Proofpoint: 71% of Australian Employees Willingly Gamble with Organisational Security

StateofPhish PR

Human-centric threats continue to impact organisations; 72% admitted to taking risky actions and 98% did so knowing the inherent risks involved

SYDNEY, Australia - 27 February 2024Proofpoint, Inc., a leading cybersecurity and compliance company, today released its tenth annual State of the Phish report, revealing that almost three quarters (71%) of employees knowingly put their organisations at risk, potentially leading to ransomware or malware infections, data breaches, or financial loss. And while the incidence of successful phishing attacks has declined (56% of surveyed organisations experienced at least one successful attack in 2023, versus 94% the previous year), the consequences are varied: a 17% decrease in reports of financial penalties, such as regulatory fines, and a 25% increase in reports of reputational damage.

The findings from this year’s report notably challenge the traditional belief that people take risky actions due to a lack of cybersecurity knowledge and that security awareness training alone can fully prevent unsafe behaviours. The conundrum extends to security professionals’ belief that most employees know they are responsible for protecting the organisation, signalling a gap between the limitations of individual security technology and user education. 

“Cyber extortion in the form of ransomware is still one of the biggest tools used by cyber criminals,” explains Jennifer Cheng, director, cybersecurity strategy for Asia Pacific & Japan, Proofpoint. Despite the low success rate, many organisations still make payments which cost the Australian economy up to $2.6 billion in damages every year. That said, it is great to see this number declining in this year's research and as the government plans to make declarations of payments mandatory as part of their new cyber security strategy.”

This year’s State of the Phish report provides an in-depth overview of the current threat landscape where generative AI, QR codes, and multifactor authentication (MFA) are abused by malicious actors, as sourced by Proofpoint’s telemetry of more than 2.8 trillion scanned emails across 230,000 organisations worldwide, as well as findings from 183 million simulated phishing attacks sent over a twelve-month period. The report also examines the perceptions of 7,500 employees and 1,050 security professionals across 15 countries, showing how attitudes towards security manifest in real-world behaviour and how threat actors are finding new ways to take advantage of our preference for speed and expedience, as well as the current state of security awareness initiatives. 

“Cyber criminals know that humans can be easily exploited, either through negligence, compromised identity—or in some instances—malicious intent,” said Ryan Kalember, chief strategy officer, Proofpoint. “Individuals play a central role in an organisation’s security posture, with 74% of breaches still centring on the human element. While fostering security culture is important, training alone is not a silver bullet. Knowing what to do and doing it are two different things. The challenge is now not just awareness, but behaviour change.” 

Key Australian findings from Proofpoint’s 2024 State of the Phish report include: 

Employees aren’t taking risky actions because they lack security awareness: 72% of surveyed working Australian adults admitted to taking risky actions, such as reusing or sharing a password, clicking on links from unknown senders, or handing over their credentials to an untrustworthy source. 98% of them did so knowing the inherent risks involved, meaning that 71% of employees willingly undermined their organisation’s security. The motivations behind risky actions are varied, with most employees citing convenience (55%), the desire to save time (33%), and a sense of urgency as their main reasons (21%).  

Disconnect between IT teams and employees for driving real behaviour change: While 84% of surveyed security professionals said that most employees know they are responsible for security, 53% of surveyed employees either weren’t sure or claimed that they’re not responsible at all. And even though virtually all employees who took a risky action knew the inherent risks—a clear indication security training is working to drive employee awareness—there are clear disparities between what security professionals and employees think is effective to encourage real behaviour change. Security pros believe that more training (84%) and tighter controls (75%) are the answer, but nearly all surveyed employees (95%) said they’d prioritise security if controls were simplified and more user-friendly.  

MFA continues to provide a false sense of security, leaving businesses exposed: Over one million attacks are launched with the MFA-bypass framework EvilProxy every month, yet, worryingly, 91% of Australian security professionals still believe MFA provides complete protection against account takeover. 

Business email compromise (BEC) attacks benefit from AI: Fewer organisations reported email fraud attempts globally. In Australia, this number has gone down by 19% (90% in 2021 to 73% in 2022), but attack volume grew in countries such as Japan (35% year-over-year increase), South Korea (+31%), and UAE (+29%). These countries may have previously seen fewer BEC attacks due to cultural or language barriers, but generative AI allows attackers to create more convincing and personalised emails in multiple languages. Proofpoint detects an average of 66 million targeted BEC attacks every month. 

Cyber extortion persists as a lucrative form of attack: In Australia, 71% of organisations experienced a successful ransomware infection in the past year (a 22-percentage point increase year-over-year); alarmingly, 51% of Australian IT professionals said their organisation experienced multiple, separate ransomware infections. Of the organisations impacted by ransomware, 51% agreed to pay attackers (a dramatic drop from 90% a year ago) with only 45% regaining access to their data after a single payment (down from 54% a year ago).

Telephone-oriented attack delivery (TOAD) continues to flourish: Although initially appearing as a benign message, containing nothing more than a phone number and some erroneous information, the attack chain is activated when an unsuspecting employee calls a fraudulent call centre, providing their credentials or granting remote access to malicious actors. Proofpoint detects 10 million TOAD attacks globally per month, on average, with a recent peak in August 2023, which drew 13 million incidents. 

Despite the growing prominence and sophistication of threats such as ransomware, TOAD and MFA bypass, many organisations are not adequately prepared or trained to deal with them. Globally, only 25% of organisations educate their users on how to recognise and prevent TOAD attacks, and only 24% educate their users on generative AI safety.

To download the State of the Phish 2024 report and see a full list of global and regional comparisons, visit:

For more information on how to drive behaviour change, visit:


About Proofpoint, Inc. 

Proofpoint, Inc. is a leading cybersecurity and compliance company that protects organizations’ greatest assets and biggest risks: their people. With an integrated suite of cloud-based solutions, Proofpoint helps companies around the world stop targeted threats, safeguard their data, and make their users more resilient against cyber attacks. Leading organizations of all sizes, including 85 percent of the Fortune 100, rely on Proofpoint for people-centric security and compliance solutions that mitigate their most critical risks across email, the cloud, social media, and the web. More information is available at

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