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Journal article | Research library
| 23/06/2023

Repeat clicking: A lack of awareness is not the problem

Matthew Canham

Although phishing is the most common social engineering tactic employed by cyber criminals, not everyone is equally susceptible. An important finding emerging across several research studies on phishing is that a subset of employees is especially susceptible to social engineering tactics and is responsible for a disproportionate number of successful phishing attempts. Sometimes referred to as repeat clickers, these employees habitually fail simulated phishing tests and are suspected of being responsible for a significant number of real-world phishing related data breaches. In contrast to repeat clickers, protective stewards are those employees who never fail simulated phishing exercises and habitually report phishing simulations to their security departments. This study explored some of the potential causes of these persistent behaviors (both good and bad) by administering six semi-structured interviews (three repeat clickers and three protective stewards). Surprisingly, both groups were able to identify message cues for identifying potentially malicious emails. Repeat clickers reported a more internally oriented locus of control and higher confidence in their ability to identify phishing emails, but also described more rigid email checking habits than did protective stewards. One unexpected finding was that repeat clickers failed to recall an identifier which they were explicitly informed that they would need to later recall, while the protective stewards recalled the identifier without error. Due to the small sample and exploratory nature of this study additional research should seek to confirm whether these findings extrapolate to larger populations.

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