Monday, 19 October 2020 11:26

Webroot warns of COVID-19 clicks, why phishing still works and how to stay unhooked


COVID-19 cyber criminals are still hooked on a feeling that they'll catch plenty of people unawares during this crisis, whether people are in the office or working from home, with 1 in 5 Aussies saying they've clicked on a phishing link this past year.

3 in 10 workers worldwide have clicked on a phishing link in the past year, according to cyber security company Webroot. In the US, it's a startling 1 in 3, while in Australia, it is 1 in 5.

This is despite the fact we've been warned of the dangers of phishing for years, and yet people still click... so why is it so?

If Professor Julius Sumner Miller were still with us, he'd probably have already explained it on one of his famous TV shows, and while The Australian Cyber Security Centre also has a great article about it along with a handy quiz to test yourself with, Webroot has a detailed, 20-page PDF report called "COVID-19 Clicks: How Phishing Capitalised on a Global Crisis" to uncover why makes people click and why phishing is still on the rise (its available for free download after free registration). 

Webroot says it surveyed "7,000 office workers around the globe on their understanding of phishing, their email and click habits, and how their online lives have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic".

The company then worked with Dr. Prashanth Rajivan, assistant professor at the University of Washington and expert in human behavior and technology, to get his take on why phishing still works, with Dr Rajivan stating:

“People aren’t great at handling uncertainty. Even those of us who know we shouldn’t click on emails from unknown senders may feel uncertain and click anyway. That’s because we’ve likely all clicked these kinds of emails in the past and gotten a positive reward. The probability of long-term risk vs. short-term reward, coupled with uncertainty, is a recipe for poor decision-making, or, in this case, clicking what you shouldn’t.”

There are also some Australian stats worth noting. We're told that "60% of Aussies say they and their companies do not plan to make changes to address cyber risk, despite 1 in five workers saying they have clicked on a phishing link this year.

"Likewise, only 27% of respondents say their companies increased cybersecurity training during the pandemic. Yet the report also found that 72% of Aussies believe that cyber resilience should be a top priority for any business, making clear that Australian businesses still have some way to go if they are to protect themselves from cybercriminals".

Webroot's blog post on the report is here, the report itself can be downloaded after free registration here and some more Aussie stats from the global report are below:

Overall, Aussies and Kiwis may not be as prepared for phishing as they think.

  • 2 in 3 say they know enough to keep themselves and their personal data safe from cyberattacks.
  • More than 8 in 10 say they take steps to determine if an email message could be malicious.
  • 1 in 5 have clicked a phishing link in the last year.
  • The global average is 3 in 10, so AU/NZ respondents are statistically better than average! But this number still isn’t great. Of respondents who were phished, 10% never reported it.

Workers in Australia and New Zealand don’t have stellar cyber resilience habits.

  • 61% click emails from unknown senders regularly.
    • 19% of these do so “all the time”, while 43% regularly click emails from unknown senders if they recognize the organization the sender claims to represent, or if the email subject line is relevant to their interests.
  • 1 in 4 use their personal devices for work.
    • This number is equal with the global average.
      An additional 12% of AU/NZ respondents use their work devices for personal matters, while a whopping 43% do both
  • 68% don’t back up their data.
    • Yet 35% have needed to recover lost files since the pandemic began.
  • Only 27% think all employees should play a role in their company’s cyber resilience.
    • Surprisingly, this is nearly double the global average (14%).
    • Workers in Australia and New Zealand recognize employee responsibility more than those in any other country surveyed.

Impacts of COVID-19 and Working from Home

  • Only 27% say their companies increased cybersecurity training during the pandemic.
  • 1 in 3 (33%) are more concerned about phishing now than they were at the beginning of the year.
  • 34% feel they are more prepared to spot phishing since working from home.
  • More than half (54%) have increased the amount of time they spend working from home.
  • 1 in 5 (20%) have received phishing emails specifically related to COVID-19.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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