For this financial services company, tougher simulations hardened phishing resiliency

After introducing Cofense PhishMeTM and Cofense ReporterTM, a financial services company had reduced susceptibility to 10% or lower across its 10,000+ employees. At the same time, reporting had climbed to almost 50% for data-entry simulated phishes and just under 25% for click-only.

In other words, employees had learned to identify basic phishing attacks.

Sometimes you need to “turn up the heat.”

The company’s CISO realized it was time to use more complex scenarios to further harden resiliency. The CISO pointed out that attackers don’t ask permission to launch sophisticated attacks, so the company had to be ready for anything.

To make scenarios tougher, the company added its branding to simulated phishes, plus mirrored complex phishing attacks it had seen in the wild. By upping the difficulty, the company figured susceptibility would increase, at least temporarily.

That’s exactly what happened. A phishing email pretending to be about manager evaluations, a scenario common to most organizations, fooled nearly 37% of recipients. But a month later, another office-communication phish, relating to time-off requests, elicited a click rate of just 12%—evidence the company did a good job of educating employees, especially those who had clicked the month before.

Not only that, reporting levels held steady during the same period, remaining higher than rates of user susceptibility. In fact, in a recent simulation the first email was reported before anyone mistakenly clicked. In a real phishing attack, the reported email would have been actionable information incident responders could use.

Smart next steps.

The company anticipates that employees will keep getting better at spotting advanced phishes. As susceptibility rates level out, employees should expect to see even tougher scenarios.

Again, these will likely include emails based on active threats, in particular emails purporting to come from internal sources. According to Cofense’s 2017 Phishing Defense and Resiliency Report, these kinds of “business process” scenarios are among the most effective.

One great source of complex scenarios: Cofense IntelligenceTM, our phishing-specific threat intelligence which helps organizations stay in front of attacks. You can use this service’s insights to keep your scenarios relevant.

Important note: it’s wise to mix in complex scenarios vs. abandoning basic phishing scenarios altogether. Users need to prepare for both, since attacks come in all degrees of complexity. Also, you don’t want users to be afraid to open legitimate emails from HR or other teams. If you’re not sure about the right mix, Cofense’s Professional Service Team can help.

When it comes to battling phishing, you can never say “mission accomplished.” But refining your defenses like this client did is an accomplishment in itself.

Learn more about phishing defense in Cofense’s 2017 Phishing Resiliency and Defense Report.