Understanding Phishing Simulations: What They Are and Why They Are Important

1:59 am
August 10, 2023

Summary: Phishing simulations are cybersecurity exercises that evaluate an organization’s ability to detect and respond to phishing attacks. During a phishing simulation, employees receive simulated phishing emails, texts, or calls that mimic real-world phishing attempts. The objective is to test employees’ vulnerability to social engineering tactics and educate them on how to identify and avoid phishing scams. Recent statistics show a significant increase in phishing attacks, making phishing simulations an essential tool for organizations to strengthen their cybersecurity defenses.

What is a phishing simulation?

A phishing simulation is a cybersecurity exercise designed to assess an organization’s readiness to recognize and respond to phishing attacks. Phishing attacks are fraudulent messages, typically sent via email, text, or voice, with the intention of tricking individuals into revealing sensitive information or downloading malware. During a phishing simulation, employees are exposed to mock phishing attempts that use the same tactics as real attacks but without any adverse impact on the organization. The simulation helps identify vulnerabilities and provides employees with awareness and training to better recognize and avoid phishing attacks in the future.

Why are phishing simulations important?

Phishing threats have been on the rise, with an increase of 150% per year since 2019. In 2022, there were over 4.7 million phishing sites reported, and 84% of organizations experienced at least one successful phishing attack. While email gateways and security tools can’t prevent all phishing campaigns, phishing simulations play a crucial role in mitigating the impact of these attacks. Simulations help educate employees on recognizing phishing attempts, improve incident response, and reduce the risk of data breaches and financial losses.

How do phishing simulations work?

Phishing simulations are typically conducted as part of security awareness training led by IT departments or security teams. The process involves several steps:

  1. Planning: Define objectives, scope, types of phishing emails, frequency of simulations, and target audience.
  2. Drafting: Create realistic mock phishing emails resembling actual threats, paying attention to details like subject lines and sender addresses.
  3. Sending: Send the simulated phishing emails securely to the target audience.
  4. Monitoring: Track and record employees’ interactions with the simulated emails, monitoring for any clicks on links, downloads of attachments, or provision of sensitive information.
  5. Analyzing: Analyze the data from the simulation, identifying trends, vulnerabilities, and areas for improvement. Provide immediate feedback to employees who failed the simulation.

After the simulation, organizations compile a comprehensive report summarizing the outcomes and insights gained. Many organizations repeat the process regularly to enhance cybersecurity awareness and stay informed about evolving threats.

Considerations for phishing simulations

When conducting phishing simulations, organizations should consider the following:

  • Frequency and variety of testing: Conduct simulations regularly using different phishing techniques to reinforce cybersecurity awareness.
  • Content and methods: Develop simulated phishing emails that resemble real attacks, using phishing templates modeled after popular types of phishing attacks.
  • Timing: Decide whether to perform a phishing test before or after phishing awareness training based on organizational needs and priorities.
  • Educational follow-up: Provide follow-up training to support employees who failed the simulation and to enhance their knowledge of identifying suspicious emails.
  • Progress and trend tracking: Measure and analyze the results of each simulation to identify areas for improvement and stay informed about the latest phishing trends and tactics.

Get more help in the battle against phishing attacks

Phishing simulations and security awareness training are crucial preventive measures, but organizations also need advanced threat detection and response capabilities. IBM Security® QRadar® SIEM is a comprehensive solution that applies machine learning and user behavior analytics to network traffic for smarter threat detection and faster remediation. It helps security teams detect threats rapidly and take immediate, informed action to minimize the impact of an attack.

Source: IBM Security


What is a phishing attack?

A phishing attack is a fraudulent attempt to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details, by impersonating a trusted entity through email, text, or voice communication.

How can a phishing simulation benefit organizations?

Phishing simulations help organizations evaluate their readiness to detect and respond to phishing attacks. They educate employees on recognizing phishing attempts, identify vulnerabilities, improve incident response, and reduce the risk of data breaches and financial losses.

Are phishing simulations effective in preventing phishing attacks?

Phishing simulations are not foolproof in preventing all phishing attacks. However, they significantly contribute to enhancing employees’ awareness and knowledge of phishing threats, making them more vigilant and better equipped to identify and avoid real attacks.

How often should phishing simulations be conducted?

Experts recommend conducting phishing simulations regularly throughout the year using various phishing techniques to reinforce cybersecurity awareness. The frequency of simulations depends on the organization’s needs and resources.


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