CALL US: 216-397-4080  | CLIENT HELP DESK: 216-539-3686

How NOT to Educate Users About Phishing

How NOT to Educate Users About Phishing

While phishing awareness is an important practice to teach to a business’ employees, some methods are better than others, as GoDaddy—the domain registrar and web-hosting company notorious for its run of risqué ads—is learning the hard way. On December 14, GoDaddy’s employees received an email that seemed to be a holiday bonus from the company… only to find out (the hard way) that it was a phishing test that their employer had run.

The Message

When the employees GoDaddy involved in their phishing test opened their email on December 14, a message from the address “Happyholiday@Godaddy-dot-com” awaited them. Below, we have replicated the message it contained, under a large, branded announcement of a “Holiday Party.”

Happy Holiday GoDaddy!

2020 has been a record year for GoDaddy, thanks to you!

Though we cannot celebrate together during our annual Holiday Party, we want to show our appreciation and share a $650 one-time Holiday bonus! To ensure that you receive your one-time Bonus in time for the Holidays, please select your location and fill in the details by Friday, December 18th.

Any submittals after the cutoff will not be accepted and you will not receive the one-time bonus of $650 (free money, claim it now!)

We look forward to celebrating with you again, in person next year!

I don’t know about you, but if that showed up in my email—just before the holiday season, during a year marred by a terrible pandemic, no less—I would be pretty excited.

However, no bonus was in store for the company’s 500 employees who clicked through the links. All they got was another email, two days later, from the company’s security chief. This was how these employees were informed that the email was nothing but a phishing test, and since they had failed, they would need to retake the company’s Security Awareness Social Engineering training.

Of course, this message did not land very well amongst many of these employees… and it certainly didn’t help that the “record year” that the email bragged about came after hundreds of employees were reassigned or completely laid off, and included a data breach that  exposed 28,000 GoDaddy customers’ data.

GoDaddy has since released a statement apologizing for the poorly-thought-out phishing test. As a spokesperson for the company said:

“GoDaddy takes the security of our platform extremely seriously. We understand some employees were upset by the phishing attempt and felt it was insensitive, for which we have apologized.”

Companies Other Than GoDaddy Have Made Similar Errors

GoDaddy is not the only company to stumble during their phishing evaluations. In September, Tribune Publishing sent out an internal phishing email offering targeted bonuses worth anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000. As with GoDaddy, this attempt saw backlash from employees, one reporter tweeting that the cruelty of it was “stunning.” As happened with GoDaddy, the company apologized for its “misleading and insensitive” email.

Phishing Should Be Highlighted…Just Not This Way

While these examples prove that there is definitely a wrong way to educate users about phishing, it must be said that phishing is a very real threat for businesses of all sizes today.

However, when you try to educate your users, we suggest using different tactics. Seminars and training sessions are great options, and email phish testing campaigns are very effective (as long as you do it differently than GoDaddy). The main issue in GoDaddy’s case was that they took advantage of their employees, during a time when many were already under financial strain, running a test that offered them a sizable bonus when they had no intention of actually distributing it.

Naturally, nobody should hope that their organization offends its workforce, and nobody should hope that their organization falls victim to a phishing attack. If you’d like to learn more about proper phish testing and security awareness training, give the Ashton team a call at 216 397-4080.

Related Posts