Protecting Against Phishing: A How-To for Training Your Employees

November 18, 20234 min read

Phishing attacks are among the most pervasive and damaging cyber threats facing organizations today. These attacks are designed to deceive employees into providing sensitive information such as passwords, financial data, or company secrets. Training your employees to recognize and respond to phishing attempts is an essential line of defense for your business. This article outlines a comprehensive strategy for educating your workforce on phishing awareness.

Understanding Phishing Attacks

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a cyber-attack that uses disguised emails, text messages, or websites as a weapon. The goal is to trick the recipient into believing that the message is something they want or need — such as a request from their bank, a note from someone in their company, or a sign-in link for a website — and to take the bait, which usually involves providing confidential information.

Types of Phishing Attacks

  • Email Phishing: The most common form, where attackers send fraudulent emails.
  • Spear Phishing: Targeted attacks aimed at specific individuals or companies.
  • Whaling: A subset of spear phishing that exclusively targets senior executives.
  • Vishing: Phishing conducted over phone calls.
  • Smishing: Phishing executed through SMS text messages.

Key Elements of a Phishing Training Program

Regular Training Sessions

Conducting regular training sessions is crucial. Ideally, these should be a mix of formal presentations, workshops, and interactive sessions. Training should be mandatory for all new hires and conducted at least annually for all employees.

Simulated Phishing Exercises

Simulated attacks can provide practical experience in a controlled environment. Use fake phishing emails to teach employees what to look for and test how they respond to attempted phishing.

Up-To-Date Training Materials

Cyber threats evolve constantly, so ensure that training materials reflect the latest phishing tactics, techniques, and procedures used by attackers.

Reporting Mechanisms

Educate employees about the importance of reporting suspected phishing attempts. Make sure they know who to contact and what information to include in their report.

Training Tips for Employees

How to Recognize Phishing Attempts

  • Check the email address: Look for subtle misspellings or domain changes.
  • Analyze the content: Poor grammar, urgency, or offers that seem too good to be true.
  • Never click on suspicious links: Hover over links to verify the URL they point to.
  • Don’t download unexpected attachments: These could contain malware.
  • Verify requests: Double-check requests for sensitive information by contacting the requester directly through a verified channel.

Best Practices to Prevent Phishing

  • Use spam filters: Make sure these are turned on and properly configured.
  • Update software and systems: Regularly update operating systems, browsers, and security software.
  • Use multi-factor authentication: Add an extra layer of security.
  • Create complex passwords: And change them regularly.
  • Educate on personal device usage: If employees use personal devices for work, they should follow the same security protocols.

Testing and Measuring the Effectiveness of Training

It’s important to test the effectiveness of your phishing training program by measuring key metrics, such as the click-through rates on simulated phishing emails. Short quizzes after training sessions can also be used to test knowledge retention.

Encouraging a Culture of Security Awareness

Leading by Example

Senior management should actively participate in the training and uphold cybersecurity best practices to reinforce their importance.

Positive Reinforcement

Rather than punishing employees who fall for simulated phishing attacks, use these incidents as learning opportunities. Celebrate cases where employees successfully recognize and report phishing attempts.

Continual Communication

Security should be an ongoing topic of conversation within the company. Use newsletters, intranet updates, and team meetings to keep the conversation going.