Punish careless employees to reduce security breaches, vendor says

Security could be vastly improved by holding employees accountable for carelessly clicking on emailed links and attachments that lead to malware being downloaded to a corporate network, an awareness-training vendor says.

Rather than simply re-training employees who are prone to fall for phishing attacks, KnowBe4 advocates reporting them to immediate supervisors and human resource departments that can pressure workers into becoming more careful.

"With this program, they start to understand that there truly are repercussions for clicking on phishing links," Stu Sjouwerman, founder and chief executive of KnowBe4, said. "That will change the behavior."

KnowBe4's online program includes automatic notification of management when employees click on potentially malicious links in fake phishing attacks the company uses to periodically test employees after they have undergone training. Roughly 35 percent of the company's customers are financial institutions.

To prove the effectiveness of accountability, KnowBe4 did a study on the employees of 372 companies over a 12-month period. Of the 291,000 people who underwent testing, the vendor found roughly 16 percent who were especially prone to click on links in bogus phishing email.

KnowBe4 claims that once the test group was held accountable for how they handled email, the percentage still inclined to becoming victims of phishing attacks fell to just over 1 percent.

"You have to be constantly reminding these people that they should not click on links, should not open attachments unless they know who it's from," Sjouwerman said.

Phishing is the most popular method of hackers. The malicious email typically contains content that would make it appear legitimate to the recipient.

For the second quarter of 2013, the latest numbers available, the Anti-Phishing Working Group reported a total of 639 company brands were used to disguise emails, with the names of payment services and financial institutions the most commonly used.

Security researchers and the FBI have reported increases in spear-phishing attacks, in which hackers go after a much smaller group of people within a specific organization. In those cases, the hackers research the intended victims beforehand in order to design email with more convincing content.

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