Employees Engaging in Risky Cyber-Security Activities

The majority of global survey participants admitted understanding the obvious cyber-threats when downloading email attachments from an unknown sender.

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Workers worldwide visit inappropriate websites while at work, regardless of the risks to their companies, according to a global research study of 1,580 respondents across 11 countries. The survey was conducted by Vanson Bourne and sponsored by Blue Coat Systems.

The majority of survey participants admitted understanding the obvious cyber-threats when downloading email attachments from an unknown sender, or using social media and unapproved apps from corporate networks without permission, but knowing this, did not curb their risk-taking.

Although 66 percent of respondents acknowledge that using a new application without the IT department’s consent is a serious cyber-security risk to the business, more than a quarter (26 percent) admitted doing so.

Obvious behaviors such as opening emails from unverified senders still happen at work, with nearly one -third (29 percent) of Chinese employees opening email attachments from unverified senders, even though nearly three out of four (72 percent) see it as a serious risk.

Businesses in the United States appear to view the threat even more seriously (80 percent), and open less unsolicited email (17 percent). The survey also revealed pornography continues to be one of the most popular methods of hiding malware or malicious content.

"One of the most surprising findings from the study is that employees are visiting pornography websites at the workplace," Dr. Hugh Thompson, chief technology officer and senior vice president of Blue Coat, told eWEEK. "Again, as the survey found, most employees are aware that certain behaviors are risky many still do it anyway. Employees should be reminded of company policy and be educated about how risky behavior can impact not only the company, but also the individual."

One out of every 20 U.S. employees has looked at adult content on their work device, even though 80 percent acknowledge that they know it poses a serious security risk.

Six percent of global respondents admitted viewing adult content on work devices. China ranked as the worst offender with nearly one in five (19 percent) employees admitting to viewing adult content at work, compared to Australia and Germany, both at 2 percent.

Nearly two out of five employees (41 percent) use social media sites for personal reasons at work, and 54 percent of Americans use personal smartphones or tablets at work, even though 46 percent know it poses a serious security risk.

Despite 68 percent reporting that they knew it was risky, 22 percent of U.S. employees still reported they have downloaded apps outside Apple’s App Store and Google Play marketplace.

"As data breaches, malware and other cyber-threats continue to become the new normal for businesses, consumers are becoming increasingly desensitized to their occurrence," Thompson said. "The behaviors that trigger them are rarely considered. As our survey shows, vague awareness of these threats alone is not enough to prevent employees from changing their bad habits."

He explained that in order to address this challenge and improve future employee behavior, businesses must make a concerted effort to set policies and fully educate their employees on the repercussions of their actions.