1 In 4 Executives Fall Foul Of Phishing Attacks

More than 1 in 4 security professionals said that top executives or other privileged users in their enterprises have been compromised by spear phishing attacks within the last 12 months. That’s according to a survey by PhishMe of 250 IT professionals at the Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas last month which found that most email recipients are not properly trained to recognize or safely react to them.

Two out of three security professionals say that their staff are being phished relentlessly, throughout the working week as their anti-spam filters are unable to catch the messages. Almost a quarter of the respondents said they see such messages in users’ mailboxes multiple times every day.

“Phishing” is an online attack in which the attacker sends a fraudulent message that appears to be helpful or innocuous, but actually contains malicious code or leads the user to a malicious website. These attacks are sometimes targeted at specific individuals or groups of users within an organization, an attack known as spear phishing.

Spear phishing has become a popular method of infecting enterprises with malware, according to PhishMe.

“Many enterprises believe that because they are using spam filtering tools or other email security technologies, they are safe from phishing attacks,” said Scott Greaux, Vice President of Product Management & Services at PhishMe, which offers a service that simulates phishing attacks to help train users on how to react to them. “What we found in our survey is that despite such filters, end users are presented with live, malicious attacks in their inboxes nearly every day.”

With so many unfiltered phishing messages getting through, it is up to the end user to decide how to react – whether to open the message, click on a link, or delete the message before it can do any damage. But PhishMe’s survey of Black Hat attendees indicates that most end users receive only a bare minimum of security awareness training.

Nearly half (49%) of the respondents said their users receive training only once a year; nearly one tenth (9%) said their organizations have no security training programs at all.

Among organizations that do provide security training programs, many rely heavily on scripted, delayed forms of instruction that do not provide metrics to program managers and administrators, the survey said.

In fact, three of the top four training methods listed by Black Hat attendees – recorded video/computer-based training (39.4%), paper tests/quizzes (32.9%), and handbooks/printed guides (28.5%) – are largely unsuccessful. Only 16% of security professionals train their users via simulated attacks (multiple responses were allowed).

“This survey demonstrates with great clarity that phishing attacks – particularly targeted attacks – are getting through to end users with alarming regularity, yet most organizations don’t train their users on what the most current attacks look like or how to react to them,” said Aaron Higbee, CTO and co-founder of PhishMe.

“If enterprises are going to protect themselves, they need a realistic, regular training regimen that helps users make the right decisions when they see a potential phishing attack – passive security awareness that doesn’t focus on tracking behavior modification is ineffective.”

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Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.