The task of creating a culture of information security awareness in higher education can be a daunting one. You may feel as though your efforts are unnoticed and unrewarded. However, one of the really cool things about working in higher ed is that universities and colleges are often willing to share their best practices and even the materials they’ve created. This can ease the burden of coming up with new ideas to to help increase user awareness of information security threats.
Over the last couple of years, higher education has seen an increase in phishing attempts known in the industry as “spear phishing.” Spear phishing targets a specific group of individuals by crafting emails or other “bait” that appear to come from a known and trusted source, such as a school’s Information Technology department. In 2009, RIT saw a string of phishing attempts that had, from our view, a success rate that was unacceptable. (Much as we’d like to block all phishing attempts and train our community to recognize and not respond to password requests, someone will always fall for a well-crafted phish.)
Unsure of how to best combat the threat, we formed a team of our best information technology and information thinkers to address the issue. We chose a multi-pronged approach with both technology and people initiatives. We increased our email alerts and advisories to inform the community of the problem. Our Information Technology Services organization began prepending a warning message to all incoming emails that contained the word “password” in the text. However, we knew that this wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem.
One of our coop students had worked the previous summer at Yale University and showed us phishing awareness posters that they had created. We received permission from Yale to modify the posters for our own use and began a poster campaign on campus. We decided to go a step beyond.
What better way to draw attention to phishing than having a giant “phish” walk around campus! Phishy was an instant hit. Phishy visited offices around campus and greeted students with cards that reminded them to NEVER respond to requests for their passwords. Phishy hung around RIT for a week twice during 2009.
This fall, Yale leveraged our Phishy idea. They bought a fish costume and greeted new students at orientation. (They also created a Gil Phish Facebook page with pictures of Gil engaged in behavior that could only be described as sub-crustacean…
Building off of each others successes has enabled both universities to create innovative security awareness programs.
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