals.

Design Correspondence

  • Mimic the formatting, tone, and signature of legitimate emails from the selected pretext source.
  • Ensure no harm will come to the target or their data if they fall for the phishing attempt.

Choose Delivery Mechanisms

  • Select the right technology platforms to distribute the phishing content.
  • Email is the most common, but consider other avenues such as SMS, phone calls, or social media.

Execution of the Phishing Campaign


  • Choose an appropriate time for the campaign to heighten its effectiveness.
  • Stagger delivery to avoid detection by spam filters and to maintain realism.

Conducting the Campaign

  • Execute the campaign using the chosen delivery methods.
  • Monitor progress and responses in real-time to gather data for analysis.

Data Collection and Analysis

Measurement Metrics

  • Define what constitutes a “success” for the attacker to measure the campaign’s effectiveness.
  • Determine the metrics for assessing employee responses (e.g., click-through rates, report rates).

Collect Data

  • Track which individuals interact with the phishing content and how they interact with it.
  • Preserve the privacy of the individuals involved and maintain anonymity where appropriate.

Analyze Results

  • Evaluate metrics against predetermined benchmarks.
  • Identify trends, such as particular departments or positions that showed higher susceptibility.

Post-Phishing Analysis and Reporting

Prepare Detailed Reports

  • Summarize the findings from the campaign.
  • Highlight success stories and weaknesses in the current security posture.

Deliver Feedback

  • Offer constructive feedback to employees, emphasizing education rather than punishment.
  • Provide training resources and support for those who fell for the phishing campaign.

Review and Adapt Security Measures

  • Recommend improvements for technical controls, policies, and employee training programs.
  • Plan follow-up exercises to measure the effectiveness of changes.


Successful advanced phishing campaigns for Red Team exercises require meticulous planning, creativity in execution, and careful analysis. It is an iterative process that should aim to educate and bolster an organization’s defense against ever-evolving cyber threats. Clear objectives, a well-crafted pretext, a focus on data collection, and thorough reporting and feedback are key to a valuable campaign that enhances overall security awareness and readiness.