According to a recent Irish phishing study, as many as 185,000 office workers in the country have fallen victim to phishing scams.
Phishing is a method used by cybercriminals to obtain sensitive information such as login credentials, financial information, and other sensitive data. While phishing can take place over the phone, via messaging platforms or by text message, email is most commonly used.
Messages are sent in bulk in the hope that some individuals will respond, or campaigns can be much more targeted. The latter is referred to as spear phishing. With spear phishing attacks, cybercriminals often research their victims and tailor messages to maximize the probability of them eliciting a response.
A successful phishing attack on employees can see them disclose their email credentials which allows their accounts to be accessed. Then the attackers can search emails accounts for sensitive information or use the accounts to conduct further phishing attacks on other employees. When financial information is disclosed, business bank accounts can be emptied.
Businesses can suffer major financial losses as a result of employees responding to phishing emails, the reputation of the business can be damaged, customers can be lost, and there is also a risk of major regulatory fines.
Irish Phishing Study Findings
The Irish phishing study was conducted on 500 Irish office workers by the survey consultancy firm Censuswide. Respondents to the Irish phishing study were asked questions about phishing, whether they had fallen for a phishing scam in the past, and how they rated their ability to identify phishing attacks.
In line with findings from surveys conducted in other countries, 14% of respondents said they had been a victim of a phishing attack. There were also marked differences between different age groups. Censuswide analyzed three age groups: Millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers. The latter two age groups were fairly resistant to phishing attempts. Gen X were the most phishing-savvy, with just 6% of respondents in the age group admitting to having been fooled by phishing emails in the past, closely followed by the baby boomer generation on 7%. However, 17% of millennials admitted having fallen for a phishing scam – The generation that should, in theory, be the most tech-savvy.
Interestingly, millennials were also the most confident in their ability to recognize phishing attempts. 14% of millennials said they would not be certain that they could detect fraud, compared to 17% of Gen X, and 26% of baby boomers.
It is easy to be confident about one’s ability to spot standard phishing attempts, but phishing attacks are becoming much more sophisticated and very realistic. Complacency can be very dangerous.
Phishing Protection for Businesses
The results of the Irish phishing study make it clear that businesses need to do more to protect themselves from phishing attacks. Naturally, an advanced spam filtering solution is required to ensure that employees do not have their phishing email identification skills put to the test constantly. SpamTitan, for instance, blocks more than 99.9% of spam and phishing emails, thus reducing reliance on employees’ ability to identify scam emails.
The Irish phishing study also highlights the importance of providing security awareness training to employees. The study revealed 44% of the over 54 age group had opened an attachment or clicked on a link in an email from an unknown sender, as had 34% of millennials and 26% of the Gen X age group. Alarmingly, one in five respondents said that their employer had not provided any security awareness training whatsoever.
Employees need to learn how to identify scams, so security awareness training must be provided. Since cybercriminals’ tactics are constantly evolving, training needs to be continuous. Annual or biannual training sessions should be provided, along with shorter refresher training sessions. Businesses should also consider conducting phishing email simulations to test resilience to phishing attacks and highlight weak links.
To be effective, anti-phishing training needs to be provided to all employees and requires buy-in from all departments. Unless that happens, it will be difficult to develop a culture of security awareness.