Cultivating a Secure Culture: The Role of Phishing Simulations in Workplace Training


The security of an organisation is only as strong as its weakest link, which is usually the ‘human factor’. We talk a lot about fostering a culture of security so that employees feel empowered instead of helpless when it comes to cyber security, and for good reason. Most organisations require their employees to have internet and email access, so the threat of a phishing attempt resulting in a loss is very real. An effective way to train and not trick your employees is to facilitate phishing simulations. A simulation is a practical hands-on approach, and when coupled with training modules, can provide the learner with the skills they need to recognise an attempt.

Why are Phishing Simulations Important?

Phishing simulations are an essential tool in the cyber security arsenal. By creating a baseline of sorts, they allow organisations to assess their vulnerability to a potential phishing attempt. Employees gain firsthand experience of what these phishing threats might look like, and then subsequently recognise, report, or delete in the future.

Phishing simulations also provide valuable data about an organisation's cyber security posture. They can reveal areas of weakness that need to be addressed, helping to shape more effective, targeted training programs. In essence, they serve as a proactive measure to strengthen the organisation's defences and foster a culture of security awareness.

How Do Phishing Simulations Work?

Phishing simulations are designed to mimic real phishing attacks. The test involves sending simulated or ‘fake ’phishing emails to employees, which are specifically designed to appear as if they come from a legitimate or recognisable source. These emails typically contain a link or attachment that, in a real attack, would lead to a malicious website or download a harmful file.

The goal of these simulations is not to trick employees but to educate them. When an employee clicks on the link or attachment, they are redirected to a safe page that explains they have just participated in a phishing simulation. This page provides immediate feedback and education on the signs they missed and how to avoid falling for such scams in the future.

Training or Simulation First?

While it might seem logical to provide training before conducting a phishing simulation, a more effective approach is to perform a baseline simulation first. This initial simulation provides a clear picture of the organisation's current risk level and identifies areas where training is most needed.

Following the baseline simulation, training can be scheduled in bite-sized pieces over time. This approach ensures that the training is manageable and digestible for employees, increasing the likelihood of retention and application. Furthermore, it allows for continuous learning and improvement, as subsequent simulations can be used to measure progress and adjust the training as necessary.

What to Do with People Who Fail the Simulations?

The goal of phishing simulations is not to punish employees who fall for the simulated attacks, but to educate them. If an employee fails a simulation, it's an indication that they need further training or that the culture or participation or security is lacking from a leadership or admin position.

In such cases, additional targeted training should be provided to help these individuals improve their ability to recognise phishing attempts. This training should be supportive and constructive, reinforcing the idea that everyone has a role to play in maintaining the organisation's cybersecurity.

In conclusion, phishing simulations are a powerful tool for fostering a secure culture in the workplace. By providing practical, hands-on experience and continuous learning opportunities, they empower employees to become active participants in the organisation's cybersecurity efforts.

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