Nearly 90 percent of global organizations were targeted with BEC and spear phishing attacks in 2019, reflecting cybercriminals’ continued focus on compromising individual end users, a Proofpoint survey reveals.
Seventy-eight percent also reported that security awareness training activities resulted in measurable reductions in phishing susceptibility.
The report examines global data from nearly 50 million simulated phishing attacks sent by Proofpoint customers over a one-year period, along with third-party survey responses from more than 600 information security professionals in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the UK.
The report also analyses the fundamental cybersecurity knowledge of more than 3,500 working adults who were surveyed across those same seven countries.
A people-centric approach is recommended
“Effective security awareness training must focus on the issues and behaviors that matter most to an organization’s mission,” said Joe Ferrara, senior vice president and general manager of Security Awareness Training for Proofpoint.
“We recommend taking a people-centric approach to cybersecurity by blending organization-wide awareness training initiatives with targeted, threat-driven education. The goal is to empower users to recognize and report attacks.”
End-user email reporting, a critical metric for gauging positive employee behavior, is also examined within this year’s report. The volume of reported messages jumped significantly year over year, with end users reporting more than nine million suspicious emails in 2019, an increase of 67 percent over 2018.
The increase is a positive sign for infosec teams, as there’s a trend toward more targeted, personalized attacks over bulk campaigns.
Users need to be increasingly vigilant in order to identify sophisticated phishing lures, and reporting mechanisms allow employees to alert infosec teams to potentially dangerous messages that evade perimeter defenses.
Phishing attacks in 2019: Key takeaways
More than half (55 percent) of surveyed organizations dealt with at least one successful phishing attack in 2019, and infosecurity professionals reported a high frequency of social engineering attempts across a range of methods.
88 percent of organizations worldwide reported spear-phishing attacks in 2019, 86 percent reported BEC attacks, 86 percent reported social media attacks, 84 percent reported SMS/text phishing (smishing), 83 percent reported voice phishing (vishing), and 81 percent reported malicious USB drops.
Sixty-five percent of surveyed infosec professionals said their organization experienced a ransomware infection in 2019; 33 percent opted to pay the ransom while 32 percent did not. Of those who negotiated with attackers, nine percent were hit with follow-up ransom demands, and 22 percent never got access to their data, even after paying a ransom.
Organizations are benefitting from consequence models. Globally, 63 percent of organizations take corrective action with users who repeatedly make mistakes related to phishing attacks. Most infosec respondents said that employee awareness improved following the implementation of a consequence model.
Many working adults fail to follow cybersecurity best practices. Forty-five percent admit to password reuse, more than 50 percent do not password-protect home networks, and 90 percent said they use employer-issued devices for personal activities. In addition, 32 percent of working adults were unfamiliar with VPN services.
Recognition of common cybersecurity terms is lacking among many users. In the global survey, working adults were asked to identify the definitions of the following cybersecurity terms: phishing (61 percent correct), ransomware (31 percent correct), smishing (30 percent correct), and vishing (25 percent correct).
These findings spotlight a knowledge gap among some users and a potential language barrier for security teams attempting to educate employees about these threats. It’s critical for organizations to communicate effectively with users and empower them to be a strong last line of defense.
Millennials continue to underperform other age groups in fundamental phishing and ransomware awareness, a caution that organizations should not assume younger workers have an innate understanding of cybersecurity threats. Millennials had the best recognition of only one term: smishing.