People often scoff at phishing attack victims and put the blame on them. It needs to be recognised that this “blame culture” contributes to the real issue of slow reporting of phishing compromises which has a direct and material effect on organisations.
Studies collectively show, falling for phishing email is far from rare and the number of victims is growing. The real question is how to mitigate it? This article covers the discussion around the “carrot and stick” approach. They are not mutually exclusive and are most effective when used together to best suit your business.
The consensus in
the awareness training domain is not to blame the users. We should encourage
them to report any suspicious activities, particularly if they are the
originators of the breach.
Since a hacker only
needs one person out of the whole organisation to click on a single malicious
link, it is impractical to achieve zero click rate. However, if we have one
person that reports the incident, it allows the security and the IT team to
review and quickly stop the phishing campaign from spreading and causing
The Cyber Security Breaches Survey published by the UK government (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 2019) found that the most disrupting attacks were more likely to be spotted by employees than by software, which is the case for 63% of businesses. This also aligns with previous years findings. Hence, we should realise the importance of staff vigilance and to understand the power of empowering employees.
of thought is to enforce punishment when people repeatedly fall for phishing
attacks. For example, Paul Beckman, CISO at the Department of Homeland Security
considered a policy to remove employees’ clearance if they repeatedly fail an anti-phishing
test. Needless to say, this is a controversial idea and received a lot of criticism.
One study showed that the perceived severity of consequences did not predict behaviour (Downs,
Holbrook, & Cranor, n.d.).
Studies also show that training focused on prohibition of behaviour or attitudes can often have the opposite effect whereas training that emphasises positive effects can and do change behaviour (Robinson, 2011).
What is your mix?
This table outlines the differences between the two approaches. It is essential to understand your business to pick the right mix.
Be mindful about leaning too heavily on the “stick” approach. The ripple effects can put a strain on employees’ morale, leading to a sense of anxiety and distrust. In the worst case, it can lead to grudge attacks. Reports show that internal threats in cybersecurity are prevalent and cause more grave damage than external attacks (Tripwire, 2017).
It is our advice to develop an approach that balances the carrot and the stick. Taking into account the responsibility of the role and its importance in your organisation will help you to determine the appropriate balance. For example, an IT admin would be expected to be much more vigilant to phishing than a clerk our your logistics desk. It may well be appropriate for the IT admin as part of their employment agreement to agree to a policy where there is a sliding scale of consequence for phishing breaches, whereas that would not be appropriate for the clerk.
Food for thought
Regardless of what stance you take on the approaches. It is important to consider the following:
– Ask your HR, legal and management to contribute
What are the legal or contractual requirements?
What is the company’s policy on rewards and penalties?
What culture is the company trying to build?
– Be consistent with your approach
For example, if enforcement is going to be implemented, senior management need to follow the policy as well. They need to be role models
– Understand that people make mistakes and don’t blindly blame your staff
As discussed, aiming for zero click-rate is unreasonable. Therefore, we need to acknowledge honest mistakes can happen.
– Ensure that you have an incident-handling process in place. For example, who/how to report them.
Your staff needs to know the proper process to be compliant with the company’s policies
To click, or not to click, that is the question. How do people make that decision?
Behavioural economics states that we think with both an intuitive mind and an analytical mind. Most of the time we rely on our intuitive mind to make those “quick and dirty” decisions such as fight or flight. If we see a tiger coming from a distance, we don’t need our analytical mind to list all the pros and cons before we know to quickly run away.
This also applies to cybersecurity, and with phishing specifically:
1) We have difficulty perceiving a threat. We may not see the tiger unless we’re aware it could also be in plain sight
2) many of us haven’t harnessed our intuitive thinking to create a habit of spotting and reporting phishing emails
While traditional security training tries to improve our analytical mind’s capacity, it doesn’t focus on sensing and handling dangers intuitively. The difference between what we know – and what we feel, can lead us to make a wrong decision.
Greater phishing awareness from employees can help prevent phishing attacks. One study confirms that those with a deeper understanding of the web environment and how to correctly interpret URLs are less vulnerable to phishing attacks. But the perceived severity of consequences doesn’t predict behaviour. This suggests that education efforts should be trying to increase intuitive understanding, rather than just warning about risk (Downs, Holbrook, & Cranor, n.d.).
Since New Zealand is far away from the rest of the world geographically, we like to think we are better shielded and safer from any physical or virtual attacks. There is also a sense that because we are a smaller ecosystem, the chances of us becoming a target are reduced. Let’s not forget though, we are only ¼ second away from anywhere in the world online!
This illusion may make us even more ill-prepared when disaster strikes. The truth is that we are aligned with the rest of the world when it comes to phishing attacks, which includes our susceptibility, phishing as the primary data breaching method and damage impact of attacks.
Security mindsets are not natural for people, which is why an alarming percentage of employees still fall for a highly effective phishing scam just months after they were trained to watch for it.
Once people are aware of phishing dangers, it is time to build safe email/internet browsing behaviour into habits. We need to harness our intuition and be able to quickly and effortlessly handle most of the phishing attempts.
Habit formation is a powerful means to behavioural change. Scientists have found that habits are formed and operated separately from the part of the brain responsible for memory (Duhigg, 2012). Studies confirmed that we make unconscious choices without having to remember anything about decision making.
Our brains are constantly looking for new ways to form automatic routines. For example, riding a bike or driving a car requires over a dozen separate actions, but we do them daily without a second thought.
How can we leverage habits to avoid phishing attacks with our intuitive mind? By repetition. When we repeat an action enough times, a process known as ‘chunking’ will take place where the brain converts a series of conscious actions into an automatic routine.
The habit process:
1. Cue. A trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which routine to use.
2. Routine. A physical, mental, or emotional behaviour that follows the cue.
3. Reward. Positive feedback to tell your brain that the routine works well and is worth remembering.
How to form the habit of defending against phishing
Let’s look at the case of checking emails and how we could tweak a routine to protect ourselves.
Security is a vast field. Often, it is mysterious, difficult and confusing. Frequent use of industry jargon among experts and in reports creates a barrier for people to discuss and understand. What is a SOC? What is a botnet? What are the different types of malware we should actually pay attention to? And why are we spending so much money and effort on something that may or may not happen?
Interestingly, people do know about phishing. They may not understand the logic behind it or the term itself, but most are familiar with those annoying emails asking for their details to claim a big prize.
These emails have been around for a long time. One of the first popular phishing emails was the Love Bug in 2000. All around the world, people received emails titled “ILOVEYOU”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ILOVEYOU
The email body only had a one-liner: “Kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me”. Many were eager to find out whom their secret crush was and opened the attached file. The attachment unleashed a worm which overwrote the victim’s image files and sent a copy of itself to all contacts from the victim’s Outlook address book.
Since the Love Bug phishing almost two decades ago, the tactic and delivering of phishing remains fairly similar. People know all about it, yet still fall for it.
Phishing continues to be one of the most common and effective cybersecurity threats. It accounts for more than 50 per cent of the Office 365-based threats in 2017 (Microsoft Security, 2018). In New Zealand, there was a 55 per cent increase in phishing and credential harvesting in the fourth quarter of 2017 (CERT NZ, n.d.), 76 per cent of organisations say they experienced phishing attacks in 2017 (Wombat Security, n.d.) and, by the end of 2017, the average user received 16 malicious emails per month (Symantec, 2018). These scams cost organisations $676 million in 2017 (FBI, 2017). This begs the question:
How is this still a thing?
We will look at this issue from three angles; what motivates the attackers, why victims fall for it and how organisations perceive their own security programmes.
What motivates attackers:
Phishing is cheap, scalable and easy to carry out. Attackers favour this type of “low-hanging fruit”. An attacker can easily send phishing emails to 10,000 people and even if just 1 per cent click a link, their attack would be successful with 100 people.
A successful phishing campaign is generally the entry point for other attacks. Verizon reported that 92.4 per cent of malware is delivered via email (Verizon, 2018).
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that 80 per cent of cybercrimes come from organised activity (Steven Malby et al., 2013). Most organisations can’t expect employees to compete with organised criminals and be vigilant 100 per cent of the time.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn enabled criminals to collect organisational and individual information much easier.
Why victims fall for it:
There is still often a lack of awareness of phishing as a vector of compromise (Downs, Holbrook, & Cranor, n.d.).
Today’s ubiquitous technology creates constant interruption and leads to habitual multitasking. Both behaviours are linked to more frequent risky behaviours (Murphy & Hadlington, 2018). Especially for jobs that are multitasking in nature such as call centre staff.
Clicking on links provided in emails is part of everyday behaviour. Some may require us to log in with credentials. By targeting this process, legitimate looking phishing attacks often catch us when we are not fully paying attention (CERT NZ, n.d.).
Spotting phishing emails is not always a straightforward task, especially when it comes to the well-researched and targeted “spear-phishing” email.
It is no longer about spotting bad grammar and spelling mistakes. Instead, malicious emails are often polished, even exceeding employees’ copywriting skills. They would look like they are from an organisation or person that you trust and recognise.
We are optimistic. The optimism bias is an age-old human trait essential to our well-being. The optimism bias in cybersecurity, however, causes problems. For example, the mentality of “no one is interested in attacking me”. Due to the optimism, we tend to underestimate risks and engage unnecessarily in overly risky behaviours. When we receive emails designed to infect our machine with malware, we don’t necessarily treat them with the suspicion and wariness they deserve.
Here’s why organisations fall for it:
This same optimism bias also applies at the organisational level.
One PwC (2018) report found that executives were overconfident in the robustness of their security initiatives. Some 73 per cent of North American executives believed their security programmes were effective.
Organisations often opt for a “tool-first” approach. While tools are necessary, investing in technology before people can be troublesome. Spending millions on technology can certainly make you feel safe. However, cyber threats often aren’t technological driven but are a result of how human brains work. Our curiosity, ignorance, apathy, and hubris are often our vulnerabilities (Dante Disparte & Chris Furlow, 2017). So balancing technological measure with human-centred defences is crucial to preparing and preventing future cyber-attacks.
Investing in people could be more ambiguous than investing in tools. A sceptical executive could ask reasonably what the ROI on developing a training programme was – and question the value of taking people out of their regular jobs to get trained.
Phishing on steroids today
Email continues to be the most common vector (96 per cent) for phishing attacks (Verizon, 2018). Recently, the scam has spread to social media, messaging services and apps.
With the rise of social media, phishing attacks are now on steroids, since it has become so much easier for attackers to harvest personal information and compose more legitimate or tailored email (spear-phishing). Social media also becomes a phishing channel.
People are more likely to click on a link from their friends or families. It means that when an attacker harvests one social network credential, they can easily reach out to new “friends and families” and compromise even more accounts through the wonders of the network effect.
Mobile phishing is also on the rise when smartphones and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) at work are ubiquitous. This could be checking emails on mobile or “smishing” (SMS phishing or other messages from other instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram, where you receive a link via a message).
There is an 80 per cent increase every year since 2011 of people falling for phishing attacks on mobile devices (Lookout, n.d.). Our devices are often connected outside of traditional firewalls and so have less protection. Lookout reported that 56 per cent of its users received and tapped on a phishing URL while on a mobile device. Attackers will no doubt continue to leverage new and popular services as they become available to break this human defence line.
Building a “human firewall”, making New Zealand digitally safe
Datacom’s goal is simple – to make New Zealand digitally safe.
The National Plan to Address Cybercrime clearly states that New Zealand businesses, other organisations and the overall economy would be affected if our nation fails to develop the capability to address cyber-attacks (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2015).
Experts believe we are experiencing the beginning of the next “cyber-arms race”. While continuous investment in defensive security, e.g. protecting our strategic infrastructure and electricity grid, is undeniably important; the overall growth of cybersecurity awareness among every one of us is equally critical for our national cyber defence. After all, we’re connected now more than ever – each of us is either part of the problem or part of the solution. The worst-case scenario would become even worse when we start living in smart cities with self-driving cars, surrounded by a myriad of Internet of Things devices. We cannot slow down the rate of technological innovation, and so we must speed up our collective preparedness.
In this series, we look at strengthening the “human firewall” from three different perspectives :
In part 1, we explore the “Why”. Why do we fall for phishing attacks from a psychological perspective, and how could we form and change our habits to protect ourselves and our organisations?
In part 2, we look at the “What”. Given the difficulties around defending against phishing from the human perspective alone, what are the components of a multi-layered defence system that can increase organisational resilience?
In part 3, we investigate the “How”. Specifically, how could we effectively run user awareness training and phishing simulations, and how do we balance “the carrot and stick”?
Murphy, K., & Hadlington, L. (2018). Is Media Multitasking Good for Cybersecurity ? and Everyday Cognitive Failures on Self-Reported. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21(3), 168–172. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2017.0524
By Brett Roberts, Associate Director, Digital, Customers & Collaboration
How’s the culture in your company? Does it enable you to thrive? Or are you simply surviving? Worse yet, is it toxic?
While the world of work is changing rapidly, people still sit at the very heart of it. How do we get the best out of these people? And how do we ensure they get the best out of their roles?
A critical factor in this discussion is the concept of psychological safety in the workplace. If you as a leader can create an environment in which even the newest hire feels safe to voice their thoughts and opinions, then you are far more likely to get the best ideas out of your staff. This is incredibly important given that one of the underpinning requirements of an innovation culture is ideas and creativity.
Linda Hill, a Professor at Harvard Business School, is an expert on managing for collective creativity, and firmly believes that getting the best out of people requires a safe environment. She also comments that innovation is not about solo genius, rather it’s about collective genius and it’s collaborative and messy. Pixar took a very collaborative approach to the development of their first full length CG (computer graphics) movie, Ratatouille. It took nearly 20 years from inception to release, but CG films have really taken off since then!
Innovation requires imagination, but imagination can be stifled in a negative workplace. People can’t innovate in an environment where they feel fear (of embarrassment, of ridicule, of not being heard), so it’s crucial that business leaders foster an environment where people feel entirely safe to speak up. New junior staff members are sitting at the bottom of the pile, but giving them a platform to speak their mind in safety will help grow them – and quickly.
Professor Hill’s research concluded that leaders needed to stop giving answers, or providing solutions. They needed to look to people at the bottom of the pyramid, the young sparks, those that were closest to the customers as an often untapped source of innovation. Organisations need to invert the pyramid, transfer growth to lower levels, and unleash the power of many by loosening the stranglehold of the few.
Workplaces need to create an environment where there is a marketplace of brainstormed and debated ideas, and where it’s ok to have strong – yet constructive – views. Asking good questions, actively listening and advocating for their point of view are also critical skills for leaders and others to foster.
Psychological safety and teams
Google’s Project Aristotle showed that psychological safety is the number one determinant of highly effective teams. A culture of psychological safety enables everyone in the group to contribute regardless of hierarchy, role, or expectations. In this instance, we can draw upon the total collective intelligence of the group.
Author Dr Amy Silver commented that “If we don’t have psychological safety, we use fear to mediate our contributions to a team. We are not able to contribute whatever’s in our heads as we limit ourselves through the fear of judgment, the fear of being ridiculed, the fear of being discounted, or the fear of going against expectations. Without psychological safety, we don’t have collective intelligence. We have fear-based intelligence.”
Creating psychological safety through hackathons
Datacom has been using hackathons for the last seven years as a way to create environments where people from different backgrounds and experiences feel safe to ideate, experiment and create.
There are many ways in which we create a sense of safety during a hackathon, such as rituals around welcoming which leads to greater levels of understanding amongst team members, many of whom may never have met before. There is a strong need to take the time to meet, greet and understand each other as this fosters a sense of safety and empathy which ultimately leads to better outcomes. Having seen it many times, we also understand the need to support those people who feel strongly about a topic or issue. Having support around them is what makes their dream reality.
We’re seeing real examples of how psychological safety impacts on how people participate in hackathons. Just this year we had a number of tertiary students join our main internal hackathon. They felt so safe that two of them got up and pitched an idea to an audience of hundreds only a short time after arriving. In a regional hackathon we were involved in earlier in the year, one of the businesses brought along several of their own staff but instructed them to go into separate teams.
Datacom might not be experts in the science of psychological safety – we’ll leave that to Professor Hill and Doctor Silver – but we are huge believers in its importance and ability to fundamentally influence organisational culture and innovation not to mention improving employee engagement and retention.
Today, every company is thinking about and investing in workplace safety measures. The benefits are obvious and the downsides of not doing so are clear. We believe the same applies to the concept of psychological safety and would encourage your organisation to do the same if you’re not doing so already. The benefits are too clear to ignore.
By Kerry Topp, Associate Director, Transformation and Innovation
We can’t slow down the rate of technological change, change is rapid and all around us. The skills cycle, the rate at which skills are needed, is rapidly increasing both globally and in New Zealand.
We are at the crucible moment where leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand need to be proactive and responsible in the “right-skilling” or retraining of their workforce. For right-skilling, organisations need to have a strategic plan for talent to make the shift. Any good talent strategy should focus on retaining and training existing talent, as well as acquiring new workers.
In this context, what can we do as leaders to ensure our organisations, society and above all, our people, are future-fit and ready, now? In this post we will look at why we believe it is crucial for corporate leaders to increase their investment in employees’ skills today so New Zealand Aotearoa is able to increase the prosperity, wellbeing and capability of our people, organisations and country, tomorrow.
The Skills Revolution Is Here!
Recently Manpower, a global leader in contingent and permanent recruitment workforce solutions, asked 18,000 employers in 43 countries across six industry sectors how they expect technology will impact their business in the next two years, and how they are ensuring their workforce has the right skills and is ready to adapt – specifically, they looked at:
The likely impact of automation on headcount in the next two years,
Which functions will be most affected,
The strategies they are adopting to ensure they have the skills they need for technological advances.
What Manpower found was that more than 90 percent of employers expect their organization to be impacted by digitisation in the next two years. In addition, on average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skillsets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.
The World Economic Forum identified that skills cycles are shorter than ever before and some 65 percent of the jobs Gen Z will perform do not even exist yet. They also found that up to 45 percent of the tasks people are paid to do each day could be automated with current technology. We have of course adapted to the evolution of the labour market before — from tellers to customer service representatives, typists to word processors and personal assistants — disrupting, destroying, redistributing and recreating work is nothing new. The difference now is the life cycle of skills is shorter than ever and change is happening at an unprecedented scale.
“On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.” – World Economic Forum
The Conclusion Is Widespread
It is not just Manpower or The World Economic Forum that are drawing similar conclusions. The evidence of a skills revolution is also coming through loudly from the likes of the Big Four and research organisations, like McKinsey & Co, Gartner, PWC as well:
The future of the workforce will be dominated by those born between 1980-mid 90s. And what they want from work is different. A strong sense of alignment on values and purpose, over profit, is the main goal. According to PWC’s Managing tomorrow’s people: The future of work to 2020 report, 88 percent are looking for alignment on corporate social responsibility, with their personal values.
According to PWCs Workforce of the Future study, 74 percent of global employees are now actively up-skilling themselves to take advantage of the new economy.
A study by Mavenlink found that given the opportunity, 65% of workers would pursue contract work. Whilst it’s not a new addition to hiring trends, it’s still worth calling out that flexibility is key, with the option to work remotely influencing the likelihood of accepting a position for 68% of new workforce entrants. There are many more ways to ‘work’ emerging and becoming main-stream. Which opens up new and creative ways for organisations to run their HR budgets, and individuals to design a career with more flexibility.
Those With The Right Skills Will Thrive
Based on this research, it is clear, those with the right skills will increasingly be in the driving seat, create new opportunities and have the choice and flexibility to work where, how, and when they like. Those lacking the right skills will increasingly be left behind and the outlook for the future for them is not rosy. There is a continued polarisation of the population that is playing out right in front of all our eyes and it will, if not rapidly addressed, be costly for society and business.
How Do We Ensure NZInc Has The Right Skills To Thrive?
At Datacom, we believe that now is the time for company leaders to be responsive and responsible! We cannot slow the rate of technological advance or globalisation, but we can invest in employees’ skills to increase the resilience of our people, organisations but also society. I contend that we are seeing the emergence of what World Economic Forum calls, the Skills Revolution.
Yes, individuals absolutely need to nurture their ‘learnability’: their desire and ability to learn new skills to stay relevant and remain employable; but leaders in New Zealand need to take immediate action to fast track the upskilling and reskilling of existing employees to ensure New Zealand Aotearoa has access to a workforce with the skills required for the future.
So, let’s have a look at what we are doing to support the resilience of our people.
In a recent McKinsey survey, 75 percent of executives said they believed reskilling would fill at least half of their future talent needs, given the war for talent and hiring difficulties. The survey highlighted that people working in IT and customer-facing roles are likely to see the greatest increases in demand, but they also anticipated rapid growth in demand across almost all industries and geographies for data analysts required to make sense of big data, and for specialised sales, product and commercial managers to commercialise new digitised offerings.
At Datacom we firmly believe that from learning comes creativity and from creativity comes innovation. One of the activations we have in this space is Datacomp, our annual innovation hackathon, which has been running since 2012 and is designed to keep our people sharp and give them an opportunity to trial and test new skills and experiences in a safe environment.
One of the benefits of Datacomp is that every year each person in our business gets the chance to take part in a significant learning and development opportunity. Our goal in providing the program – called Datacomp StayingSharp – is simple, to add to our peoples’ C.V.s! Not because we want them to go, but rather, because we want them to stay.
Over the last seven years that Datacomp has been running we have seen over 1,000 people trained in lean canvasing, design thinking, presenting and pitching, plus get ongoing exposure to the latest technology and insights.
Having The Opportunity And Feeling Safe Are Important
Our view is that giving our people the opportunity to keep up-to-date with the latest trends, ways of working and tech is positive and inspiring for all – most importantly, our people and customers. We aim to give our people a safe environment to experiment and try new things, things that they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to do in their day job.
Winning team from Datacomp 2018
We don’t do this lightly. We are actively and deliberately seeking to lead our own people and also other organisations to keep up with the ever-demanding skills cycle.
“Remember, you’re not in charge. You are responsible for those in your charge.” – Simon Sinek | Founder | Visionary | Author | Speaker
As Simon Sinek, internationally acclaimed speaker and author, said leaders are not responsible for the job. Leaders are responsible for the people, who are responsible for the job.
If we accept that the pace of technological change has accelerated us to a crucible moment where leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand need to invest in employees’ skills today to increase the prosperity, wellbeing & capability of our people, organisation & country, tomorrow, then as a leader, I encourage you to ask yourself: what are you doing to deliver a brighter future for your people?