Empowering Your Employees: Best Practices in Phishing Prevention

By: Shailendra Shyam Sahasrabudhe, Country Manager, India, UAE and South East Asia, Cymulate Ltd.

In today’s hyperconnected digital landscape, phishing has become an unfortunate reality that one can’t shy away from. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Report, phishing scams accounted for close to 36% of all data breaches globally.

As attacks continue to evolve into more sophisticated and evasive forms, it becomes abundantly clear that technology solutions alone are insufficient to counteract these threats. A study from Group-IB found India to be the third most targeted country globally and the most targeted country in Asia, while another Microsoft report found that that Indian consumers are more likely to be financially impacted by cyber scams as compared to global data.

The human element remains the most vulnerable target in this ongoing battle against cybercriminals. That’s why comprehensive security awareness training, testing, and improvement programs are paramount in equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to identify and respond effectively to phishing attempts.

When executed effectively, human phishing prevention initiatives can significantly enhance an organization’s resilience against phishing attacks. Let’s take a closer look at some best practices that companies can embrace for training, testing, and continuously improving human-centric phishing defense.

Training Employees to Spot Phishing Attempts

Cybercriminals continuously adapt their tactics, which is why periodic training content updates are vital to address emerging phishing trends. The frequency of phishing awareness training should be tailored to an organization’s size and risk levels, but at a minimum, it should occur yearly. A combination of initial onboarding training and regular refresher courses ensures that employees remain adept at identifying and responding to suspicious messages.

The cornerstone of any human phishing prevention program is security awareness training, designed to help employees recognize common phishing techniques and respond appropriately. Effective training should be engaging, practical, and regularly updated.

These training sessions need to be engaging to bring the threat of phishing to life. Interactive demonstrations of actual tactics used by hackers are invaluable in helping employees understand and retain the training content.

These sessions should incorporate elements like quizzes, role-playing scenarios, real examples of phishing emails, voicemails, texts, QR codes, and malicious sites. “Phishing labs” where employees identify fraudulent messages, gamification through phishing simulations, and reward programs for reporting phishing and attending training can all contribute to making training engaging and effective.

Moreover, the training content should cover red flags such as urgency, threats, odd links, and spelling errors, safe protocols for reporting suspicious messages, the dangers of clicking links or opening attachments, secure password practices, social engineering and impersonation techniques, current phishing trends, and case studies.

Testing Employees with Simulated Phishing Exercises

While classroom-style awareness training provides a solid foundation, the next step in any phishing prevention program should involve simulated phishing campaigns. These campaigns allow organizations to put their employees’ skills to the test in a controlled environment that mirrors real-world attacks.

Phishing simulation technology, whether provided by dedicated platforms or included in comprehensive cybersecurity solutions, simplifies the process of launching simulated campaigns and tracking results. It offers features like automated reporting, which provides valuable insights into employee interactions with phishing emails, including click rates for links and attachments, credential entry rates on fake login pages, response rates by department, and identification of repeat offenders or chronic report skippers.

By analyzing these results, organizations can identify high-risk individuals or departments in need of additional coaching. Furthermore, they can uncover trends in tactics that successfully evade detection during controlled phishing awareness campaigns, allowing for a targeted approach to bridge knowledge gaps.

For optimal impact, phishing simulations should be an ongoing effort, with new campaign scenarios introduced regularly. Initiating with a baseline assessment and tracking improvement over time ensures that human awareness and resilience to phishing attacks continually progress.

Improving Defense Against Phishing

An effective phishing awareness training program is one that continually evolves by learning from metrics, coaching employees, and enhancing content.

Analyzing Phishing Report Data

Analysis of phishing report data can reveal areas in need of improvement, including departments requiring supplemental training, tactics with high success rates, and instances where employees fail to report potential threats. With these insights, organizations can target awareness gaps with customized content and coaching, identify repeat victims of simulated phishing for one-on-one discussions, require additional training, or configure additional controls.

Continuous Phishing Awareness Training Content Recommendations

The array of phishing techniques employed by cybercriminals is continually expanding. Therefore, training content must remain one step ahead, consistently offering fresh and relevant material. Seeking direct feedback through surveys and focus groups can provide further insights into awareness program blind spots.

To maintain training content’s relevance, organizations should promptly incorporate examples of new phishing methods observed both internally and externally. Additionally, content should be localized to resonate with employees across geographic regions and cultures in global organizations.

In the battle against increasingly convincing phishing scams, a combination of interactive and engaging training, ongoing testing through simulated campaigns, metrics-driven content enhancement, and coaching for high-risk individuals is essential. An informed and alert workforce remains the most effective first line of defense against phishing.

Despite substantial investments in email security, phishing and business email compromise continue to be significant breach entry points. Employees serve as the first line of defense against phishing, and regularly testing their alertness and awareness of evolving phishing techniques is an efficient preemptive measure.

The challenges associated with running phishing awareness campaigns are substantial, including issues such as inactive payload testing, phishing attribution tracking, effective phishing creation, and limited resources.

To address these challenges, organizations can turn to solutions like Cymulate’s Phishing Awareness campaigns, which evaluate employees’ security awareness levels by simulating phishing attacks. These campaigns offer a streamlined approach to creating and executing phishing awareness initiatives, allowing organizations to assess and enhance their human defenses against phishing attempts.

In the ongoing fight against phishing, combining effective training, regular testing, and continuous improvement is essential to bolster an organization’s resilience to this persistent threat. By taking these steps, organizations can empower their employees to become vigilant defenders against the ever-evolving landscape of phishing attacks.

(The author is Shailendra Shyam Sahasrabudhe, Country Manager, India, UAE and South East Asia, Cymulate Ltd, and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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