Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, Steve Sheng, Alessandro Acquisti, Lorrie Cranor, and Jason Hong


ACM Transactions on Internet Technologies (ACM TOIT)


January 2010


Phishing attacks, in which criminals lure Internet users to websites that spoof legitimate websites, are occurring with increasing frequency and are causing considerable harm to victims. While a great deal of effort has been devoted to solving the phishing problem by prevention and detection of phishing emails and phishing websites, little research has been done in the area of training users to recognize those attacks. Our research focuses on educating users about phishing and helping them make better trust decisions. We identified a number of challenges for end-user security education in general and anti-phishing education in particular: users are not motivated to learn about security; for most users, security is a secondary task; it is difficult to teach people to identify security threats without also increasing their tendency to misjudge non-threats as threats. Keeping these challenges in mind, we developed an email-based anti-phishing education system called “PhishGuru” and an online game called “Anti-Phishing Phil” that teaches users how to use cues in URLs to avoid falling for phishing attacks. We applied learning science instructional principles in the design of PhishGuru and Anti-Phishing Phil. In this paper we present the results of PhishGuru and Anti-Phishing Phil user studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of these tools. Our results suggest that, while automated detection systems should be used as the first line of defense against phishing attacks, user education offers a complementary approach to help people better recognize fraudulent emails and websites.

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