French ministry tricks own staff in email link sting

The ministry's own sting proved just how easily email users can be tricked

Clicking on unknown email links can be dangerous, and now the French Economic and Finance ministry has proven just how easily email users can be tricked, with a sting campaign that intentionally duped its own staff.

In the scheme, created by the ministry itself, emails were sent out on the morning of October 2, from senders with familiar names, such as Emma Bovary or Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.

The emails asked their recipients to click on links to win free cinema tickets.

In fact, these names were actually from fictional characters in famous French literature, and were part of a “phishing” scheme from the ministry itself, intended to show how easily people can be duped into clicking dangerous or fraudulent email links.

The ministry itself (Bercy) was responsible for the sting (Yisris / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Of 145 000 employees at the ministry, more than 30 000 (over 20%) clicked on the link on Monday morning, according to Yuksel Aydin, one of the managers of the scheme, as reported in French newspaper Le Figaro.

“Cybersecurity is not just lines of coding,” he said. “It is also about making sure users are sensitive [to the issues].”

In the same report, one of the staff members confirmed: “I had an email from an ‘Isabelle de Merteuil’, from [the 18th century novel] Liaisons Dangereuses.”  

Those unfortunate enough to have clicked on the suspect link were then taken to a screen reminding them of the dangers of using computers, and warning them not to click on unknown links.

The ministry has said this will not be the last of its schemes to promote cybersecurity, and, with the help of a number of consumer associations, is hoping to create a similar campaign for the general public.

Overall, members of the public are advised not to open random or unknown emails, not to give out any card details or financial information, and not to click on any links or attachments that arrive from unknown senders, especially if they appear to be offering something for free, ask you a personal password or PIN number, or ask you to download any software.

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