Unexpected Side Effects: How COVID-19 Affected our Click Habits

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Phishing has been around for ages and continues to be one of the most common threats that businesses and home users face today. But it’s not like we haven’t all been hearing about the dangers of phishing for years. So why do people still click?

That’s what we wanted to find out when we conducted our most recent survey. We checked in with thousands of office workers across seven different countries to get a global perspective on phishing and people’s individual click habits. Then we partnered with Dr. Prashanth Rajivan, assistant professor at the University of Washington, to gain a deeper understanding of phishing and those habits, as well as how things have shifted during COVID-19 in our new report: COVID-19 Clicks: How Phishing Capitalized on a Global Crisis.

In this blog post, we’ve summarized this comprehensive report and included tips for how to stay safe, but we strongly encourage you to check out the full writeup.

Why do people still click?

3 in 10 people worldwide clicked a phishing link in the past year. Among Americans, it’s 1 in 3.

According to Dr. Rajivan, what we need to consider is that human beings aren’t necessarily good at dealing with uncertainty, which is part of why cybercriminals capitalize on upheaval (such as a global pandemic) to launch attacks.

“People aren’t great at handling uncertainty. Even those of us who know we shouldn’t click on emails from unknown senders may feel uncertain and click anyway. That’s because we’ve likely all clicked these kinds of emails in the past and gotten a positive reward. The probability of long-term risk vs. short-term reward, coupled with uncertainty, is a recipe for poor decision-making, or, in this case, clicking what you shouldn’t.”

– Prashanth Rajivan, Ph.D. Tip # 1 For businesses: Ensure workers have clear distinctions between work and personal time, devices, and obligations. This helps reduce the amount of uncertainty that can ultimately lead to phishing-related breaches.
For individuals: Hackers often exploit security holes in older software versions and operating systems. Update software and systems regularly to help shut the door on malware.Has phishing increased since COVID-19 began

At least one in five people have received a phishing email related to COVID-19.

There’s no doubt that the global COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about how we live and work. According to our survey, 54% of workers spend more time working from home than they did before the pandemic. With more people connecting to the internet outside of corporate networks and away from the watchful eyes of IT teams, it’s to be expected that cybercriminals would take advantage.

“[We’ve seen] massive spikes […] in phishing URLs targeting COVID-related topics. For example, with more people spending time at home, use of streaming services has gone up. In March alone, we saw a 3000% increase in phishing URLs with ‘youtube’ in the name.

– Grayson Milbourne, security intelligence director, Carbonite + Webroot, OpenText Companies

Regardless, the majority of people surveyed still think they are at least the same level of prepared or more prepared to spot phishing email attempts, now that they’ve spent more time working from home

“People are taking increased physical safety measures in the pandemic, including mask wearing, social distancing, more frequent hand-washing, etc. I think this

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