Categorizing human phishing difficulty: a Phish Scale

As organizations continue to invest in phishing awareness training programs, many chief information security officers (CISOs) are concerned when their training exercise click rates are high or variable, as they must justify training budgets to organization officials who question the efficacy of awareness training when click rates are not declining. This paper argues that click rates should be expected to vary based on the difficulty of the phishing email for a target audience. Past research has shown that when the premise of a phishing email aligns with a user’s work context, it is much more challenging for users to detect a phish. A Phish Scale is thus proposed so CISOs and phishing training implementers can easily rate the difficulty of their phishing exercises and help explain associated click rates. The Phish Scale performed well with the current phishing dataset, but future work is needed to validate it with a larger variety of phishing emails. The Phish Scale shows great promise as a tool to help frame data sharing on phishing exercise click rates across sectors.