All organizations should take steps to mitigate the risk of phishing, and one of those steps should be training employees how to spot a phishing email. Employees will frequently have their phishing email identification skills put to the test.
Since all it takes is for one employee to fall for a phishing scam to compromise a network, not only is it essential that all employees are trained how to spot a phishing email, their skills should assessed post-training, otherwise organizations will not know how effective the training has been.
How Common are Phishing Attacks?
Phishing is now the number one security threat faced by businesses in all sectors. Research conducted by the security awareness training company PhishMe suggests that more than 90% of cyberattacks start with a phishing or spear phishing email. While all industry sectors have to deal with the threat from phishing, the education and healthcare industries are particularly at risk. They are commonly targeted by scammers and spammers, and all too often those phishing attacks are successful.
The Intermedia 2017 Data Vulnerability Report showed just how common phishing attacks succeed. Workers were quizzed on security awareness training and successful phishing attacks at their organizations. 34% of high level execs admitted falling for a phishing scam, as did 25% of IT professionals – Individuals who should, in theory, be the best in an organization at identifying phishing scams. The same study revealed 30% of office workers do not receive regular security awareness training. 11% said they were given no training whatsoever and have not been taught how to spot a phishing email.
Overconfidence in Phishing Detection Capabilities Results in Data Breaches
Studies on data breaches and cybersecurity defenses often reveal that many organizations are confident in their phishing defenses. However, many of those companies still suffer data breaches and fall for phishing attacks. Overconfidence in phishing detection and prevention leaves many companies at risk. This was recently highlighted by a study conducted by H.R. Rao at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Rao explained that many people believe they are smarter than phishers and scammers, which plays into the scammers’ hands.
Training Should be Put to The Test
You can train employees how to spot a phishing email, but how can you tell how effective your training has been? If you do not conduct phishing simulation exercises, you cannot be sure that your training has been effective. There will always be some employees that require more training than others and employees that do not pay attention during training. You need to find these weak links. The best way to do that is with phishing simulation exercises.
Conduct dummy phishing exercises and see whether your employees are routinely putting their training into action. If an employee fails a phishing test, you can single them out to receive further training. Each failed simulation can be taken as a training opportunity. With practice, phishing email identification skills will improve.
How to Spot a Phishing Email
Most employees receive phishing emails on a daily basis. Some are easy to identify, others less so. Fortunately spam filters catch most of these emails, but not all of them. It is therefore essential to train employees how to spot a phishing email and to conduct regular training sessions. One training session a year is no longer sufficient. Scammers are constantly changing tactics. It is important to ensure employees are kept up to speed on the latest threats.
During your regular training sessions, show your employees how to spot a phishing email and what to do when they receive suspicious messages. In particular, warn them about the following tactics:
Spoofed Display Names
The 2017 Spear Phishing Report from GreatHorn indicates 91% of spear phishing attacks spoof display names. This tactic makes the recipient believe the email has been sent from a trusted colleague, friend, family member or company. This is one of the most important ways to spot a phishing email.
Mitigation: Train employees to hover their mouse arrow over the sender to display the true email address. Train employees to forward emails rather than reply. The true email address will be displayed.
Email Account Compromises
This year, business email compromise (BEC) scams have soared. These scams were extensively used to obtain W-2 Form tax information during tax season. This attack method involves the use of real email accounts – typically those of the CEO or senior executives – to send requests to employees to make bank transfers and send sensitive data.
Mitigation: Implement policies that require any email requests for sensitive information to be verified over the phone, and for all new bank transfer requests and account changes to be verified.
Hyperlinks to Phishing Websites
The Proofpoint Quarterly Threat Report for Q3 showed there was a 600% increase in the use of malicious URLs in phishing emails quarter over quarter, and a 2,200% increase from this time last year. These URLs usually direct users to sites where they are asked to login using their email credentials. Oftentimes they link to sites where malware is silently downloaded.
Mitigation: Train employees to hover their mouse arrow over the URL to display the true URL. Encourage employees to visit websites by entering the URL manually, rather than using embedded links.
Security Alerts and Other Urgent Situations
Scammers want email recipients to take action quickly. The faster the response the better. If employees stop and think about the request, or check the email carefully, there is a high chance the scam will be detected. Phishing emails often include some urgent request or immediate need for action. “Your account will be closed,” “You will lose your credit,” “Your parcel will not be delivered,” “Your computer is at risk,” Etc.
Mitigation: Train employees to stop and think. An email request may seem urgent and contain a threat, but this tactic is commonly used to get people to take quick action without engaging their brains.
Look for Spelling Mistakes and Grammatical Errors
Many phishing scams come from African countries, Eastern Europe and Russia – Places where English is not the main language. While phishing scams are becoming more sophisticated, and more care is taken crafting emails, spelling mistakes and poor grammar are still common and are a key indicator that emails are not genuine.
Mitigation: Train employees to look for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Companies check their emails carefully before sending them.
Why a Spam Filter is Now Essential
Training employees how to spot a phishing email should be included in your cybersecurity strategy, but training alone will not prevent all phishing-related data breaches. There may be a security culture at your organizations, and employees skilled phish detectors, but every employee can have an off day from time to time. It is therefore important to make sure as few phishing emails as possible reach employees’ inboxes, and for that to happen, you need an advanced spam filtering solution.
SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam email and includes dual anti-virus engines to ensure malicious messages are blocked. The low false positive rate also ensures genuine emails do not trigger the spam filter and are delivered.
If you want to improve your security defenses, train employees how to spot a phishing email and implement SpamTitan to stop phishing emails from reaching inboxes. With technological and human solutions you will be better protected.
Handy Infographic to Help Train Staff How to Spot a Phishing Email
We have compiled a useful infographic to highlight how important it is to train staff how to spot a phishing email and some of the common identifiers that an email is not genuine: