CCE Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Computing and Engineering


Yair Levy

Committee Member

Ling Wang

Committee Member

Laurie Dringus


cyber alerts, cyber threat mitigation, cyber warnings, cybersecurity, phishing, social engineering


Phishing emails present a threat to both personal and organizational data. Phishing is a cyber-attack using social engineering. About 94% of cybersecurity incidents are due to phishing and/or social engineering. A significant volume of prior literature documented that users are continuing to click on phishing links in emails, even after phishing awareness training. It appears there is a strong need for creative ways to alert and warn users to signs of phishing in emails.

The main goal of the experiments in this study was to measure participants’ time for recognizing signs of phishing in emails, thus, reducing susceptibility to phishing in emails on mobile devices. This study included three phases. The first phase included 32 Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) that provided feedback on the top signs of phishing in emails, audio/visual/haptic pairings with the signs of phishing, and developmental constructs toward a phishing alert and warning system. The second phase included a pilot study with five participants to validate a phishing alert and warning system prototype. The third phase included delivery of the Phishing Alert and Warning System, (PAWS Mobile App ™) with 205 participants.

The results of the first phase aligned the constructs for the alert and warning system. A female voice-over warning was chosen by the SMEs as well as visual icon alerts for the top signs of phishing in emails. This study designed, developed, as well as empirically tested the PAWS Mobile App, that alerted and warned participants to the signs of phishing in emails on mobile devices. PAWS displayed a randomized series of 20 simulated emails to participants with varying displays of either no alerts and warnings, or a combination of alerts and warnings. The results indicated audio alerts and visual warnings potentially lower phishing susceptibility in emails. Audio and visual warnings appeared to have assisted the study participants in noticing phishing emails more easily, and in less time than without audio and visual warnings. The results of this study also indicated alerts and warnings assisted participants in noticing distinct signs of phishing in the simulated phishing emails viewed. This study implicates phishing email alerts and warnings applied and configured to email applications may play a significant role in the reduction of phishing susceptibility.