Anti-Spam Tools Fall Short as Enterprises Hit Hard by Phishing Attacks

Enterprise users receive unfiltered phishing messages nearly every day of the week, and most of them are not properly trained to recognize or safely react to them, according to new survey data released today by PhishMe.

More than two thirds (69 percent) of security professionals say they encounter phishing messages that get past anti-spam filters and reach users’ email boxes at least a few times a week, according to a survey of attendees conducted by PhishMe at the Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago. Almost a quarter of the respondents said they see such messages in users’ mailboxes multiple times every day.
 
“Phishing” is an online attack in which the attacker sends a fraudulent message that appears to be helpful or innocuous, but actually contains malicious code or leads the user to a malicious website. These attacks are sometimes targeted at specific individuals or groups of users within an organization, an attack known as spear phishing.
 
Spear phishing has become a popular method of infecting enterprises with malware, according to PhishMe. In the survey, more than one quarter (27 percent) of security professionals said that top executives or other privileged users in their enterprises have been compromised by spear phishing attacks within the last 12 months. Another 31% of security pros said they weren’t sure whether their executives or privileged users had been hit with such attacks.
 
“Many enterprises believe that because they are using spam filtering tools or other email security technologies, they are safe from phishing attacks,” said Scott Greaux, Vice President of Product Management & Services at PhishMe, which offers a service that simulates phishing attacks to help train users on how to react to them. “What we found in our survey is that despite such filters, end users are presented with live, malicious attacks in their inboxes nearly every day.”
 
With so many unfiltered phishing messages getting through, it is up to the end user to decide how to react – whether to open the message, click on a link, or delete the message before it can do any damage. But PhishMe’s survey of Black Hat attendees indicates that most end users receive only a bare minimum of security awareness training. Nearly half (49 percent) of the respondents said their users receive training only once a year; nearly one tenth (9 percent) said their organizations have no security training programs at all.
 
Among organizations that do provide security training programs, many rely heavily on scripted, delayed forms of instruction that do not provide metrics to program managers and administrators, the survey said. In fact, three of the top four training methods listed by Black Hat attendees – recorded video/computer-based training (39.4 percent), paper tests/quizzes (32.9 percent), and handbooks/printed guides (28.5 percent) – are largely unsuccessful. Only 16 percent of security professionals train their users via simulated attacks (multiple responses were allowed).
 
“This survey demonstrates with great clarity that phishing attacks – particularly targeted attacks – are getting through to end users with alarming regularity, yet most organizations don’t train their users on what the most current attacks look like or how to react to them,” said Aaron Higbee, CTO and co-founder of PhishMe. “If enterprises are going to protect themselves, they need a realistic, regular training regimen that helps users make the right decisions when they see a potential phishing attack – passive security awareness that doesn't focus on tracking behavior modification is ineffective.”
 

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