HR related email subjects continue to be utilised as a phishing strategy and make up more than 50% of top email subjects, according to KnowBe4’s Q3 2023 global phishing report.

Phishing emails continue to be one of the most common methods to effectively perpetuate malicious attacks on organisations around the globe. In fact, KnowBe4’s 2023 Phishing by Industry Benchmarking Report revealed that nearly one in three users are likely to click on a suspicious link or comply with a fraudulent request.

Because of this, cybercriminals remain innovative and refine their strategies to stay up-to-date with current trends and use tactics in order to grab the attention of end users to ultimately outsmart them. This results in cybercriminals changing phishing email subjects to be more believable while preying on emotions by inflicting urgency, confusion and distress in order to get employees to click on a malicious phishing link or download an attachment.

This steady trend from the last two quarters of cybercriminals using email subjects coming from HR include messages related to dress code changes, training notifications, vacation updates and more. These are effective because they may cause a person to react before thinking logically about the legitimacy of the email and have the potential to impact an employee’s personal life and professional workday.

Holiday and seasonal phishing email subjects were also utilised this quarter with four out of the five top holiday email subjects related to Halloween and fall items that are used as bait to incentivise unsuspecting end users. Additionally, the report reflects the consistent trend of utilising IT and online service notifications, as well as tax-related email subjects.

“The continued trend of disguising emails as coming from an internal department such as HR is especially dangerous to organisations because they appear to be coming from a trusted, reliable source,” says Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4. “These malicious emails take advantage of employee trust and create vulnerabilities within an organisation that could potentially result in its downfall.

“KnowBe4’s phishing test reports emphasise the importance of new-school security awareness training that educates end users on the latest and most common cyberattacks and threats,” he adds. “An educated workforce is essential to fostering a strong security culture and is an organisation’s best defence to stay safe online.”