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Risk

3 Signs You're Phishing Bait

Beware, introverts and overconfident people. Phishers love to fool you, email security researchers say.

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Are you overconfident, introverted or female? Then you might be more susceptible to phishing attacks, in which emails with malicious links or attachments are disguised to make them appear to be legitimate.

Those findings come from "Keeping Up With the Joneses: Assessing Phishing Susceptibility in an E-mail Task," a research paper that's due to be presented at the International Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting next month. The study, which was authored by five researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State), is part of a phishing-defense research project funded by the National Security Agency.

For the study, the NC State researchers combined personality assessments with tests of students' ability to correctly classify emails as being legitimate or suspicious in targeting for deletion. They also assessed people's ability to mark as "important" emails that required responses or follow-on actions.

[ Are you scam savvy? Protect yourself: How To Spot A Facebook Scam. ]

"The results showed a disconnect between confidence and actual skill, as the majority of participants were not only susceptible to attacks but also overconfident in their ability to protect themselves," said Kyung Wha Hong, the lead author of the paper, in a statement. Notably, 89% of the study participants said they were skilled at recognizing malicious emails, but researchers saw 92% of participants misclassify at least some phishing emails. Furthermore, 52% of participants misclassified over half of the phishing emails, and half of participants deleted at least one legitimate email, believing it to be malicious. All told, only 2% of participants managed to not mishandle either phishing or legitimate communications.

Thus the "Joneses" research paper's conclusion: "gender, dispositional trust, and personality appear to be associated with the ability to correctly categorize emails as either legitimate or phishing."

Paper co-author Christopher B. Mayhorn, an NC State psychology professor, said the dispositional trust finding -- which refers to people's self-assessment of their own expertise -- wasn't a surprise, but that the personality results were. He said the verdict's still out on whether women are more likely phishing victims than men, owing to the groups of students involved having hailed only from the university's psychology and computer science (CS) departments.

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Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/21/2013 | 3:17:42 PM
re: 3 Signs You're Phishing Bait
David, the answer is yes. So far, they're planning follow-on studies with professionals, and have preliminary (though as yet unanalyzed) data from a government agency.
D. Henschen
50%
50%
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/16/2013 | 2:59:20 PM
re: 3 Signs You're Phishing Bait
I have developed special methodologies for automatically detecting pfishing attempts and am launching a company that is sure to make millions of dollars as a cloud service. I have several investors lined up, but we need a bit more venture capital to complete development. An investment of just $10,000 will secure you a 51% stake in the company and a guaranteed profit stream of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. If you would just respond with your name and social security number...
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/16/2013 | 1:31:56 PM
re: 3 Signs You're Phishing Bait
Do the researchers plan to do a follow up study with a broader pool of people?
Laurianne
50%
50%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/14/2013 | 9:12:18 PM
re: 3 Signs You're Phishing Bait
I wonder how many man hours we all put in advising family members about phishes. I know some of them look quite convincing to my parents, who are not introverted or overconfident. Age surely factored into this study as well.
OtherJimDonahue
50%
50%
OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/14/2013 | 8:10:54 PM
re: 3 Signs You're Phishing Bait
I know an older woman who fell for a phishing scheme and got money taken from a bank account. I had wondered who fell for such things...

A nice lady and more, I think, naive than overconfident. This was several years ago, and I'd say the phishing attempts I've received have gotten MUCH more sophisticated since then. (Her identity also was stolen for a Twitter account recently, but that's another story.)

Jim Donahue
Managing Editor
InformationWeek
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