‘Check the Box’ Awareness Training has Little Impact on an Organization’s Security Posture
Mimecast Limited (NASDAQ: MIME), a leading email security and cyber resilience company, today released new research which highlights the risky behavior of employees using company-issued devices. More than 1,000 respondents in countries throughout the globe were asked about their use of work devices for personal activities and how aware they are of today’s cyber risks. The results highlighted the need for better awareness training, as people are clicking on links or opening suspicious emails despite having been trained.
Earlier this year, an urgent request for IT teams across the globe was to ensure the efficient issuance of laptops and other computing devices to employees, as much of the workforce started working remote due to the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). A key priority for IT professionals was to then ensure their IT and security policies were ready for the rush to remote work.
The Blurring of Personal and Professional Life
Mimecast’s research found that in the UAE, 87% of respondents extensively use their company-issued device for personal matters, with two-thirds (66%) admitting to an increase in frequency since starting to work remote. The most common activities were checking personal email (57%), carrying out financial transactions (59%) and video calls with friends and family (50%). According to the State of Email Security 2020 report, personal email and browsing the web/shopping online were already two areas of major concern for IT professionals. In the Middle East, 66% of respondents said there was a risk to checking personal email as the cause of a serious security mistake, and 65% thought surfing the web or online shopping could likely cause an incident.
Awareness Training Doesn’t Always Mean Correct Behavior
Encouragingly, all of the respondents in the UAE (100%) claim to be aware that links in email, on social media sites and on websites can potentially infect their devices. Eighty-one percent have even received special cybersecurity awareness training related to working from home during the pandemic. However, this doesn’t always translate into putting this knowledge into practice. The research highlights themes of a strong disconnect in certain countries, including the UAE. Despite the majority of respondents stating that they’ve had special awareness training, 61% still opened emails they considered to be suspicious. Meanwhile, 50% of the respondents admitted to not reporting suspicious emails to their IT or security teams.
“This research shows that while there is a lot of awareness training offered, most of training content and frequency is completely ineffective at winning the hearts and minds of employees to reduce today’s cyber security risks,” said Josh Douglas, vice president of threat intelligence. “Better training is crucial to avoid putting any organization at risk. Employees need to be engaged, and trainings need to be short, visual, relevant and include humour to make the message resonate. In fact, Mimecast has found that end-users who have taken Mimecast Awareness Training are 5.2 times less likely to click on dangerous links. Awareness training can’t be just another check-the-box activity if you want a security conscious organization.”
The Younger Generation Can Be an Organization’s Greatest Risk
Despite being the most tech savvy generation, younger workers may be putting organizations at greater risk. Surprisingly, 50% of the 16-24 age group in the UAE admitted to opening emails even though they looked suspicious. This group is also more guilty of blurring the lines between their business and personal usage of these devices. Everyone in the 16-24 age group (100%) reported using their issued devices for personal use, while only 50% of the older – 45-54- group admitted the same.
“Security professionals need to ensure their organization isn’t growing more exposed as threats evolve to better target the unsuspecting,” commented Douglas. “With everyone’s home becoming their new office, classroom and place of residence, it’s not really a surprise that employees are using their company-issued devices for personal use. However, this is also a big opportunity for threat actors to target victims in new ways. We’ve seen attacks become more aggressive and the attack surface has expanded due to the new ‘WFH’ or hybrid work environments.”
Respondents averaged 2.5 hours of personal activity on their work devices a day, above the global average of 1.9 hours. Over a third (34%) clocked more than 3 hours of non-work-related screen time, against a global average of 22%.
The research also revealed how habits differ between males and females. In the UAE, 92% of men reported using their corporate device for personal business versus 75% of women.
Data was collected by Censuswide in September 2020 with more than 1,000 respondents from organizations in the United Kingdom, United States (US), Australia, South Africa, Netherlands, Germany, Canada and United Arab Emirates (UAE). Organizations included have greater than 100 employees and currently have a company-issued mobile device, laptop or computer for work.