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An analysis of phishing emails and how the human vulnerabilities are exploited

While there are a variety of sophisticated system attacks, phishing emails continues to be successful in gaining users attention and leading to disastrous security consequences. In designing strategies to protect users from fraudulent phishing emails, system designers need to know which attack approaches and type of content seems to exploit human limitations and vulnerabilities. In this study, we are focusing on the attackers’ footprints (emails) and examining the phishing email content and characteristics utilizing publicly available phishing attack repository databases. We analyzed several variables to gain a better understanding of the techniques and language used in these emails to capture users’ attention. Our findings reveal that the words primarily used in these emails are targeting users’ emotional tendencies and triggers to apply their attacks. In addition, attackers employ user-targeted words and subjects that exploits certain emotional triggers such as fear and anticipation. We believe our human centered study and findings is a critical step forward towards improving detection and training programs to decrease phishing attacks and to promote the inclusion of human factors in securing systems.

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