Tue | Aug 20, 2019 | 7:00 AM PDT

The 2019 Beyond the Phish report is a fourth-annual look at the cybersecurity knowledge levels of Proofpoint's customers' end-users. This year's report features analysis of data related to nearly 130 million cybersecurity questions, and offers insights into employee knowledge levels across 14 categories, 16 industries, and more than 20 commonly used department classifications.

Key findings of this security awareness training study include the following:

  • Overall, one in every four questions in the "Identifying Phishing Threats" and "Protecting Data Throughout Its Lifecycle" categories were answered incorrectly.
  • Communications was the best performing department, with end-users correctly answering 84 percent of questions.
  • Finance was the best performing industry, with end-users answering 80 percent of all questions correctly.
  • Customer Service, Facilities, and Security were among the worst performing departments, with end-users incorrectly answering an average of 25 percent of cybersecurity questions asked. [1]
  • End-users in the Education and Transportation industries struggled the most, on average, answering 24 percent of questions incorrectly across all categories.
  • End-users in the Insurance industry delivered the best performance in three of the 14 categories analyzed, specifically excelling in the "Avoiding Ransomware Attacks" category.
  • Hospitality employees scored the lowest in three categories, including "Physical Security Risks," in which 22 percent of questions were answered incorrectly.

Why you should go 'Beyond the Phish'

Phishing remains a leading concern for organizations worldwide. As was revealed in Proofpoint's 2019 State of the Phish report, released in January, 83 percent of global organizations experienced phishing attacks in 2018, underscoring the urgent need to educate end-users.

Still, email-based attacks themselves are not the sole source of an organization's end-user risk. For example:

  • Lax social media habits can expose important details that cybercriminals can leverage to create and launch a variety of targeted and believable social attacks, including phishing, vishing (voice phishing), smishing (SMS/text phishing), and business email compromise (BEC) campaigns.
  • Careless data management and physical security practices can lead to breaches and loss or theft of confidential or proprietary information.
  • Poor password habits can lead to credential compromise and give attackers access to organizational systems and data.
  • Lack of awareness can turn employees into unintentional insider threats.

Many organizations are relying on simulated phishing attacks and/or infrequent training exercises to assess end-users' vulnerabilities and teach good cybersecurity practices. Cybercriminals have broadened their approach to end-user attacks, so a narrow focus on certain components of cyber hygiene is not enough to fully prepare users to identify and change the behaviors that can compromise security at work and within their personal lives.

"Organizations need to be persistent and thorough in their security awareness training programs, considering the end-user behaviors that influence and impact overall security postures," said Amy Baker, Vice President of Security Awareness Training Strategy and Development for Proofpoint. "This annual report reiterates the need to go beyond the use of phishing tests to evaluate end-user susceptibility and cyber threat knowledge." 

"It's important to remember that not all security incidents stem from an attack; many issues result from limited awareness and poor security practices," Baker noted. "Our research has shown a significant increase in safe behaviors when organizations take a well-managed, continuous approach to training across all cyber topics."

Learn more in the SecureWorld 'Beyond the Phish' web conference

Effective education is imperative as cybercriminals have shifted away from attacking infrastructure and are targeting individuals, making a people-centric security approach essential. To learn more about the report's findings, register for the August 28th SecureWorld web conference, "Beyond the Phish: A Snapshot of End-User Behavior." Content will be accessible live or on-demand, and CPE credits are available.

To see a full list of category, department, and industry comparisons, download a copy of the 2019 Beyond the Phish report on the Proofpoint website.

[1] Department designations are respondent-defined. For example, the Security department could include both physical security and cybersecurity.