NewsDecember 21, 2015 @ 5:05 PM

Employee Training Lowers Susceptibility to Phishing Emails, Report Finds

A report released today by PhishMe indicated employees can dramatically improve their ability to detect phishing emails with a little practice. The study, titled “Enterprise Phishing Susceptibility Analysis,” was based on the results of 8 million phishing simulations done by the company over a 13-month span. In total, 75 percent of the organizations were training more than 1,000 employees. They were largely located in the U.S. and were distributed across 23 industries.

Security Awareness Decreases Click Rates

The report showed that the average response rate to phishing emails is about 20 percent. However, employees who click on one phishing email are 67 percent more likely than average to click on another one; they have a click rate of 35 percent.

Across all companies, messages pretending to be regular office communications tend to hit the hardest, with a 22 percent click-through rate. Those alleged interoffice emails that claim to have “your scanned file” are even more effective, with a 36 percent open rate, according to PhishMe.

CSO Online noted that phishing may increase during the holidays. Common seasonal phishing emails include holiday e-cards, holiday sales and discount offers, travel notifications and package delivery notifications. Charity fraud is also a common endeavor for phishing cybercriminals.

However, the study did find that the click rate fell to 13 percent if employees went through just three simulation exercises; it dropped even lower — to 4 percent — after the fourth. After the fifth training exercise, the success rate of those phishing emails fell to 0.2 percent.

Warning Against Phishing Emails

The study asked whether phishing training works, and the results seem to support the notion that it does. From the analysis, PhishMe was able to develop views of reduction in scenario response rates, decreases in repeat offenses and increases in user reporting of suspicious emails, all of which help protect corporate information and prevent potential threats from becoming realized.

To ensure employees weren’t simply learning to avoid the simulated phishing emails, PhishMe created over 300 phishing templates based on actual phishing emails seen in the wild. Cybercriminals will likely be using the same diverse array of tactics to target users, further underscoring the effectiveness of security awareness programs and training.

This is just the latest in a line of research showing that training is an effective way to mitigate the effects of phishing. Such training may not only reduce the financial costs of phishing, but also limit the productivity hit that organizations experience due to the malicious emails and the damage control that follows.

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Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He wrote for IBM's DeveloperWorks site for seven years and has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange.