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Surveys or Phishing Emails?

I was recently sent a survey from a well-known survey company (actually, on second thoughts, I'll name them: Capita) and it made me very cross. Why so cross? Well, I spend a considerable amount of time trying to educate people about their role in the security of the network and about phishing/social engineering. This is all undone by survey companies such as the one in question. See for yourself the email sent and use it as a template for future 'white-hat' testing.

Have your Say! Fill in your Staff Survey today!

Dear Colleague

It’s important to complete the Staff Survey to ensure your voice is heard! The purpose of the survey is to make further improvements to staffs’ working lives at Target Organisation.

Your responses will come direct to Capita Surveys & Research Unit, and will be totally anonymous. No one outside the research team – and certainly no one at Target Organisation – will know who has responded or be able to identify individual responses. The survey findings will be analysed by Capita Surveys & Research Unit and only aggregate results will be reported.

To ensure that you have adequate opportunity to participate, the survey closure date is date month year.

In order to participate in the survey visit:

and enter your password: AAdddd

If you have any queries or require support completing the survey please contact us at Capita Surveys & Research Unit on 0800 587 3115.

Yours sincerely

Cheryl Kershaw
Director of Surveys and Research
Capita Surveys & Research Unit

What's wrong with this? Many things! Phishing scams are on the increase and are one of the biggest threats to security at the moment. Targeted phishing, or spear phishing, is also on the increase and these surveys could easily fall foul of this type of attack. The survey emails are in a standard format with no personalisation. It appears as a classic phishing email, albeit with better grammar. It would be easy to exploit this 'legitimate' survey to ask for additional personal details. Points to consider:

  1. There is no personalisation – ‘Dear Colleague’
  2. The email doesn’t come from the organisation in question –
  3. The URL does not point to the organisation in question –
  4. There is no contact within the organisation presented in the email for confirmation – contact Capita Surveys & Research Unit on 0800 587 3115
  5. They do not use an EV SSL certificate on their site, only DV – QuoVadis Global SSL ICA certifying that this is, which could be a phishing site for all a user knows, as it isn’t certified to be Capita or Capita Surveys & Research Unit (see post on EV versus DV certificates)
This would be very easy for someone to impersonate, particularly if they register a similar URL, such as and then use masking as well. Users are being conditioned into clicking on links without questioning their validity. All I would have to do is know (or guess) that this organisation conducts surveys of this type from an organisation like this. OK, Capita suggests that organisations publicise the survey, but this isn't always done well and can be used to produce a fake version before the real one goes live.

It gets worse though. When I phoned Capita Surveys, a nice helpful lady called Liz told me who they were currently providing surveys for (I won't give out the organisation names here as that would be irresponsible, but if Capita would like to check with me I can prove this). It would be very easy to quickly knock up a copy of their site with a similar URL and registered SSL Certificate, add in a few extra questions, send those emails and wait for the information to roll in. Well done Capita! They say they take people's security seriously and that answers are secure because they use SSL. However, I would beg to differ.

Capita aren't the only culprit though; I was also recently sent a survey for Microsoft from Mori, which was just as bad. They have to take steps to ensure that their surveys can't be hijacked for targeted attacks. There are anti-phishing technologies and techniques available that, whilst not infallible, would help, so why aren't they used?


  1. Great post! I’m sure you worked really hard on this article and it shows. I agree with a lot of your material. I enjoyed this and I will be back for more.
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