Employees Still Struggle to Identify Phishing Threats and Properly Protect Their Data, Report Finds

Respondents, who answered 22 percent of questions incorrectly, struggled most with assessments about mobile device encryption and protections for personally identifiable information.

The security industry relies on well-maintained, constantly updating systems to protect its customers from cybersecurity threats. But the security of those systems is often only as good as the ability of humans to identify cyberattacks as they’re happening.

Many employees are vulnerable to security threats due to their lack of knowledge on several cybersecurity issues, according to the results of Proofpoint’s annual Beyond the Phish report. The report analyzed over 130 million responses to cybersecurity questions in order to explore the knowledge of end-users ⁠—otherwise known as normal workers who use their employers’ email and Internet services.

Overall, users answered 22 percent of questions incorrectly. That’s an increase of 4 percent from the last report in 2018, but Proofpoint said its assessment has gotten tougher and more expansive since then.

Respondents had the most trouble with identifying phishing threats, knowing how to protect data throughout its lifecycle, complying with cybersecurity directives like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and protecting mobile devices and the data stored on them. Users showed the most comfort with avoiding ransomware attacks, answering nearly 90 percent of questions about the topic correctly.

Perhaps due to training sessions and a greater public awareness of malicious threats targeting corporations, the users surveyed by Proofpoint performed best on questions related to identifying potentially risky communication channels, recognizing cyber threats such as ransomware and malicious pop-up windows, and locking their computer before leaving their desk.

But the users had trouble with questions regarding mobile device encryption, protections for personally identifiable information and actions they can take following a potential physical security breach.

“Cyber criminals continue to focus on people, structuring attacks to take advantage of users who are unaware and unprepared,” the report reads. “Not all security incidents are solely the result of an attack; many arise from poor user security practices and a general lack of awareness.”

Professionals in the education and transportation industries had the poorest performance on the assessment, answering questions incorrectly about 24 percent of the time. Users in the finance industry performed best with about 20 percent incorrect answers.

The report also featured statistics on the difference in performance between users as a whole and users who received ongoing security awareness training. The company, which provides such training, found that users performed better on tough questions related to mobile devices and regulation compliance when they received quarterly training.

“Education answers the ‘why’ for users,” the report reads. “It helps them make the connection between awareness and action … Regular security awareness training is the best way to build users’ knowledge.”

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