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ISG and School of Informatics Collaborate to Combat Phishing

ISG and the School of Informatics partner up and devote resources to researching and managing efforts to respond to phishing attempts across the University community

The Information Services Group and School of Informatics are launching a collaboration to research and better understand how the University can measure, respond to and mitigate phishing.   

Phishing consists of malicious communications sent to trick users into compromising their computer and/or personal information. Phishing is often a gateway to larger attacks such as data breaches, installation of malware and ransomware attacks. COVID-19 increased the prevalence of fraud and impersonation scams, almost doubling in 2020 compared to 2019. UK Finance reported over 149,946 incidents of Authorised Push Payment (APP) scams in 2020 with gross losses of about 479 million pounds. According to the UK National Cybersecurity Centre, phishing can be conducted via text message, social media or phone but most often consists of exploit attempts via email which can impact both individuals and organizations of any size.

Consistent with most organizations, IS uses mail filters to prevent suspicious emails from reaching users’ inboxes. In general, mail filters can catch 95 to 98 percent of phishing emails, but more sophisticated attempts require leveraging the human understanding of context. In instances where sophisticated emails slip through the filter, IS relies on a variety of mechanisms such as user reporting, the Help Line, firewall rules, password resets and virus scans to adapt and minimize the impact of phishing. In the long term, Informatics is working with IS to understand how information flows through IS and the variety of teams involved to resolve phishing issues.

A School of Informatics intern began work this June with the Service Management team to research the email banner used on University emails to notify users of external senders. The email banner is intended to help users identify the difference between legitimate internal University services and services that are not part of the University but claim to be. The work will include understanding how to implement the banner uniformly, the cost and benefits of the banner to students and staff in terms of time and mental energy and explore alternative approaches.

Further, two MSc Informatics student will assist with researching broader efforts to address phishing and train international students on how to spot potential phishing attempts in their inboxes.

You can read more about phishing on the Informatics Technology Usability Lab in Privacy and Security (TULIPS) page: https://groups.inf.ed.ac.uk/tulips/phishing.html