April 12, 2018 By Shane Schick 2 min read

A recent study revealed that 27 percent of employees tested by a vulnerability assessment firm clicked on a phishing link or fell victim to other social engineering techniques, suggesting a pressing need for better cybersecurity training.

In its report titled “Social Engineering: How The Human Factor Puts Your Company at Risk,” security firm Positive Technologies conducted a series of test attacks on several of its clients’ users. The company sent employees email messages that prompted them to enter their credentials on a website and then assessed their responses for the study.

More Than One-Quarter of Employees Fail Phishing Test

Of course, social engineering can take many forms, so the test subjects were broken into groups that received different kinds of phishing emails to see what worked and what didn’t. None of the messages contained real malware or caused actual harm, but the results showed that if the schemes had been designed by cybercriminals, 17 percent of the email attacks would have successfully compromised corporate systems.

To be fair, the research suggested that employees aren’t completely forgetting or ignoring their cybersecurity training. For instance, tests that prompted users to download and run a file fooled only 7 percent of subjects. Still, 15 percent clicked on emails with suspicious attachments and links to potentially malicious webpages where their usernames, passwords and other details might have been compromised.

Similarly, while traditional cybersecurity training might have warned employees against clicking on links or attachments in messages from unfamiliar senders, the study suggested that users should double-check everything sent to their inbox. Only 11 percent of test subjects fell victim to phishing messages from fake companies, but 33 percent were fooled by messages that included a genuine corporate domain name and looked like a legitimate sender.

The Case for Better Cybersecurity Training

While it may be tempting to conclude that most employees simply aren’t tech-savvy enough to identify phishing attempts, nearly 10 percent of users who failed the social engineering tests worked in the IT department, and 3 percent were on the IT security team. The results of the study suggest that organizations should invest in better cybersecurity training for employees in all departments.

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