Phishing Simulation Exercise Explained

Phishing simulation is an educational and security testing engagement used by organizations to enhance cybersecurity awareness and defenses. It involves creating and sending simulated phishing emails to employees to mimic the tactics used by cybercriminals. These simulations are designed to be as realistic as possible, without causing harm, to test and teach employees how to recognize and respond to actual phishing attempts.

The primary objective of phishing simulations is to identify weaknesses in an organization’s human firewall – its employees. By tracking how individuals interact with the simulated phishing emails, organizations can gauge the level of cybersecurity awareness among their staff. This includes seeing who opens the emails, clicks on links, or enters sensitive information into fake web pages. Over time, regular phishing simulations can significantly reduce the risk of successful phishing attacks by fostering a culture of vigilance and cybersecurity knowledge. Read the latest Cloudflare report to learn more.

Phishing simulations are a proactive approach to cybersecurity, allowing organizations to better prepare their employees for the inevitable attempts by attackers to breach systems through social engineering. This method not only tests the current state of awareness but also reinforces best practices and strengthens overall security posture.


In the reconnaissance phase of a phishing simulation exercise, the focus is on gathering detailed information about the target organization and its employees. This initial stage is crucial for crafting a believable and effective phishing campaign. Information gathering often involves researching the company’s structure, culture, communication styles, and any recent events or activities that could be leveraged in the phishing attempt. This might include browsing the company’s website, social media profiles, press releases, and public records. The goal is to understand the organization’s internal language, branding, and the types of emails employees are likely to receive and trust. Testers also gather information about individual employees through platforms like LinkedIn or other social networks to personalize phishing attempts, increasing the chances of success.

During this phase, testers also identify the most effective delivery methods for the phishing attempt. This could involve determining the most commonly used communication platforms within the organization, such as email, instant messaging, or internal social networks. The reconnaissance phase sets the groundwork for the phishing simulation, allowing testers to design more convincing and targeted attacks. By thoroughly understanding the target’s environment and behavior patterns, testers can create scenarios that closely mimic genuine communications, thus providing a realistic test of the organization’s susceptibility to phishing attacks.

phishing simulations reconnaissance

Campaign Preparation

In the campaign preparation phase of a phishing simulation exercise, the task is to develop and organize the phishing campaign based on insights from the reconnaissance phase. This includes crafting realistic phishing content like emails, fake websites, or attachments, tailored to mimic the target organization’s usual communications. The content is designed to test employees’ ability to recognize phishing attempts, varying from general phishing to targeted spear-phishing for specific individuals or groups. The focus is on ensuring the language, tone, and design match the organization’s style for authenticity.

Additionally, this phase involves setting up the technical infrastructure for the campaign. Testers configure email servers, domains, and web hosting for fake websites, and implement tracking systems to record employees’ interactions with the phishing materials. These metrics are essential for assessing the campaign’s impact and the employees’ cybersecurity awareness. This phase is crucial for creating a realistic testing environment that gauges the organization’s susceptibility to phishing attacks and highlights areas where cybersecurity training is needed.

Attack execution

In the attack execution phase of a phishing simulation exercise, the pre-designed phishing campaign is activated against the organization. Phishing emails or messages are sent to employees at peak times to mimic real attack scenarios and test their response. The goal is to evaluate how effectively employees can spot and react to phishing threats, with testers ensuring these simulated attacks bypass the company’s security systems.

This phase involves monitoring key indicators such as email open rates, link clicks, and data submission on fake websites. This data assesses the organization’s vulnerability to phishing and the effectiveness of its security awareness training. It highlights whether employees can identify and report phishing attempts accurately, serving as a measure of both employee preparedness and the strength of existing security protocols. The results from this phase are crucial for identifying areas where cybersecurity training and practices need to be enhanced in the organization.


In the reporting phase of a phishing simulation exercise, the gathered data is analyzed and presented in a comprehensive report. This report details key metrics such as the number of employees who interacted with the phishing content, including email open rates, link clicks, and information submissions, providing a clear picture of the organization’s vulnerability to phishing attacks and the effectiveness of its cybersecurity training. It also segments the data by department or individual, identifying specific areas of weakness within the organization.

The report goes beyond mere statistics to offer a thorough analysis of the exercise, pinpointing successful aspects and areas for improvement. It includes recommendations for enhancing security protocols and training based on the observed behaviors and vulnerabilities. This phase is crucial for converting the exercise’s results into actionable strategies for strengthening the organization’s phishing defenses, serving as a roadmap for future training and policy development to better guard against actual phishing threats.

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