F-Secure: Speed is critical for all parties in an attack

F-Secure has released new data after conducting a large email phishing study, exploring why phishing continues to be the main access method of cyber actors

F-Secure, a global cyber security and privacy company, has found phishing emails that mimic HR announcements or ask for assistance with invoicing get the most clicks from recipients, according to a new study.

The study, To Click or Not to Click: What we Learned from Phishing 80,000 People included 82,402 participants and tested how employees from four different organisations responded to emails that simulated one of four commonly used phishing tactics.

Phishing is still a major concern for organisations 

22% of recipients that received an email simulating a human resources announcement about holiday time clicked, making emails that mimic those sent by HR the most frequent source of clicks in the study. An email asking the recipient to help with an invoice (referred to as CEO Fraud in the report) was the second most frequently engaged email type, receiving clicks from 16% of recipients.

Document Share (notifications from a document hosting service) and Service Issue Notification (messages from an online service) emails received clicks from 7% and 6% of recipients, making them the least frequently clicked emails in the study.

According to Matthew Connor, F-Secure Service Delivery Manager and lead author of the report, the study’s most notable finding was that people working in ‘technical’ roles seemed equally or even more susceptible to phishing attempts than the general population.

“The privileged access that technical personnel have to an organisation’s infrastructure can lead to them being actively targeted by adversaries, so advanced or even average susceptibility to phishing is a concern,” Connor explained. “Post-study surveys found that these personnel were more aware of previous phishing attempts than others, so we know this is a real threat. The fact that they click as often or more often than others, even with their level of awareness, highlights a significant challenge in the fight against phishing.”

IT-related roles are no less susceptible to phishing than the rest of the organisation

The two organisations studied with personnel working in IT or DevOps, both clicked test emails at rates that were either equal to or higher than other departments in their organisations: 26% from DevOps and 24% from IT compared to 25% for one organisation, and 30% from DevOps and 21% from IT compared to 11% for the other organisation.

The study also found that these departments were no better at reporting phishing attempts than others. In one organisation, IT and DevOps came third and sixth out of nine departments in terms of reporting. In the other organisation, DevOps was the twelfth best at reporting out of seventeen departments, while IT was fifteenth.

The patterns in the report and click rates identified by the study highlight a practical opportunity for organisations to mobilise employees in a collective effort to protect themselves against phishing, according to F-Secure Director of Consulting Riaan Naude.

“The evidence in the study clearly points to fast, painless reporting processes as common ground where security personnel and other teams can work together to improve an organisation’s resilience against phishing. Getting this right means that an attack can be detected and prevented earlier, as security teams may only have a few precious minutes to mitigate a potential compromise,” said Naude.


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