What industries are the most susceptible to phishing scams? What industries must do more to prevent phishing attacks on their employees?

Recent research shows organizations that fail to implement technological defenses to block phishing emails and do not provide phishing awareness training to their employees are likely to suffer costly data breaches.

This year’s cost of a data breach study conducted by the Ponemon Institute suggests the average cost of mitigating a data breach is $3.62 million, while the FBI’s figures show that between 2013 and 2016, more than $1.6 billion was lost to phishing scams – Approximately $500 million a year. Phishing attacks on organizations have also been increasing year on year.

Unfortunately, while public awareness of the threat from phishing has improved considerably in recent years, an alarming number of employees continue to fall for phishing scams. A recent survey conducted by the phishing awareness training company Knowbe4 showed an astonishing 27% of employees clicked on a potentially malicious link or opened an email attachment sent via its phishing simulation tests. In some industry sectors, more than a third of employees failed the phishing simulations.

The Industries Most Susceptible to Phishing

Many studies produce questionable results due to a low sample size. However, the Knowbe4 study used data from 11,000 organizations and 6 million users. The results of the study therefore paint an accurate picture of just how susceptible employees are to phishing attacks.

Phishing simulations were run prior to the provision of security awareness training to obtain a baseline of the susceptibility of employees to phishing attacks. The results showed the industries most susceptible to phishing were insurance, manufacturing, retail, and non-profits. In the 1-249 employee category, 35.46% of insurance employees failed phishing tests, and 33.32% of employees failed the tests in the 250-999 employee category – The highest level of susceptibility of any industry sector in both categories.

Manufacturing was second worse in the 1-249 employee category with a failure rate of 33.21% followed by not-for-profits on 32.63%. In the 250-999 employee category, manufacturing (31.06) and business services (31.01%) were second and third.

The 1000+ employee category showed much reduced phishing susceptibility rates, ranging from business services on 19.40% to not-for-profits on 30.97%. Even the best performing industry sector saw almost 2 out of 10 employees fail phishing tests.

90 days after implementing a phishing awareness program, susceptibility to phishing was dramatically reduced. In the insurance sector, susceptibility rates fell from 35% and 33% in the small and medium sized business categories to 13% and 16%. A massive improvement. Overall, after a year – once phishing awareness training programs had matured – the overall susceptibility rates fell to a level of around 1% to 2%, with the highest percentages at the 5% level.

The survey shows just how important it is to provide ongoing training for the workforce to improve security awareness and the clear benefits of doing so.

It will never be possible to reduce phishing susceptibility to zero, therefore organizations should ensure that phishing emails are not delivered inboxes in the first place, and for that, an advanced anti spam software solution such as SpamTitan is required.