Why Your Phishing Training Program Isn’t Working (and How to Fix It)

If you’re serious about cybersecurity (and we hope you are!), chances are you have a phishing training program in place. But is it working? Would you consider your employees a team of cyber-defenders? Is everyone in your organization up to speed on their cyber-smarts, from the intern to the CEO?

Here are some stats that may surprise you:

  • Within the first 10 minutes of receiving a malicious email, 84% of employees took the bait by either replying with sensitive information or interacting with a spoofed link or attachment.
  • Only 13% of targeted employees reported the phishing attempts, which limits the organization’s ability to respond to the intrusion and alert others to the threat. 

Phishing emails remain the number one threat vehicle that result in a cyber-breach, and as a result, it’s essential your employees are well-trained to recognize and report these malicious scams. Read on to learn where many phishing training programs fall down, and more importantly, how to get back on track.

1. Your employees might not fully understand what’s at stake.

As with all initiatives that require soliciting team buy-in, it’s important that everyone understands the “why” behind their efforts.

When it comes to organizational risk, there is a variety of information that could prove valuable to cyber-attackers. All organizations have sensitive data that can be leveraged or sold on the dark web, including company intellectual property and trade secrets, tax documents for the company and employees, bank information and wire transfer details, and so much more.

How to Fix It:

Ensure all employees go through awareness training so they understand the foundational elements of cybersecurity. We also recommend sharing news and events related to various scams. This practice is not to scare employees, but rather so they understand the implications of a breach and just how devastating one can be to a company’s brand, reputation, operations, and financial bottom line. Finally, remind your team that the effects of a breach can affect them personally, as once an attacker has access to a set of credentials, they don’t discriminate when it comes to breaching personal vs. professional accounts.

2. Cyber-criminals and their tactics have become more advanced, making their scams more difficult to spot.

While the old-school Nigerian prince emails continue to circulate, phishing attacks have evolved alongside the risk mitigation measures meant to stop them. In fact, attackers continuously assess new and updated spam filters to ensure their emails will get through so that they can achieve their goals, whether it is business email compromise, malware in attachments, ransomware delivery, or credential harvesting.

Many of today’s hacking tactics center on social engineering: the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential information or sensitive data to use for fraudulent purposes. Cyber-criminals prey on the emotions of their targets, taking advantage of the generosity, guilt, intrigue, or urgency their scams elicit.

The phishing attacks of today often require lengthy research phases, during which bad actors investigate company web pages and employee social media profiles, taking note of information that could be used to personalize emails (or even crack logins). Hackers can also use a fabricated scenario as an initial touchpoint called “pretexting” to confirm information about a target, gathering additional information to be used in a secondary attack. This method of “people hacking” provides bad actors with the information they need to personalize phishing emails for greater success, known as spear phishing. Purporting to be a respected sender, attackers can send emails to specific and well-researched targets to gain access to personal or company information.

How to Fix It:

While phishing isn’t going away anytime soon and you can’t “fix” it, you can certainly put your best foot forward when it comes to fortifying your organization. We could wax poetic on this topic, but it comes down to the following:

3. Your phishing training program is cumbersome to manage.

We all have a lot on our plates, and we understand it can be hard to manage one more initiative on top of all your other daily responsibilities. That’s why it’s important that your phishing training program is as automated and low-effort as possible.

How to Fix It:

Look for a program that allows you to set up a regular cadence of phishing simulations and sends reminders to those that are lagging so the follow-up doesn’t fall on you. A good program should come with built-in reporting so you can quickly and easily get a read on who in your organization is a top performer, as well as those that are a potential risk and need more training.

4. Your phishing training program doesn’t follow a regular cadence.

If your team is only receiving phishing simulations or training annually or simply when the mood strikes you, there are two issues at play. The first is that you’re sending a message to your employees that cybersecurity is only sometimes important, therefore rendering their attention to it unnecessary. Secondly, for any learnings to stick, it’s important that exposure is regular so that employees can build upon their knowledge and keep the topic top of mind.

How to Fix It:

Ensure your cybersecurity training and phishing simulations are distributed consistently, whether it’s via an automated tool or as a regular part of someone on your team’s responsibilities. Employees that receive frequent training will develop strong phishing reflexes, be on the lookout for phishing scams, and ultimately understand that your organization takes cybersecurity seriously.

5. Your phishing training program isn’t engaging.

There are several projects, tasks, and initiatives competing for your employee’s attention, and everyone knows the dull or laborious ones get deprioritized. If your phishing training program isn’t the least bit fun, chances are your team isn’t doing it, opening your organization up to potential risk.

How to Fix It:

There are many ways to liven up your cybersecurity and phishing training. Incentivize your employees to complete their training with rewards or recognition- an effort that results in a win for everyone involved. Post witty signs throughout your office or via your company’s messaging channels as a friendly reminder to stay alert. Lessons tend to stick when they relate directly to someone’s daily life, so it’s important that the content of  your phishing simulations is realistic, relevant, and based on current threats. Video inherently captures viewers’ attention more than text, so we recommend any kind of video training series as well. The more engaging, fun, and compelling the training, the better.

A Stronger Phishing Training Program = A Stronger Cybersecurity Posture

While it may not be possible to stop every single phishing attack, a low-maintenance, consistent, and engaging program that communicates the gravity of a strong cyber posture will dramatically improve your organization’s fortification against cyber-threats.

Want to take your phishing training program to the next level?

Resources & insights

The Ultimate Tackle Box: How to Fight Phishing
While the concept of phishing has become well-known at this point, how to fight phishing is unfortunately not quite as straightforward and requires a multi-layered approach.
what is spear phishing blog image
What is Spear Phishing in Social Engineering?
Phishing attacks are more sophisticated, calculated, and difficult to identify than they were in the past. Staying vigilant and training your employees to respond to phishing and spear phishing cyberattacks can safeguard your organization against the damages caused by social engineering schemes.
The Ultimate Guide to Phishing & Social Engineering
The Ultimate Guide to Phishing & Social Engineering
When your staff is well-versed in the basics of phishing and social engineering, you can take your organization's cyber-risk mitigation to the next level.

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