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Phishing emails provide a means to infiltrate the technical systems of organisations by encouraging employees to click on malicious links or attachments. Despite the use of awareness campaigns and phishing simulations, employees remain vulnerable to phishing emails. The present research uses a mixed methods approach to explore employee susceptibility to targeted phishing emails, known as spear phishing. In Study One, nine spear phishing simulation emails sent to 62,000 employees over a six-week period were rated according to the presence of authority and urgency influence techniques. Results demonstrated that the presence of authority cues increased the likelihood that a user would click a suspicious link contained in an email. In Study Two, six focus groups were conducted in a second organisation to explore whether additional factors within the work environment impact employee susceptibility to spear phishing. We discuss these factors in relation to current theoretical approaches and provide implications for user communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Human-Computer Studies
Early online date19 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2018


  • Cyber security
  • Employee susceptibility
  • Human factors
  • Organisational behavior
  • Phishing
  • Social engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Education
  • Engineering(all)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Hardware and Architecture


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