Response to a phishing attack: persuasion and protection motivation in an organizational context

Piers Bayl-Smith*, Ronnie Taib, Kun Yu, Mark Wiggins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose- This study aims to examine the effect of cybersecurity threat and efficacy upon click-through, response to a phishing attack: persuasion and protection motivation in an organizational context. 

Design/methodology/approach- In a simulated field trial conducted in a financial institute, via PhishMe, employees were randomly sent one of five possible emails using a set persuasion strategy. Participants were then invited to complete an online survey to identify possible protective factors associated with clicking and reporting behavior (N = 2,918). The items of interest included perceived threat severity, threat susceptibility, response efficacy and personal efficacy. 

Findings- The results indicate that response behaviors vary significantly across different persuasion strategies. Perceptions of threat susceptibility increased the likelihood of reporting behavior beyond clicking behavior. Threat susceptibility and organizational response efficacy were also associated with increased odds of not responding to the simulated phishing email attack. 

Practical implications-This study again highlights human susceptibility to phishing attacks in the presence of social engineering strategies. The results suggest heightened awareness of phishing threats and responsibility to personal cybersecurity are key to ensuring secure business environments. 

Originality/value- The authors extend existing phishing literature by investigating not only click-through behavior, but also no-response and reporting behaviors. Furthermore, the authors observed the relative effectiveness of persuasion strategies used in phishing emails as they compete to manipulate unsafe email behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-78
Number of pages16
JournalInformation and Computer Security
Issue number1
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2022


  • computer security
  • protection motivation theory
  • phishing
  • social engineering


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