The Modern Phishing Awareness Training Guide for Employees

What Does Phishing Awareness Training Cover?

Phishing attacks are used by criminals to trick users into revealing personal information, clicking malicious links, or downloading malware. Phishing attacks can be difficult for organizations to combat when employees are receiving hundreds of emails each week.

The key to defending your organization is education. Phishing awareness training is an educational program designed to teach people how to recognize and avoid phishing attacks. 

A phishing training program typically covers:

  • Understanding phishing: How phishing attacks work, the criminals’ goals, and the different tactics attackers use.
  • Identifying red flags: Signs of a phishing attempt in emails, text messages, phone calls, and other communication. This includes things like strange urgency of requests, mismatched sender addresses, grammatical errors, and suspicious attachments.
  • Safe practices: Best practices for protecting yourself from phishing, such as verifying sender legitimacy, avoiding suspicious links and attachments, and not entering personal information on untrusted websites.

An effective phishing awareness training program often uses a combination of methods, including:

  • Interactive modules: Online lessons that explain phishing and test your ability to spot it.
  • Simulated phishing exercises: Sending realistic test emails to see who falls for phishing attacks. These include examples of real phishing strategies and how to identify it. 
  • Reinforcement: Regular reminders to employees about phishing threats and best practices.

Phishing Training vs. Phishing Education Explained

The terms “phishing training” and “phishing education” are often used interchangeably, but there can be a subtle difference in their meaning:

  • Phishing education focuses on building a foundational understanding of phishing and enhancing employee awareness. It teaches employees the core concepts, how phishing works, and the different tactics attackers use. This provides a general knowledge base to recognize potential threats.
  • Phishing training goes beyond basic education and aims to develop practical skills. It uses techniques like interactive modules and simulated phishing campaigns to train employees on how to identify red flags, verify information, and avoid falling victim to phishing scams. It’s like taking the knowledge from education and applying it in real-world scenarios.

Here’s an analogy:

  • Education is like teaching someone about different types of snakes. They learn what they look like and some general dangers.
  • Training is like taking them to a safe environment to identify snakes in the wild and practice how to avoid them.

Both education and training are important for a comprehensive anti-phishing strategy. Education provides the foundation, while training helps employees apply that knowledge and develop the skills to make real-time decisions.

How Does Phishing Exploit Human Behavior?

Phishing attacks prey on fundamental human tendencies to trick users into compromising their security. 

Here are some common ways phishing exploits human behavior:

  • Trust and authority: Criminals often impersonate trusted entities like banks, credit card companies, IT personnel, or even senior executives. They use authentic logos, familiar language, and official-looking email addresses to create a sense of legitimacy. People are naturally inclined to trust figures of authority, making them more likely to follow instructions without scrutinizing the details.
  • Urgency and scarcity: Phishing emails often create a sense of urgency by claiming your account is compromised, payment is overdue, or a limited-time offer is expiring. This pressure reduces critical thinking and makes people more likely to act quickly without careful consideration.
  • Fear and intimidation: Phishing messages may threaten negative consequences like account suspension, legal action, or financial loss if you don’t comply with their demands. Fear can cloud judgment and lead people to take rash actions to avoid perceived threats.
  • Curiosity: Some phishing attempts use curiosity to lure victims in. They might have subject lines that pique your interest, like “Suspicious activity on your account” or “You’ve won a prize!” This taps into your natural curiosity and can trick you into clicking on malicious links.
  • Social engineering: Scammers may use social pressure to make their scams seem more believable. They might mention a large number of people who have already clicked on a link or opened an attachment. We are social creatures and tend to follow the lead of others, increasing the chance someone might fall for the scam if they believe others already have.

Types of Phishing

Phishing attacks come in many forms, but they all share the same goal: to trick you into revealing personal information or clicking on malicious links. Here are some of the most common types of phishing attacks:

Email Phishing

This is the classic type of phishing, where attackers send emails that appear to be from legitimate sources like banks, credit card companies, or online retailers. The emails typically try to create a sense of urgency or exploit trust to get you to click on a malicious link or attachment that can steal your information or infect your device with malware.

Spear Phishing

This is a more targeted form of phishing where attackers research their victims beforehand. They might appear to be from a colleague and the emails are tailored to include specific details about the target’s job, company, or interests, making them seem more believable. Spear phishing attacks are often more successful than traditional phishing because they appear more legitimate.


This is a highly targeted spear phishing attack aimed at high-level executives or individuals with access to sensitive information or financial resources. Whaling attacks are meticulously crafted to appear genuine and exploit the authority these individuals hold within an organization.

Smishing and Vishing

These phishing attacks target mobile devices. Smishing involves sending fraudulent text messages (SMS) that try to trick you into clicking on malicious links. Vishing is similar but uses voice calls to impersonate legitimate organizations and pressure you into revealing personal information.

Clone Phishing

In this attack, scammers copy a legitimate email from a reputable business and change the link or attachment within the email. The email content might be identical or slightly modified to create a sense of urgency. The attacker’s goal is to trick the recipient to download an infected attachment or click a link and share sensitive information. 


This attack doesn’t involve emails. Instead, the attacker will first infect an organization’s computers or DNA servers with code that will redirect web traffic from a legitimate site to a similar but fake website controlled by the attacker. Once at the counterfeit site, the criminals hope to trick users into providing legitimate login credentials or installing malware on their devices. 

Angler Phishing

This is a social media-based phishing attack where scammers use social media platforms to target victims. In angler phishing, the attacker poses as a customer support representative for a legitimate company such as a bank, then uses social media platforms to identify and target disgruntled users. Once in contact with the victim, they will trick them into providing their account credentials.  

Emerging Phishing Threats

Phishing techniques are constantly evolving, with criminal hackers developing new ways to bypass security measures and exploit human vulnerabilities. Here are some emerging phishing threats security teams should be aware of:

Deepfakes and Voice Phishing

Deepfake technology can be used to create realistic audio or video recordings of real people, used in phishing attempts. Imagine a CEO’s voice on a phone call (vishing) urging a transfer, or a seemingly genuine video message from your bank.

Phishing Attacks Through Collaboration Tools

Collaboration platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams are gaining popularity. Phishers might exploit these platforms by creating fake accounts or compromising existing ones to spread malicious links or lure victims into sharing sensitive information.

Social Media Phishing

Social media platforms offer a breeding ground for phishing attacks. Attackers might create fake profiles, impersonate real people you know, or exploit vulnerabilities in social media ad platforms to spread phishing links disguised as legitimate content.

Personalization at Scale

Phishing attempts are becoming more sophisticated, using stolen data or artificial intelligence to personalize emails with details specific to the victim. This can significantly increase the believability of the scam.

Phishing Kits and Services

The rise of “phishing-as-a-service” makes it easier for even non-technical attackers to launch phishing campaigns. These services provide pre-built phishing kits with templates and tools, lowering the barrier to entry for cybercrime.

By staying informed about these emerging threats and practicing good cybersecurity hygiene, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to a phishing attack.

How a Phishing Awareness Training Program Can Help Your Company

Phishing awareness training equips you and your organization with the knowledge and skills to combat ever-evolving phishing threats. Here’s how it helps:

  • Educating users to identify red flags: Training educates users on common phishing tactics like creating urgency or fear, spoofing sender addresses, using URL shorteners to hide link addresses, and adding suspicious attachments. This enables them to scrutinize emails and messages more critically.
  • Build a security culture through simulations: Effective training should include simulated phishing emails. These exercises use real world scenarios and allow users to experience phishing attempts in a safe environment. Simulations help them learn from mistakes, improve their ability to identify real-world threats, and build a culture of cybersecurity awareness.
  • Mitigating risk of financial losses and data breaches: Successful phishing attacks can lead to significant financial losses for individuals and organizations. Training helps prevent these losses by minimizing the chances of falling victim to scams, ransomware attacks, and data breaches.
  • Staying ahead of emerging threats: Regular training keeps users informed about the latest phishing tactics and emerging threats, such as deepfakes or social media phishing. This allows them to adapt their defenses and remain vigilant.
  • Demonstrating a security culture to customers and partners: Supply chain security is a growing concern with every organization’s customer base. Phishing awareness training provides evidence of your organization’s efforts to keep customer and partner data secure.  

Types of Phishing Awareness Training

There are three main types of phishing awareness training, each with its own strengths and/or limitations:

Computer-based training (CBT)

CBT is a self-paced online training module that educates users on phishing tactics, red flags to identify, and best practices to avoid them. It often includes interactive elements like quizzes, animations, and videos.


  • CBT is a scalable and cost-effective way to train a large number of employees.
  • Users can complete the training modules at their own convenience and pace.
  • Ensures everyone receives consistent information.
  • CBT platforms often track user progress and completion rates, allowing for easy reporting.

Simulated phishing exercises

These exercises simulate real-world phishing attacks by sending employees emails or messages that appear legitimate but are actually designed to test their awareness. Users who click on suspicious links or attachments receive immediate feedback and training on why the attempt was a phish.


  • Provides a hands-on learning experience that allows users to test their knowledge in a safe environment.
  • Helps users identify phishing tactics they might have missed in theoretical training.
  • Exposes areas where users may be vulnerable and allows for targeted training.
  • Can be gamified with a scoreboard to engage in friendly competition between departments.

Classroom-based training

This traditional method involves an instructor leading a group session on phishing awareness. The instructor can explain concepts, answer questions, and facilitate discussions.


  • Interactive environment allows students to ask specific questions to clarify concepts
  • Peer learning encourages collaboration


  • Requires instructors, venue rentals, and scheduling coordination, making it a less cost-effective option.
  • Can only train a small number of employees at a time.
  • Lecture-style training can be less engaging than interactive formats.
  • Coordinating schedules for all employees can be difficult.

How to Create an Effective Phishing Training Campaign

  • Define goals: identify what you want users to achieve (e.g., identify red flags, report suspicious emails) and tailor the campaign goals for different user groups (e.g., technical vs non-technical).
  • Variety is key: use a mix of training methods like cbt modules, simulated phishing exercises, and interactive quizzes to keep users engaged.
  • Make it realistic: craft simulated phishing emails that mimic real-world attacks, including urgency, familiar sender names, and believable content.
  • Provide clear feedback: when users fall for a simulated attack, offer immediate feedback explaining why it was phishing and what to do in real-world scenarios.
  • Regularity is crucial: don’t conduct just a one-time training. Schedule regular phishing simulations and awareness campaigns to keep users vigilant.
  • Reinforce training with visual reminders: printed and electronic posters or short video sessions can keep awareness top of mind.
  • Measure and improve: track user performance in simulated exercises and adjust the training program based on the results.
  • Focus on positive reinforcement: reward users who successfully identify phishing attempts and promote a culture of security awareness.
  • Keep it fresh: stay updated on emerging phishing threats and incorporate them into your training program to ensure users are prepared for the latest tactics.

Raise Your Defenses Against Phishing Attacks with Defendify

Phishing attacks are a constant threat and evolve to exploit human vulnerabilities to bypass security measures. But you don’t have to be a victim. By educating your users with effective phishing awareness training, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling prey to these scams.

Defendify offers security awareness training and a comprehensive phishing simulation tool that goes beyond just sending test emails. It automates the entire process with personalized training, and provides valuable insights to identify areas needing focus.

Don’t wait for a successful phishing attack to disrupt your business and compromise sensitive data.  Book a demo now to learn more about our phishing simulation tool and see how we can help you build a stronger defense against cyber threats.

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