Analytics
4/10/2013
04:40 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

How To Successfully Phish Your Own Firm

CSOs share advice, war stories on internal simulated phishing attacks for user awareness training

Second in a series on user training in security

Simulated phishing attacks are gradually becoming a more accepted method of schooling users on how to spot a phony email rigged with a malicious link or attachment, but staging fake phishing attacks can backfire if users are completely blindsided -- or become too comfortable with the controversial process.

"In the early days of simulated phishing, people were more cavalier when they deployed this," says Perry Carpenter, a former Gartner security awareness analyst who is now working as a security expert in the financial sector. "When you do this in a cavalier way without any forewarning and want to exact some kind of penalty [for users who fall for the attacks], then users just feel like you are out to get them. You don't want to be in that situation."

That doesn't mean taking the fire-drill approach and alerting users that a fake phishing attack is scheduled for Monday at 9 a.m. -- you need some element of surprise. The best strategy, according to experts and chief security officers' (CSOs), is to inform them of the simulated phishing training program you're launching or running, why you're doing it, and how it will make them and the company safer and more secure.

Many phishing simulations redirect users who fall for the attacks and click on a link or open an attachment to an online training session or game. "But if that's done wrong, it could make the [program] a detriment: You don't want to train them to click on a phishing link [just so they can go to a] game or training session. Then they might end up clicking on the real thing, which is the key thing you're trying to prevent," Carpenter says.

"You have to be very circumspect on how you do it," he adds. "This is not a behavior you're trying to encourage."

Spearphishing, or targeted phishing attacks aimed at certain organizations or individuals, are found in 91 percent of targeted attacks, according to Trend Micro's data. And these easy-to-craft techniques that typically easily fool users are becoming the weapon of choice for cyberespionage.

Meanwhile, user education and training in security has been a hotly debated topic. Renowned security and encryption expert Bruce Schneier recently argued that the focus on training users amounts to a distraction for the bigger problem of poor security design.

Even so, the somewhat controversial method of training users with simulated phishing attacks does help teach users not to click, experts say, reducing user susceptibility to phishing by 80 percent or more if run regularly and properly. Wombat competitor PhishMe, for instance, says one of its customers initially experienced a 58 to 65 percent failure rate in the first wave of "attacks," and by the end of that year got that rate down to single digits.

[Bruce Schneier says training end users on security is a waste of time. But security awareness experts argue there's a whole new generation and approach emerging that better schools users on security behaviors. See Hacking The User Security Awareness And Training Debate.]

A new report published by Wombat Security Technologies this week reveals what Fortune 500 CSOs from the financial, manufacturing, health, and entertainment industries have learned from their own experiences with simulated phishing attack training programs. One of the key elements for it to work is to make the program an ongoing process so users remain vigilant in their email traffic decisions, not just a one-off experiment, the CSOs recommend.

Other tips from CSOs with phishing simulation training experience:

• Get executives from all departments on board
• Determine the baseline of user awareness before launching any simulated phishing campaigns
• Gather metrics on the user reaction data to prioritize training

Overall, they say the programs help them better focus on the weakest link in their organizations -- users -- and to convert them into another layer of security: One CSO says it "shows employees that they are more vulnerable" than they think, and according to another, now "they do take it more seriously, and it makes them want to take more training."

It also opens users' eyes to security risks overall because it's so hands-on, the CSOs say. "Simulated attack training grabs the user's attention like no other form of training, but having grabbed that attention, the user becomes more amenable to all other forms of training," the report says.

New hires should be educated on the phishing program, the CSOs say, and that the purpose is to better secure the organization: "You need to set the right expectation that you are trying to help the company, not frame individuals. The smarter everyone is, the more secure the company will be," one CSO said.

End users want to be rewarded, not watched, notes Joe Ferrara, president and CEO of Wombat. So the key is to communicate to them what the program is all about so they don't feel like it's a Big Brother situation. "What we find is that if it's done well, people feel very positive about the way it's arming them with information to keep their own identities safe" as well, he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
5 Security Technologies to Watch in 2017
Emerging tools and services promise to make a difference this year. Are they on your company's list?
Flash Poll
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
The transition from DevOps to SecDevOps is combining with the move toward cloud computing to create new challenges - and new opportunities - for the information security team. Download this report, to learn about the new best practices for secure application development.
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-7445
Published: 2015-10-15
The Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) subsystem in the Linux kernel through 4.x mishandles requests for Graphics Execution Manager (GEM) objects, which allows context-dependent attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) via an application that processes graphics data, as demonstrated b...

CVE-2015-4948
Published: 2015-10-15
netstat in IBM AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1 and VIOS 2.2.x, when a fibre channel adapter is used, allows local users to gain privileges via unspecified vectors.

CVE-2015-5660
Published: 2015-10-15
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in eXtplorer before 2.1.8 allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of arbitrary users for requests that execute PHP code.

CVE-2015-6003
Published: 2015-10-15
Directory traversal vulnerability in QNAP QTS before 4.1.4 build 0910 and 4.2.x before 4.2.0 RC2 build 0910, when AFP is enabled, allows remote attackers to read or write to arbitrary files by leveraging access to an OS X (1) user or (2) guest account.

CVE-2015-6333
Published: 2015-10-15
Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) 1.1j allows local users to gain privileges via vectors involving addition of an SSH key, aka Bug ID CSCuw46076.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
In past years, security researchers have discovered ways to hack cars, medical devices, automated teller machines, and many other targets. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts researcher Samy Kamkar and Levi Gundert, vice president of threat intelligence at Recorded Future, to discuss some of 2016's most unusual and creative hacks by white hats, and what these new vulnerabilities might mean for the coming year.