Government-Run Energy Company Keeps Reeling in the Same Employees in Phishing Training

Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

The Tennessee Valley Authority has a good initial phishing training program in place but lacks real consequences for those that fail.

The Tennessee Valley Authority—a government-operated electric power utility—is at risk of falling prey to cyberattacks through phishing attempts, as the agency’s training program shows serious gaps, according to an inspector general report.

While TVA has a sound phishing education regime, the agency IG found the program lacks real consequences for employees who repeatedly fail the training. During an assessment of the program, the IG also found evidence that TVA’s repeat offenders are failing their annual training at a higher rate than the industry average.

Cyberattacks—and specifically phishing—are a serious problem for the energy sector. The Energy and Homeland Security departments have issued several warnings about phishing attempts and other cybersecurity threats, including alerts from the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, part of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA.

For instance, a 2018 alert warned energy sector companies of a Russian government campaign to infect power grid networks with malware through a persistent phishing campaign dubbed Dragonfly.

“DHS and FBI characterize this activity as a multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors who targeted small commercial facilities’ networks where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing and gained remote access into energy sector networks,” US-CERT warned in the March 2018 alert. “After obtaining access, the Russian government cyber actors conducted network reconnaissance, moved laterally and collected information pertaining to industrial control systems.”

In the audit report, TVA IG cites 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigations report statistics, which found that 32% of all breaches included a phishing component.

To combat this ever-present security concern, TVA IT officials instituted an annual training requirement for all personnel that access the network. According to the IG, that training includes “informational content on phishing, how to identify it and what to do if employees receive a phishing email.”

To ensure this training is effective, the agency purchased a tool for internal phishing tests that periodically sends fake malicious emails to users. Those who fail the test—by clicking through and entering sensitive credentials on a faux-malicious site—must watch an educational video, with an additional training course for repeat offenders.

However, with all these tools and punishments in place, the agency does not have formal procedures in place for conducting the exercises or follow-up training. Further, officials have not established any consequences for employees who do not take the training, despite the fact that it is formally required.

The TVA IG reviewed a year of results through the phishing training module and found the failure rates were on par with industry averages. However, the failure rate for repeat offenders was noticeably higher.

As auditors dug in further, they found the repeat offender training—the educational video—has been ineffective.

“Specifically, most users who were provided the education video closed it before it completed and some users who completed the educational video failed follow-up phishing exercises,” the report states.

Auditors found that while TVA’s policies and procedures for initial training were sufficient, there were no formal procedures for repeat offenders. The IG also discovered a correlation between employees who repeatedly failed the annual training and those who pushed it off beyond the deadline.

And while TVA has serious consequences in place for employees that skip the general cybersecurity awareness training—disabling the user’s network ID—there are no repercussions for users who miss the phishing training deadlines.

The IG made three recommendations TVA Vice President and Chief Information Officer Jeremy Fisher:

  • Update the content and delivery of end-user training to improve phishing awareness.
  • Consider potential consequences for repeat offenders that do not take the required training prior to their assigned deadline.
  • Update procedures to include requirements for periodic phishing exercises, follow-up training, and potential consequences for not taking the required training prior to the deadline.

TVA officials agreed with all three.

Of note, auditors only assessed the quality of TVA’s training program and “did not include technical controls TVA has in place to prevent, detect and mitigate phishing attempts,” according to the report.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.