The value of performing live phishing tests relies on using impersonation the way attackers do. Live simulations have several limitations in this area that reduce their value for your security program.

Here are some key pitfalls I’ve discovered when using live tests to impersonate attackers:

1. Impersonating external entities (i.e., major brands or services) should not be spoofed without permission

2. Internal entities (e.g., service desk, payroll, HR) also do not appreciate being impersonated without their consultation

3. Internal entities almost always resist, or want to schedule the test for “a more convenient time”

When our phishing assessments face administrative and logistical barriers, they become a headache for IT Security managers. Or even worse, attackers know that there may be less testing on “operationally sensitive” parts of the organization, because of this.

Photo of a fish hook on a laptop to represent live phishing tests

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

It’s been a “super-fantastic” experience to see people learning and talking about security threats.

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So, when our testing scope becomes reduced due to inability to impersonate the attackers’ methods, live tests lose their value. We get more value from using methods that can cover attacker impersonation scenarios with fewer headaches, more efficiently.


Scott Wright is CEO of Click Armor, the gamified simulation platform that helps businesses avoid breaches by engaging employees to improve their proficiency in making decisions for cyber security risk and corporate compliance. He has over 20 years of cyber security coaching experience and was creator of the Honey Stick Project for Smartphones as a demonstration in measuring human vulnerabilities.