Spear Phishing Defense Playbook: Email Security Scenarios

December 16, 20234 min read


Acme Corp, a medium-sized enterprise specializing in IoT devices, has recently been the subject of attempted cyber-attacks. The company’s latest product, a smart home security system, is gaining traction in the market, making it a lucrative target for cybercriminals. With a connected workforce spread across various locations, including remote workers and several office suites in a high-tech building in Silicon Valley, Acme Corp handles sensitive data that cannot be compromised.


The IT department, led by CTO Janet Williamson, noticed an increase in sophisticated phishing attempts aimed at specific departments within the company. After analyzing these incidents, it became clear that the attacks used information gathered from social media and other public sources, indicating that Acme Corp faced a serious threat from spear phishing campaigns. The attackers appeared to be after intellectual property and access to the company’s primary networks.


In light of this escalating threat, Janet declared that Acme Corp needs an in-depth Cyber Range exercise to enhance the organization’s resilience against such attacks. This exercise aims to validate the effectiveness of existing security controls, train the staff to recognize and respond to sophisticated phishing attempts promptly, and ensure that incident response protocols are strong and actionable.


Playbook Objectives:

  • To simulate a realistic spear phishing attack targeting key personnel within Acme Corp.
  • To educate employees about the dangers and subtleties of spear phishing.
  • To evaluate the responsiveness and effectiveness of the current email security measures.
  • To test incident response plans and inter-departmental communication during an active email-based threat.
  • To refine the recovery process and minimize the potential damage from a real spear phishing attack.

Difficulty Level:

  • Advanced: The scenario involves sophisticated and targeted spear phishing techniques requiring vigilant detection and swift response.


  • Cybersecurity Training and Awareness: Focuses on threat identification, user training, and response to targeted email attacks.

Exercise Attack Steps:

  • Prepare a faux corporate email account mimicking a high-level executive within Acme Corp. This account will be used to send a crafted spear phishing email.
  • Obtain or create a document that appears legitimate and critical to the company’s operations, embedding malicious code that, when opened, would simulate the extraction of sensitive information.
  • The exercise begins with the stealthy insertion of this malicious email into the inboxes of chosen employees who are likely to have access to the targeted information. This would typically include individuals in research and development, finance, and upper management.
  • The receiver of the phishing email will be enticed to open an attached document under the guise of urgency, pertaining to an intellectual property or financial matter.
  • When the participant interacts with the email (e.g., by opening the attachment), a simulated alert mechanism triggers to the Acme Corp security team, indicating a system compromise.
  • The response team will then initiate the spear phishing incident response protocol, which includes identifying the breach’s scope, containing the threat, eradicating the attack vector, recovering systems, and informing the necessary stakeholders.
  • The security team will record and analyze the defense steps taken during the exercise to determine strengths and weaknesses in the response.
  • Upon completion of the exercise, the IT department will debrief participants, discussing the simulated attacks and emphasizing awareness and preventative strategies.
  • Actionable insights gained from the exercise will be used to refine existing protocols and update the staff training program to mitigate future spear phishing risks.