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Why You Need to Be Phishing Your Employees

By ECI | Thursday, October 21st, 2021

Arguably, human error is one of the weakest links in the security chain of any organization, with hackers using increasingly deceiving tactics to exploit unsuspecting employees. The importance of employee security awareness when it comes to phishing emails cannot be understated. We hear and read stories too often about employees being victims of social engineering schemes.

Social engineering and phishing attacks gain the trust of users, encouraging them to grant hackers access to confidential information, click on malicious links, or fill out their details on bogus websites.

Along with the various security tools that are available to combat these attacks, it is fundamental for a firm and its employees to be aware of the ongoing role they play in the cybersafety of the firm.

This requires businesses to build and nurture a security-centric culture. The most effective path to awareness is through frequent training and testing, as hackers only need to be right once to do irreparable damage.

In today's blog article, we will take a look at common phishing techniques and share guidance on how to avoid getting “hooked” by hackers.

Employee Error: Your Organization's Weakest Link

Do your employees know what a phishing scam is? If not, you need to do some cybersecurity training around phishing attacks and how to spot them. If they do know, because you've covered it during security awareness training, you still have to ask yourself, "Would my employees really be able to recognize and resist a phishing attack in real life?"

An employee can pay all of the attention in the world during companywide phishing training, but it's another thing altogether to encounter a phishing attempt in the middle of a busy workday when attention isn't focused on thinking about cyberattacks. That's why you need to be phishing your employees to drive the point home.

Setting Up a Simulated Phishing Test

Once you decide to do a phishing simulation, lay out your entire plan, from the type of phishing campaign you plan to mimic to how you will address employees who fall for the fake phishing emails.

Choosing your type of simulated phishing attack

Decide what type of phisher you want to imitate, and develop your plan. Different types of phishing emails commonly encountered in the workplace include:

Basic email deception phishing

This is one of the most well-known cyberattack types. A hacker sends an email that appears to be from a well-known and trusted brand, such as Microsoft. They use social engineering to leverage an employee's sense of immediacy, such as telling them they need to reset their password. When the user clicks on the link, they are sent to a fake website that captures their username and password.


A more targeted form of email phishing is spear-phishing. The hacker uses open-source intelligence (OSINT) to gather information from social media or a company's website. Then they pose as someone inside the organization to target another employee by using a real name, job function, email address, and telephone number. The recipient gets an email address that appears to be from a coworker and completes the requested action, like sharing the company's Dropbox password, which can lead to a data breach.


Also known as CEO fraud, whaling is an extreme form of spear-phishing that uses a CEO or other senior leadership member's credentials to convince a lower-level employee to perform a high-risk operation, like sending a money transfer.

Angler phishing

Another phishing threat can come not from malicious emails, but a messaging app. A scammer uses notifications or direct messaging features in a social media application to get an employee to click on a link from their work computer, leading to a malware download.

This type of attack is also becoming more common in text messaging and in business communication tools used by employees, such as Slack, Skype, and Microsoft Teams.

Conduct Your Simulated Attack

Time to be a cybercriminal. Doing a simulated phishing campaign means being sneaky and doing your best to trick your employees.

Divide your workforce into groups, and alternate times of day and days of the week when sending out your fraudulent emails or messages. You can run several different phishing simulator attempts simultaneously if you stagger them.

Track every test, and note who opens suspicious emails and who clicks on a link, provides sensitive data, or accepts a download. This will show you where the cybersecurity vulnerabilities in your organization are, and what you need to focus on in post-test cybersecurity awareness training.

Build up your employees, don't break them

The goal here isn't to humiliate anyone or catch them out if they fail your simulated phishing test. The focus should be on educating around cybersecurity threats and finding ways to improve employee training so scams can't get past your personnel.

Sure, anyone who forgets their security training and falls victim to your phishing emails will be a little embarrassed that they didn't recognize cyberthreats when they were right in front of them, but you can work to mitigate that feeling and turn it into a teachable moment.

After the test is complete, you can work with your security team to improve your security awareness program and ensure your employees are better prepared to resist phishing attempts in the future.

Six Tips To Help Combat Phishing

Urgency is one of the key alarm bells to look out for when identifying a phishing attack. The legitimacy of anything that requires users to act instantly should be questioned, particularly when it comes to monetary requests or where access to sensitive data is demanded quickly.

Below are six red flags that firms and their employees can look out for, to avoid falling into the trap of hackers. Here are six tips to prevent getting hooked by a phisher:

  1. Look out for emails or messages with improper grammar or spelling

  2. Check that any hyperlinked URLs match the URL shown

  3. Be wary of anything that urges you to take immediate action

  4. Do not open or download any suspicious email attachments

  5. Conduct due diligence before donating to a worthy cause, especially after a natural disaster

  6. Do not fall for claims of winning an award or competition you did not enter

Strengthen Your Security Defenses With Managed Phishing and Training

Security awareness training alone is not enough. Employees need to be able to recognize the changing faces of malicious content if they are to protect themselves and their firm effectively.

Firms are advised to conduct frequent managed phishing tests to assess if employees can successfully identify new phishing techniques and threats, and to provide immediate training in areas that require improvement.

Partnering with a trusted, third-party cybersecurity expert enables firms to deliver discrete, time-released phishing email tests. These can be structured around four levels of complexity, to ensure the simulations are ever-relevant and realistic.

Tests can be coupled with on-demand interactive security awareness training and knowledge assessments, to reinforce key concepts and improve on any vulnerabilities spotted.

Are you ready to conduct a phishing test on your employees to see who has been paying attention and which ones are oblivious to cyberthreats? We can help you develop a comprehensive testing and remediation plan to stop phishing in its tracks.

Find out more about ECI's Phishing and Training and its features which have been carefully designed to strengthen the 'human firewall' (employees) of businesses around the globe. 


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