Security Experts:

Fortune 500 Executives Often Fall for Trivial Attacks: Report

Phishing attacks continue to succeed with alarming regularity, and the problem is not just limited to regular employees.

Everyone in the organization, from the executives upstairs to the employees in the trenches, need to learn how to recognize a phishing attack. Recent attacks were the result of someone not recognizing an email as being malicious and opening the attachment or clicking on the link. When presented with a form asking for information, such as login credentials or other sensitive information, the victim didn't realize the form wasn't real.

Actual simulated phishing attack results show that C-level executives may be most likely to take the bait and fall for simple or sophisticated spear phishing attacks, Wombat Security Technologies said. In fact, the data shows that corporate executives are falling for attacks like electronic faxes, fake conference registrations, shipping confirmations, and social media password resets.

Not only are executives clicking on potentially malicious links, "some senior executives are actually submitting login credentials," Wombat said.

IT security teams need to make sure that the entire employee base, even executives and their assistants, are included when putting together security training programs. If the executives push back, security managers have to be able to quantify the risks of not training everyone.

It's good to know the actual costs—the numbers—of not investing in comprehensive security training, such as damage to brand reputation, loss of intellectual property, and the time and expense of IT cleaning up infected machines.

Security officials can demonstrate what kind of damage can be caused if executives are phished, as opposed to just focusing on examples of what happens if regular employees are phished. This is also a good time to show how much time IT already spends chasing down threats and incidents. How much does this cost the organization? IT can also present a list of projects they could be working on if they could reduce the amount of time dealing with these phishing attacks.

"Risky behavior is expensive," Wombat said. Security officials have to show the numbers to get the executive buy-in for security awareness.

Anyone who has access to the executive's email, such as the assistant, also need to be part of the training. Just as there's no one too important to deal with training, there's no one "not important enough" to be trained. If the assistant learns how to recognize phishing attacks, that assistant is less likely inadvertently hand over the keys to the kingdom on the boss's behalf.

"If you’ve got stats and numbers to back you up, there’s no reason to let the executive team off the hook for training," Wombat said.

No one's time is so valuable that they don't need security. The CEO and the executive team need to set a good example for the rest of the organization.

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Fahmida Y. Rashid is a Senior Contributing Writer for SecurityWeek. She has experience writing and reviewing security, core Internet infrastructure, open source, networking, and storage. Before setting out her journalism shingle, she spent nine years as a help-desk technician, software and Web application developer, network administrator, and technology consultant.