OTTAWA - Many of the Justice Department's finest legal minds are falling prey to a garden-variety Internet scam.

An internal survey shows almost 2,000 staff were conned into clicking on a phoney "phishing" link in their email, raising questions about the security of sensitive information.

The department launched the mock scam in December as a security exercise, sending emails to 5,000 employees to test their ability to recognize cyber fraud.

The emails looked like genuine communications from government or financial institutions, and contained a link to a fake website that was also made to look like the real thing.

Across the globe, an estimated 156 million of these so-called "phishing" emails are sent daily, and anyone duped into clicking on the embedded web link risks transferring confidential information — such as online banking passwords — to criminals.

The Justice Department's mock exercise caught 1,850 people clicking on the phoney embedded links, or 37 per cent of everyone who received the emails.

That's a much higher rate than for the general population, which a federal website says is only about five per cent.

The exercise did not put any confidential information at risk, but the poor results raise red flags about public servants being caught by actual phishing emails.

A spokeswoman says "no privacy breaches have been reported" from any real phishing scams at Justice Canada.

Carole Saindon also said that two more waves of mock emails in February and April show improved results, with clicking rates falling by half.

"This is an awareness campaign designed to inform and educate employees on issues surrounding cyber security to protect the integrity of the department's information systems and in turn better protect Canadians," she said in an email.

"In this case, this exercise specifically dealt with the threat from phishing which is increasingly being used as an attack vehicle of choice by cyber criminals."

"As this project progresses, we are pleased that the effectiveness of this campaign is showing significant improvement."

A February briefing note on the exercise was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The document indicates there are more such exercises planned — in June, August and October — and that the simulations will be "graduating in levels of sophistication."

Those caught by the simulation are notified by a pop-up window, giving them tips on spotting malicious messages.

The federal government's Get Cyber Safe website says about 10 per cent of the 156 million phishing emails globally make it through spam filters each day.

Of those, some eight million are actually opened by the recipient, but only 800,000 click on the links — or about five per cent of those who received the emails.

About 10 per cent of those opening the link are fooled into providing confidential information — which represents a worldwide haul of 80,000 credit-card numbers, bank accounts, passwords and other confidential information every day.

"Don't get phished!," says the federal website, "Phishing emails often look like real emails from a trusted source such as your bank or an online retailer, right down to logos and graphics."

The site says more than one million Canadians have entered personal banking details on a site they don't know, based on surveys.

In late 2012, Justice Canada was embroiled in a major privacy breach when one of its lawyers working at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada was involved in the loss of a USB key.

The key contained unencrypted confidential information about 5,045 Canadians who had appealed disability rulings under the Canada Pension Plan, including their medical condition and SIN numbers. The privacy commissioner is still investigating the breach.

The department has some 5,000 employees, about half of them lawyers.

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  • Clickjacking

    Clickjackers on Facebook entice users to copy and paste text into their browser bar by posting too-good-to-be-true offers and eye-catching headlines. Once the user infects his own computer with the malicious code, the clickjackers can take control of his account, spam his friends and further spread their scam. For example, clickjacking schemes hit Facebook soon after bin Laden's death and spread like wildfire by purporting to offer users a glimpse at <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/04/bin-laden-death-video-hoax_n_857730.html" target="_hplink">video or photos of bin Laden's death</a>.

  • Fake Polls Or Questionnaires

    If you click on an ad or a link that takes you to questionnaire on a site outside Facebook, it's best to close the page. When you complete a fake quiz, you help a scammer earn commission. Sometimes the quiz may ask you to enter your mobile number before you can view your results. If the scammers get your number, they could run up charges on your account.

  • Phishing Schemes

    Phishers go after your credentials (username, password and sometimes more), then take over your profile, and may attempt to gain access to your other online accounts. Phishing schemes can be difficult to spot, especially if the scammers have set up a page that resembles Facebook's login portal.

  • Phony Email Or Message

    <a href="http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=1187" target="_hplink">Facebook warns</a> users to be on the lookout for emails or messages from scammers masquerading as "The Facebook Team" or "Facebook." These messages often suggest "urgent action" and may ask the user to update his account. They frequently contain links to malware sites or virus-ridden attachments. They may even ask for your username and password. The best advice Facebook offers is to report the sender and delete the messages without clicking anything.

  • Money Transfer Scam

    If a friend sent you a desperate-sounding Facebook chat message or wall post asking for an emergency money transfer, you'd want to help, right? Naturally. That's what makes this scam so awful. The point is to get you to wire money to scammers via Western Union or another transfer service.

  • Fake Friend Request

    Not all <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/10/facebook-friend-request-spam_n_821584.html?page=1" target="_hplink">friend requests</a> come from real people, despite Facebook's safeguards against bots. Some Facebook accounts exist purely to establish broad connections for spamming or extracting personal data from users, so watch out whose friend requests you accept.

  • Fake Page Spam

    Malicious pages, groups or event invitations aim to trick the user into performing actions that Facebook considers "abusive." For instance, a fake invite might offer a prize if you forward it to all your friends or post spammy content on their walls. Sometimes a scammer will set up fake pages as a front for a clickjacking or phishing scheme.

  • Rogue Apps

    Malicious apps are pretty common on Facebook these days. They can be a cover for phishing, malware, clickjacking or money transfer schemes. Oftentimes, the apps look convincingly real enough for users to click "Allow," as they would do with a normal Facebook app. However, rogue apps use this permission to spread spam through your network of friends. For example, the recent "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/facebook-closing-accounts-scam-app_n_846737.html" target="_hplink">Facebook Shutdown</a>" scam spread by claiming that Facebook would delete all inactive accounts except those that confirmed via app installation.

  • The Koobface Worm

    The <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koobface" target="_hplink">Koobface worm</a> is getting on in years (it first appeared in late 2008) and has been mostly scrubbed from the site, but Facebook still warns users to look out for it. Koobface spreads across social networks like Facebook via posts containing a link that claims to be an Adobe Flash Player update. Really, the link downloads malware that will infect your computer, hijack your Facebook profile and spam all your friends with its malicious download link. This worm affects mostly Windows users.