What is a Phishing Simulator and Why Do I Need One?

Using a phishing simulator to conduct internal dummy phishing tests on employees is a good way to reenforce security awareness training. Reading about phishing tactics and techniques in training courses can help employees to understand the threat of phishing; however, sending dummy phishing emails internally to employees will give them practical experience of identifying phishing emails in a safe environment. It also allows IT security teams to test whether training is being applied on a day-to-day basis by employees.

What are Phishing Simulations and How do They Work?

Phishing simulations are internal emails sent to the workforce that mirror the types of emails that cybercriminals use to target businesses. They are used to simulate phishing emails that try to steal credentials, trick employees into opening files that contain malware, or request employees respond and send sensitive data.

Many cybersecurity vendors offer a phishing simulator that can be used to create internal phishing campaigns, and schedule the messages to target individuals, user groups, departments, or the entire organization. These platforms include templates of real-world phishing emails for conducting highly varied and realistic internal campaigns. Every message sent through the platform is tracked, along with the responses to those emails – if they have been deleted without reading, opened and deleted, as well as responses to opened emails, such as opening an email attachment, visiting a linked website, and whether the phishing email was reported to the security team.

Why is a Phishing Simulator Necessary?

Investigations of data breaches show that around 90% of all successful cyberattacks occur because of human error, and phishing is the main way that attackers gain a foothold in business networks. Businesses can implement advanced solutions for blocking phishing attacks such as secure email gateways, web filters, and multi-factor authentication, but the tactics, techniques, and procedures of cyber actors are constantly changing to defeat these cybersecurity solutions. Some phishing emails will inevitably slip past these defense mechanisms and be delivered to inboxes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that phishing attacks on businesses doubled during the pandemic, and the attacks are getting more sophisticated. Phishing attacks are also not limited to email, and attempts may be made to phish for sensitive data via SMS or instant messaging platforms, social media networks, or over the telephone. These phishing methods often totally bypass anti-phishing solutions, so the workforce needs to be made aware of the threats they are likely to encounter and be provided with training to help them recognize and report those threats. A phishing simulator allows businesses to test the effectiveness of their training program, identify individuals that need further training, and measure the ROI from their security awareness training.

What Happens When a User Fails a Phishing Simulation?

A phishing simulator will generate reports for the security team that provide an overview of the susceptibility of the workforce to phishing emails and will indicate which individuals have responded or engaged in risky actions. A failed phishing simulation should be turned into a training opportunity. Individuals should be told that they failed the phishing test, and then be provided with further training to help them understand what went wrong and how to identify red flags. A phishing simulator can be configured to automatically flag errors to individuals who fail simulations and provide timely training content.

Can I Conduct Phishing Simulations without a Phishing Simulator?

It is possible to create dummy phishing campaigns without paying for a phishing simulator; however, creating these campaigns from scratch is time-consuming. The phishing email templates will need to be created, and a system for automating the campaigns will need to be developed as well as for tracking responses.

The best option is to take advantage of the solutions provided by cybersecurity vendors, which include the software for sending and tracking responses. These platforms allow campaigns to be carefully developed and automated, and for relevant training to be delivered when simulations are failed. Vendors’ phishing simulators will also include a library of phishing templates that mirror real-world phishing attacks, allowing security teams to conduct diverse tests to gauge resilience to the different phishing tactics used by cybercriminals and nation-state threat actors.

Best Practices to Adopt When Using a Phishing Simulator

There are many benefits to using a phishing simulator for conducting internal phishing attacks, but to get the greatest benefit, be sure to follow these best practices, which will help you to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with phishing simulations.

How to get the most benefit from phishing simulations

  • Tell employees the training program includes phishing simulations – Phishing simulations should not come as a surprise to employees. If they do, it can affect morale and create friction between employees and the IT department.
  • Use phishing templates that reflect real-world attacks – A phishing simulator should simulate real-world phishing attacks. You are trying to train your employees on how to recognize real phishing emails so they should be realistic.
  • Tailor simulations for user groups and departments – Threat actors will target users with different techniques, so use role-based phishing simulations to replicate the tactics used by phishers.
  • Vary the difficulty and types of phishing simulations – You should conduct phishing simulations of varying degrees of difficulty. Sometimes the simplest phishing emails are the most effective. Employees should have practice at identifying all types of phishing emails.
  • Run phishing simulations continuously – Your campaigns should run continuously in small numbers, targeting different user groups at different times during the month. Vary the emails sent to departments so that users cannot tip each other off.
  • Monitor progress over time – You can use phishing simulations to monitor changes in susceptibility over time and demonstrate how your security posture is improving and the ROI from training.
  • Test out campaigns before rolling out – Before rolling out phishing simulations to the entire workforce, conduct tests on a few individuals and fix any issues that arise.
  • Use the data to fine-tune training – Failed phishing tests could indicate problems with your training content. Tailor training accordingly if multiple employees fail specific phishing tests.
  • Conduct simulations on the entire workforce, including the C-suite – Everyone should take part in these exercises, from the C-suite down. Employees should know that the C-suite is also being tested to improve buy-in, and the C-suite includes the big fish that phishers often target so executives need to know how to recognize threats.
  • Create a benchmark against which progress can be measured – Before providing security awareness training, use phishing tests to create a benchmark against which you can measure the effectiveness of your training.
  • Create an easy way for employees to report phishing threats – Use a mail client plug-in to allow employees to report suspected phishing emails to the security team with the click of a mouse.
  • Reward don’t punish – Rather than punishing employees for failing simulations, take a more positive approach and reward users for identifying and reporting threats.
  • Turn failures into training opportunities – Internal phishing tests provide an opportunity to improve security awareness. If a phishing simulation is failed, it should be turned into a training opportunity. Choose a solution that allows you to automate the delivery of additional training and deliver it when a failure occurs.


If you want to improve your security posture, you need to ensure you train your workforce on how to recognize and avoid phishing and other cyber threats. A phishing simulator allows you to test how effective your training campaign has been and track improvements over time. It will also alert you to individuals who need further training, allowing targeted additional training to be provided where it is needed to turn security liabilities into security assets.