There are several crucial elements to protecting your workforce from social engineering:
- Establishing baseline awareness with a robust foundational training program
- Assessing that awareness and vigilance in real-time with tabletop exercises
- Assessing organization-wide attack readiness through penetration testing
- Using threat intelligence to inform theoretical and practical security training
Foundational Phishing Awareness Training
Real-time training exercises require a level of baseline understanding to be effective. Before engaging in any assessment activities, you should invest in phishing awareness training to ensure that your employees know what phishing is, what’s at stake, and what to look out for.
To that effect, consider including training modules about social engineering more broadly in early onboarding materials. Then, follow up with more detailed training on specific kinds of phishing, such as CEO fraud and water-holing schemes, during required annual training. Staff should also be instructed on common signs of these attacks, such as misspellings and errors.
These trainings should also feature assessments, but not necessarily real-time activities.
Prior to being tested on their abilities to detect, avoid, and report on phishing, all employees should be able to identify theoretical examples thereof. They should be able to pick out phishing emails, text messages, and phone calls—along with appropriate responses—in multiple choice.
Incident Response Tabletop Exercises
Once staff members have passed a theoretical threshold and proven they know what phishing is, you can kick phishing training into full gear with practical activities. One effective approach is known as incident response (IR) tabletop exercises, which simulate cyberattacks in a controlled setting.
Tabletop attacks are similar to penetration testing (see below), with the additional benefit of being more flexible. Portions can be isolated or repeated as needed, all at relatively low spend.
A phishing-specific IR tabletop exercise could see an employee field several communications across multiple channels without being instructed that a social engineering scam is hidden among them. The onus will be on the employee to sniff out the scam, avoid falling for it, and report it to the appropriate party. Given the simulated nature, variables can be adjusted for greater difficulty or other complications, such as different phishing attack patterns.
Utilizing External and Internal Pen Testing
Penetration testing takes the same general principle of tabletop exercises and maximizes its effectiveness. Pen tests are broader, deeper simulated attacks on your system as it actually exists, rather than in a fabricated environment. They assess staff preparedness in real time.
There are two primary kinds of pen tests, each of which can be configured to feature phishing:
- External – These tests simulate attacks from outside the organization, which is where most phishing schemes originate. The goal is to identify where and how swiftly an attacker can infiltrate your systems, such as through a spear phishing scheme.
- Internal – These tests simulate attacks from within, where perpetrators know about or have access to internal systems. The goal is to identify how an attacker would operate once already “inside.” In a social engineering context, this could involve follow-up attacks or what further moves an attacker would make after successfully phishing credentials.
These exercises move beyond phishing testing into broader attack readiness. Today, most cyber threats are multi-faceted, utilizing elements of social engineering alongside other vectors. You should plan accordingly with assessments that prepare your staff for complex risk profiles.
How Threat Intelligence Optimizes Modules
Another wrinkle that will optimize phishing awareness and vigilance across your staff is integrating real-world threat intelligence into all your theoretical and practical modules.
For example, rather than designing theoretical training based on textbook or composite examples of phishing, you can and should reference recent examples. The University of California San Francisco maintains a list of new and developing phishing threats, updated regularly with new trends. You can use these examples whole-cloth or generate composites from them, rather than relying on old and potentially outdated information in existing guides.
The best way to take advantage of up-to-date, real-world threat intelligence is to leverage the expertise of a chief information security officer (CISO). If your organization does not presently employ a CISO, a third-party virtual CISO (vCISO) can provide equally deep insights, with the potential for a greater diversity of experience to draw on when designing your training regimen.
Defend Against Phishing Attacks Effectively
Ultimately, the best defense against social engineering is a staff that’s both intimately aware of the attack vector and empowered to actively repel it. That requires a mix of theoretical and practical training, including real-time exercises for all stages of phishing attacks. The most effective programs are designed, delivered, and managed by security program advisors.
At RSI Security, we believe discipline unlocks greater flexibility in the future. Getting serious about employee awareness and vigilance now will help you prevent harm—and grow—later.
To learn more about our phishing training for employees, contact RSI Security today!