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Phishing

More than 90% of successful hacks and data breaches start with phishing scams. Phishing is a threat to every organization across the globe. Get the information you need to prevent attacks.

2019 Phishing Benchmarking Report

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is the process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity using bulk email which tries to evade spam filters.

Emails claiming to be from popular social web sites, banks, auction sites, or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public. It’s a form of criminally fraudulent social engineering.


Short History of Phishing

Phishing is the process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity using bulk email which tries to evade spam filters. Here is a brief history of how the practice of phishing has evolved from the 1980s until now:

 

 1980s

A phishing technique was described in detail in a paper and presentation delivered to the 1987 International HP Users Group, Interex.

 1990s

The first known mention of the term ‘phishing’ was in 1996 in the hacking tool AOHell by a well-known hacker and spammer.

Early Days

This is about the time phishing as we know it started, although the technique wasn't well-known to the average user until almost 10 years later. Phishing scams use spoofed emails, fake websites, etc. as a hook to get people to voluntarily hand over sensitive information. It makes sense that the term “phishing” is commonly used to describe these ploys. Hackers in the early days called themselves ‘phreaks’, referring to the exploration, experimenting and study of telecommunication systems. Phreaks and hackers have always been closely related, and the ‘ph’ spelling linked phishing attacks with these underground communities.

AOL Origins

In 1995, America Online (AOL) was the top internet service provider with millions of visitors logging in every day. Because it was so popular, it was targeted by phreaks and hackers with bad intentions. Since the beginning, hackers and those who traded pirated software used AOL and worked together, forming the warez community. It was this community that eventually made the first moves to conduct phishing attacks.

First Attempts

Phishing attempts started with hackers stealing user passwords and creating random credit card numbers. While lucky hits were few and far between, they made enough money to cause a lot of damage and to keep doing what they were doing. They would open bogus AOL accounts with the random credit card numbers and use those accounts to spam users. AOHell was a Windows application that made this process more automated, released in 1995. AOL put security measures to prevent this practice, shutting down AOHell later in the year.

Phishers then moved on to create a different type of phishing attack, using techniques we still see today. They started sending messages to users, claiming to be AOL employees using AOL’s instant messenger and email systems. A lot of people willingly ‘verified their accounts’ or handed over their billing information to the bad guys. This was an unprecedented attack so people didn’t know what to watch out for, they believed the requests were legitimate.

The problem got even worse when phishers set up AIM accounts to send their phishing messages; the accounts didn’t fall under AOL’s Terms of Service. Eventually, AOL added warnings on all email and instant messenger clients stating "no one working at AOL will ask for your password or billing information". Policy enforcement then forced copyright infringement of off AOL’s servers, and AOL deactivated all phishing accounts and shutting down the warez community.

 2000s

In a lot of ways, phishing hasn’t changed much since early AOL attacks. In 2001, however, phishers began exploiting online payment systems. The first attack was on E-Gold in June 2001, and later in the year a "post-9/11 id check" was carried out soon after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Beginnings of Email Phishing

In 2003, phishers registered dozens of domains that were very similar to eBay and PayPal, and could pass as their legitimate counterparts if you weren't paying close enough attention. Email worm programs sent phishing emails to PayPal customers (containing the fake website links), asking them to update their credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information. Also, the first known phishing attack against a bank was reported by The Banker in September 2003.

By early 2004, phishers were seeing major success for their exploits. It is estimated that between May 2004 and May 2005, approximately 1.2 million computer users in the United States suffered losses caused by phishing, totaling approximately US $929 million. United States businesses were losing about US $2 billion per year to phishing.

Phishers Go Pro

Phishing was officially recognized in 2004 as a fully organized part of the black market. Specialized software emerged on a global scale that could handle phishing payments, which in turn outsourced a huge risk. The software was then implemented into phishing campaigns by organized crime gangs.

Almost half of phishing thefts in 2006 were committed by groups operating through the Russian Business Network based in St. Petersburg. Customers disputed with their banks to recover phishing losses. The UK banking body APACS had the viewpoint that "customers must also take sensible precautions ... so that they are not vulnerable to the criminal." Similarly, when an initial flurry of phishing attacks hit the Irish Republic's banking sector in September 2006, the Bank of Ireland refused to cover customer losses at first, although losses to the tune of €113,000 were eventually made good.

Phishers continued to target customers of banks and online payment services, given early success. Emails claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service have been used to capture sensitive data from U.S. taxpayers, which is still a popular ruse today. While the earliest examples were sent en masse with attackers hoping to get a few lucky strikes, it is reasonable to assume that phishers today can determine which banks their targets use and adjust their campaigns accordingly.

Social networking sites became a prime target of phishing, since the personal details freely shared on those sites can be used in identity theft. In late 2006 a computer worm unleashed on MySpace altered links to direct users to fake websites made to steal login credentials. Experiments have shown a success rate of more than 70% for phishing attacks on social networks.

A report from Gartner in 2007 claimed 3.6 million users lost $3.2 billion in a one year span. However, Microsoft claimed that number was exaggerated, dropping the annual phishing loss in the US to $60 million.

Attackers who broke into TD Ameritrade's database and took 6.3 million email addresses, but to do more damage they also needed account usernames and passwords. With the stolen email list they launched a follow-up spear phishing campaign.

The file sharing service RapidShare was targeted in 2008 by malicious actors who discovered they could open a premium account, thereby removing speed caps on downloads, auto-removal of uploads, waits on downloads, and cool down times between uploads. In a nutshell it made phishing campaigns much easier to execute.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were launched in late 2008, allowing transactions involving malicious software to be secure and anonymous.

In January 2009, a single phishing attack earned cybercriminals US $1.9 million in unauthorized wire transfers through Experi-Metal's online banking accounts.

At the end of 2009, the Anti-Phishing Working Group reported that they received over 115K reported phishing emails from consumers in the 3rd quarter alone, with the US and China hosting more than 25% of the phishing sites each.

 2010s

In March 2011, Internal RSA staff were successfully phished, leading to the master keys for all RSA security tokens being stolen, which were used to break into US defense suppliers.

A Chinese phishing campaign targeted the Gmail accounts of senior officials of the United States and South Korean governments and militaries, as well as Chinese political activists. The Chinese government denied accusations that they were involved in the cyber-attacks, but there is evidence that the People’s Liberation Army has assisted in the coding of cyber-attack software.

In August 2013, advertising platform Outbrain became a victim of spear phishing when the Syrian Electronic Army placed redirects into the websites of The Washington Post, Time, and CNN.

In November 2013, Target suffered a data breach in which 110 million credit card records were stolen from customers, via a phished subcontractor account. Target’s CEO and IT security staff members were subsequently fired.

Between September and December of 2013, Cryptolocker ransomware infected 250,000 personal computers with two different phishing emails. The first had a Zip archive attachment that claimed to be a customer complaint and targeted businesses, the second contained a malicious link with a message regarding a problem clearing a check and targeted the general public. Cryptolocker scrambles and locks files on the computer and requests the owner make a payment in exchange for the key to unlock and decrypt the files. According to Dell SecureWorks, 0.4% or more of those infected paid criminals the ransom.

In January 2014, the Seculert Research Lab identified a new targeted attack that used Xtreme RAT (Remote Access Toolkit). Spear phishing emails targeted Israeli organizations to deploy the advanced malware. 15 machines were compromised - including those belonging to the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria.

In August 2014, iCloud leaked almost 500 private celebrity photos, many containing nudity. It was discovered during the investigation that Ryan Collins accomplished this phishing attack by sending emails to the victims that looked like legitimate Apple and Google warnings, alerting the victims that their accounts may have been compromised and asking for their account details. The victims would enter their password, and Collins gained access to their accounts, downloading emails and iCloud backups.

In September 2014, Home Depot suffered a massive breach, with the personal and credit card data of 100+million shoppers posted for sale on hacking websites.

In November 2014, ICANN employees became victims of spear phishing attacks, and its DNS zone administration system was compromised, allowing the attackers to get zone files and personal data about users in the system, such as their real names, contact information, and salted hashes of their passwords. Using these stolen credentials, the hackers tunneled into ICANN's network and compromised the Centralized Zone Data System (CZDS), their Whois portal and more.

Former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Employee Charles H. Eccleston plead guilty to one count of attempted unauthorized access and intentional damage to a protected computer. His failed spear phishing cyber attack on January 15, 2015 was an attempt to infect the computers of 80 Department of Energy employees in hopes of receiving information he could then sell.

Members of Bellingcat, a group of journalists researching the shoot down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, were targeted by several spear phishing emails. The messages were phony Gmail security notices containing Bit.ly and TinyCC shortened URLs. According to ThreatConnect, some of the phishing emails had originated from servers that Fancy Bear had used in other attacks previously. Bellingcat is best known for accusing Russia of being culpable for the shoot down of MH17, and is frequently ridiculed in the Russian media.

In August 2015, another sophisticated hacking group attributed to the Russian Federation, nicknamed Cozy Bear, was linked to a spear phishing attack against the Pentagon email system, shutting down the unclassified email system used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff office.

In August 2015, Fancy Bear used a zero-day exploit of Java, spoofing the Electronic Frontier Foundation and launched attacks against the White House and NATO. The hackers used a spear phishing attack, directing emails to the fraudulent url electronicfrontierfoundation.org.

Fancy Bear launched a spear phishing campaign against email addresses associated with the Democratic National Committee in the first quarter of 2016. The hackers were quiet on April 15, which in Russia happens to be a holiday honoring their military's electronic warfare services. Cozy Bear also had activity in the DNC's servers around the same time. The two groups seemed to be unaware of each other, as each separately stole the same passwords, essentially duplicating their efforts. Cozy Bear appears to be a separate agency more interested in traditional long-term espionage.

Fancy Bear is suspected to be behind a spear phishing attack on members of the Bundestag and other German political entities in August 2016. Authorities worried that sensitive information could be used by hackers to influence the public ahead of elections.

In August 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency reported a phishing attack against their users, claiming to be official WADA communications requesting their login details. The registration and hosting information for the two domains provided by WADA pointed to Fancy Bear.

Within hours of the 2016 U.S. election results, Russian hackers sent emails containing corrupt zip files from spoofed Harvard University email addresses. Russians used phishing techniques to publish fake news stories targeted at American voters.

In 2017, 76% of organizations experienced phishing attacks. Nearly half of information security professionals surveyed said that the rate of attacks had increased since 2016.

A massive phishing scam tricked Google and Facebook accounting departments into wiring money – a total of over $100 million – to overseas bank accounts under the control of a hacker. He has since been arrested by the US Department of Justice.

In August 2017, Amazon customers experienced the Amazon Prime Day phishing attack, in which hackers sent out seemingly legitimate deals. When Amazon’s customers tried to purchase the ‘deals’, the transaction would not be completed, prompting the retailer’s customers to input data that could be compromised and stolen.

Between January-August 2017, 191 serious health care privacy security breaches were reported to the Office of Civil rights reporting site (OCR) as required by US federal law under its HIPAA Breach notification Rule. The law requires that the Secretary of HHS as well as patients be notified within 60 days. If a breach occurs that affects the privacy of 500 or more patients the local media must be informed in their state and the health care entity must post a description of the incident and remedies publicly.

Equifax publicly announced a disastrous data breach in September 2017, compromising the personal information of about 143 million U.S. consumers. Because a big credit bureau tracks so much confidential information like social security numbers, full names, addresses, birth dates, and even drivers licenses and credit card numbers for some, this is a phishing attack nightmare waiting to happen. 

The September 2017 Webroot Quarterly Threat Trends Report showed that 1.385 million new, unique phishing sites are created each month. This report is based on threat intelligence data derived from the industry's most advanced machine learning techniques, ensuring it's both timely and accurate. 

Potential attendees for the 2017 International Conference on Cyber Conflict were targeted by at least one decoy document designed to resemble a CyCon U.S. flier, but which includes malware that's been previously used by the Fancy Bear hacker group, aka APT28.  

A Google study released in November 2017 found that phishing victims are 400 times more likely to have their account hijacked than a random Google user, a figure that falls to 10 times for victims of a data breach. Phishing is much more dangerous because they capture the same details that Google uses in its risk assessment when users login, such as victim's geolocation, secret questions, phone numbers, and device identifiers. 

In November of 2017, Kazakhstan-born Canadian citizen Karim Baratov pleaded guilty to the massive 2014 Yahoo hack that affected three billion accounts and admitted to helping the Russian intelligence.

PhishLabs published new analysis in December 2017 showing that phishers have been adopting HTTPS more and more often on their sites. When you get a phishing email or text, the sites they lead to—that try to trick you into entering credentials, personal information, and so on—implement web encryption about 24 percent of the time now, PhishLabs found. That's up from less than three percent at the same time last year, and less than one percent two years ago." The green padlock gives consumers a false sense of security. All it really does is indicate that traffic between the server and the user's browser is encrypted and protected against interception. Don't assume that any page that has HTTPS contains legitimate and authentic content!

Wombat Security Technologies' annual State of the Phish research report found that 76% of organizations experienced phishing attacks in 2017. There was an 80% increase in reports of malware infections, account compromise and data loss related to phishing attacks over 2016. The data also revealed smishing (SMS/text message phishing) as an emerging threat: 45% of infosec professionals reported experiencing phishing via phone calls (vishing) and smishing.

Cryptomining overtook ransomware as a tool of choice for extorting money online in December 2017 according to Check Point's Global Threat Index. Phishing is unsurprisingly the most used infection vector for this type of attack.

In December 2017, production of AI-assisted fake porn has “exploded,” reported Motherboard. Thousands of people are doing it, and the results are ever more difficult to spot as fakes. Cybercriminals will have a field day with this technology and attempt to manipulate innocent people and shock them to click on a video link in a phishing email in order to prevent possibly very negative consequences if co-workers, friends and family might "find out, or might see".

A phishing campaign targeting organizations associated with the 2018 Winter Olympics was the first to use PowerShell tool called Invoke-PSImage that allows attackers to hide malicious scripts in the pixels of otherwise benign-looking image files, and later execute them directly from memory. Not only does hiding the script inside an image file help it evade detection, executing it directly from memory is a fileless technique that generally won't get picked up by traditional antivirus solutions. This attack is another troubling example of how attacks are evolving away from using malicious .exe's.

A trend In phishing called conversation hijacking was seen in February 2018. With this new technique, hackers insert themselves into email conversations between parties known to and trusted by one another. Once in, they exploit that trust to trick users to launch an executable. Variations of this scheme are very difficult to detect and beat. 

Under Armour's health and fitness-tracking app, MyFitnessPal, was hit by a data breach in March of 2018. According to the company the breach affected roughly 150 million users, making them all phishing targets.

Later in March of 2018, researchers at Check Point and CyberInt discovered a new generation of phishing kit readily available on the Dark Web to cybercriminals. The kit enables users to craft convincing emails and redirect sites that closely mimic branding elements of well-known firms and launch a phishing campaign that collects the personal and financial information of unsuspecting consumers, very quickly.

The notorious Necurs botnet adopted a retro trick to make itself more evasive and less likely to have its phishing intercepted by traditional av filters. The emails have an archive file attachment made to look like a voice mail message you have missed.

A white hat hacker developed an exploit that breaks LinkedIn 2-factor authentication and was published on GitHub in May of 2018. See the video that shows how the exploit is based on a credentials phishing attack that uses a typo-squatting domain.

According to a federal court decision, an employee who is tricked into sharing personal information in response to a phishing email can be seen as committing an intentional disclosure under the North Carolina Identity Theft Protection Act (NCITPA). Global manufacturing firm Schletter, Inc. found out the hard way in a class-action suit filed after an employee of the organization fell victim to a CEO Fraud W-2 phishing email. The court reasoned that the data disclosure was intentional and therefore allowed the employees filing the lawsuit to seek treble damages from Schletter.

Marketing firm Exactis leaked a database with 340 million personal data records in June of 2018. Close to two terabytes of data goes into minute detail for each individual listed, including phone numbers, home addresses, email addresses, and other highly personal characteristics for every name.

Cybercriminals are using internationalized domain names (IDN) to register domain names with characters other than Basic Latin.  For every 1 top global brand, threat intelligence vendor Farsight Security found nearly 20 fake domains registered, with 91% of them offering some kind of web page. Phishing emails containing these domains are very convincing and hard to detect. 

Payroll phishing is always a tax season favorite for cybercriminals, but new campaigns are seen year round with a request to HR for C-level employee pay stubs and wage statements.

A sextortion phishing campaign seen in July 2018 was the first to use recipient's actual hacked passwords in the emails to convince people that the hacking threat is real. Given the sheer volume of hacked and stolen personal data now available online, this is a big threat to watch out for in 2018.

A Lookout report published in July of 2018 showed that the rate at which users are falling victim to mobile phishing attacks has increased 85% every year since 2011, and that 25% of employees click on links found in text messages. Facebook messenger is another medium used.

Massive SharePoint phishing attack on Office 365 users links to SharePoint Online-based URLS, which adds credibility and legitimacy to the email and link. Users are then shown a OneDrive prompt with an "Access Document" hyperlink that is actually a malicious URL that if clicked, brings them to an Office 365 logon screen where the cybercriminals harvest the user’s credentials.

The Turla threat group, certainly Russian-speaking and widely attributed to Russian intelligence services, started using a new phishing technique in August 2018. The threat actor is distributing emails whose payloads, malicious pdf files, install a stealthy backdoor and exfiltrate data via email.

Researchers at FireEye examined over half-a-billion emails sent between January and June 2018 and found that one in 101 emails are classed as outright malicious, sent with the goal of compromising a user or network. 

The Anti-Phishing Working Group's (APWG) Q1 2018 phishing trends report highlights: Over 11,000 phishing domains were created in Q1, the total number of phishing sites increased 46% over Q4 2017 and the use of SSL certificates on phishing sites continues to increase to lull visitors into a false sense of security and site legitimacy.

Trustwave, a provider of ethical hacking services, released Social Mapper in August 2018 – it's a tool that uses facial recognition to identify associated social media accounts for an individual. While Trustwave is using this technology to improve the security of their customers, they point out how facial recognition could be used by cybercriminals to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of phishing scams. Examples include using actual profile pictures in phishing emails, creating fake social media profiles, and doxing potential victim’s social media accounts.

According to RSA’s Quarterly Fraud Report: Q2 201841% of successful online, e-commerce and mobile fraud attacks are enabled by phishing scams. Cybercriminals leveraging phishing scams to obtain banking credentials, credit card details, and even control over mobile devices in an effort to commit fraud.

The GRU, the Russian military intelligence spy agency which was responsible for the 2016 election cyber attacks, began targeting the U.S. Senate and conservative groups in August 2018 prior to midterm elections. Microsoft took down six internet domains spoofing legitimate websites, which marked the early stages of spear-phishing attacks intended to compromise political operatives working for or around the targeted organizations.

The Turla threat group, widely attributed to Russian intelligence services, is back with a new phishing technique. The threat actor is distributing emails whose payloads, malicious pdf files, install a stealthy backdoor. To date, it's the only known case of malware that's completely controllable via email. 

In August of 2018 Google reiterated its warnings of phishing attacks coming from a few dozen foreign governments. Google’s concern revolves around governments attempting to con users out of their Google password – giving them access to countless services including email, the G Suite, cloud-based file data, and more.

A mobile phishing campaign reported in August 2018 involved an internationalized domain name (IDN) "homograph-based" phishing website that tricked mobile users into inputting their personal information. The websites presented as commercial airline carriers and offered free tickets, fooling users with the age-old bait-and-switch technique.

Only 40% of business phishing scams contain links, according to a recently released report from Barracuda Networks in which the security vendor analyzed over 3,000 Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks. These attacks leverage company email purporting to be someone within the organization, and have one of four objectives in mind: Establish rapport, Get the recipient to click a malicious link, Steal personally identifiable information or Obtain a Wire Transfer.

Cybercriminals are no longer resorting to shotgun blast-type mass attacks in the hopes someone will fall victim; they are doing their homework, choosing victims, coming up with targeted and contextual campaigns, and executing their plans. And, from the looks of the data found in ProofPoint’s September 2018 report, Protecting People: A Quarterly Analysis of Highly Targeted Attacks, the cybercriminals are stepping up their game. Malicious email volume rose 35% over last quarter, Targeted companies experienced 25% more email fraud attacks than last quarter, and 85% more than the same quarter last year.

A new academic study published in September 2018 reveals that Android-based password managers have a hard time distinguishing between legitimate and fake applications, leading to easy phishing scenarios. Android versions of Keeper, Dashlane, LastPass, and 1Password were found to be vulnerable and have prompted the user to autofill credentials on fake apps during tests. Researchers found that Google's Smart Lock app did not fall for this fake package name trick, and the reason was because it used a system named Digital Asset Links to authenticate and connect apps to a particular online service.

KnowBe4 released Domain Doppelgänger in September of 2018. This free tool identifies the look-alike domains associated with your corporate domain. These are a dangerous vector for phishing and other social engineering attacks, so you want to know if any potentially harmful domains can spoof your domain.

In October of 2018 we saw the growth of a cleverly crafted phishing campaign aimed at employees of public school districts and small colleges, including community colleges. In this campaign the bad guys flood educational organizations with emails purporting to be from a senior figure. These malicious emails typically announce new policies governing employee conduct or a renewed focus in the organization on proper, ethical professional behavior. These malicious emails deliver attachments -- both Word docs and PDF documents that require users to click through to slickly designed external web pages inviting them to cough up their login credentials.

A malicious group known as the “Inception” attackers has been using a year-old Office exploit and a new backdoor in recent attacks. Active since at least 2014, the group has used custom malware and against targets spanning various industries worldwide, with a special interest in Russia. In October 2018, the threat actor was observed hitting various European targets in attacks employing an exploit for a vulnerability (CVE-2017-11882) that Microsoft patched in November 2017. Furthermore, the hackers were using a new PowerShell backdoor dubbed POWERSHOWER, which revealed high attention to detail in terms of cleaning up after infection.

Microsoft recently announced a big update to their Microsoft Office 365 (O365) anti-phishing technical capabilities. According to Microsoft, their “miss phish catch rate” is down to near zero, beating all other O365 anti-phish competitors by orders of magnitude.

RSA’s Q3 Fraud Report  released in November of 2018 shows a 70% rise in phishing attack volume making phishing the number 1 attack method for financial fraud attacks. This increase highlights the simplicity and effectiveness of phishing (via email, phone call or SMS text, according to the report). The work necessary to fool an individual – given the ability for attackers to hit millions of email recipients at once – is minimal when compared to the financial take on the other end of the scam.

Russian banks were being targeted by sophisticated phishing emails in November 2018, something that doesn't happen too often. The phishing emails purported to come from the Central Bank of Russia (CBR), according to a report by Group-IB. The emails contained malicious attachments that delivered a tool used by the Silence hacker group and were nearly identical to official CBR correspondence. Fortunately, the emails did not pass DKIM validation, so their effectiveness was somewhat stunted. A  month earlier, another group known as “MoneyTaker” targeted Russian banks with phishing emails supposedly from Russia’s Financial Sector Computer Emergency Response Team (FinCERT). These emails also contained attachments that imitated official CBR documents and triggered a download for the Meterpreter Stager.

Data from PhishLabs shows that 49% of all phishing sites in third quarter 2018 had the padlock icon many users look for as a sign of a secure and legitimate website. This is up 25% from a year ago. Since a majority of users take “look for the lock” to heart, this new finding is significant. 80% of the respondents to a PhishLabs survey believed the lock indicated a safe website.

One of the distribution models for ransomware that is gaining popularity is the use of an affiliate network of attackers. The creators of the latest iteration of this model, FilesLocker, are looking for affiliate organizations and individuals with proven track records of distributing ransomware via phishing, social engineering, or other methods, specifying that affiliates must meet an infection minimum of 10 per day. Affiliates can expect anywhere from 60-75% of the ransoms generated through their actions.

Kaspersky Lab blocked 137 million phishing attempts in the third quarter of 2018, a 28 percent increase compared to Q2 2018. A report by the anti-virus company reveals that phishing attacks targeted 12% of Kaspersky’s customers around the world. More than a third of the attacks were directed at financial targets, including banks, electronic payment systems, and online stores. The report’s findings are consistent with a global increase in phishing over the past several years. Kaspersky Lab’s anti-phishing system blocked 154 million phishing attempts in 2016 and 246 million attempts in 2017. Both numbers have already been far surpassed in the first three quarters of 2018, with this year’s prevented attacks reaching well over 300 million.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) was hacked during the 2018 midterm elections, according to a report from Politico. Republican officials said that hackers had access to four senior NRCC aides’ email accounts for “several months,” until a security firm discovered the intrusion in April. The NRCC launched an internal investigation and alerted the FBI, but it did not inform any Republican legislators until this week.

Researchers discovered over 1,150 new HTTPS phishing sites over the course of one day, not including the plethora of the malicious HTTP phishing URLs that we already know exist meaning a new secure phishing site goes up every two minutes. "Seeing a padlock in the URL bar used to be a reliable safety check but because the vast majority of websites now use encryption, hackers are also ‘securing’ their sites to lure victims into a false sense of security,” researchers said in a SC Media exclusive. “These days, there is no real barrier to entry for getting an SSL certificate, which means it’s incredibly simple for hackers to obtain them while keeping their tracks covered. Some certificate issuers are even offering SSL certificates without requiring payments or genuine personal identifiable information needing to exchange hands. Threat actors are also using domain control validation, in which only the control of the subject has been verified, to hide their identity."

In January of 2019, researchers at Proofpoint discovered a phishing template that uses a unique method for encoding text using web fonts. They found that the source code of the landing page contained encoded text, but the browser unexpectedly renders it as cleartext.

A three-year-long cyber-attack led to the successful breach of all communications between all EU member states in January 2019, putting countries and their futures at risk. The EU’s diplomatic network is a secure means by which member states can exchange some of the world’s most sensitive information – literally having impacts on a geopolitical scale. A report by antiphishing vendor Area 1 Security highlights the attack targeting this network, attributing it to the Strategic Support Force (SSF) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China.

Phishing campaigns during the partial U.S. government shut down in January 2019 caused widespread confusion over whether the IRS will be sufficiently operational to process tax returns and issue refunds. First, amidst a more general increase in vishing, users' inboxes were flooded with ominous warnings about alleged voice mails from the IRS. Second, as in previous years malicious actors were targeting accounting firms and legal practices that specialize in tax matters, pretending to be new clients looking for help with tax preparation and related issues. While the goal of these phishing emails is often to draw targeted employees into a back-and-forth that provides a pretext for malicious actors to hit potential marks with malicious Office documents that often install sophisticated backdoor trojans, in some cases the bad guys do not wait, offering up malicious links and attachments in the initial email.

Phishing is moving beyond the Inbox to your online experience in an effort to collect personal details and share out the attack on social networks, according to a new report from Akamai Enterprise Threat ResearchAccording to Akamai, phishing campaigns like these “outperform” traditional campaigns with higher victim counts due to the social sharing aspect (which makes it feel like your friend on social media endorses the quiz, etc). These are currently focused on the consumer, but it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see this targeting business email.

According to Cybersecurity Ventures’ 2019 Official Annual Cybercrime Report released in January 2019, we should expect to see Ransomware attacks step up in frequency and cost. In 2016, Kaspersky Labs estimated the frequency of ransomware attacks to occur once every 40 seconds. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts this will rise to once every 14 seconds in 2019. In addition, the total cost of ransomware attacks is rising as well. According to the report, the total cost of ransomware in 2018 is estimated to be $8 billion, and will rise in 2019 to over $11.5 billion.

Proofpoint’s 2019 State of the Phish report shows that organizations are feeling the heat of phishing like never before – and feeling its’ impact as well. According to the report, all types of phishing attacks in 2018 occurred more frequently than in 2017. 96% of organizations said the rate of phishing attacks either increased or stayed consistent throughout the year, IT professionals experiencing spear phishing jumped nearly 21%, USB-based Social Engineering attacks experienced jumped 25%, Vishing and smishing increased by 9% and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

On Jan. 22, 2019, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), issued Emergency Directive 19-01 titled Mitigate DNS Infrastructure Tampering. A series of actions are required for federal agencies, and here is the background:To address the significant and imminent risks to agency information and information systems presented by hacker activity, this emergency directive requires the following near-term actions to mitigate risks from undiscovered tampering, enable agencies to prevent illegitimate DNS activity for their domains, and detect unauthorized certificates 

Gift card phishing campaigns have been growing since 2018 and the bad guys are actively adapting and evolving their pitch. They are getting much better at establishing a credible pretext (ie "incentives" for staff), explicitly request confidentiality, they're getting really greedy -- $4000 total in gift cards, the largest request we've yet seen, and they are incentivizing the entire scheme by offering the recipient a bribe ("take one for yourself"), a ploy which, in a way, seeks to turn the email recipient into a co-conspirator.

Cyren came out with a new report in Jan 2019 where they summarized a 2-year Email Security Gap Analysis study. They engaged with a diverse set of organizations through its program to assess the effectiveness of their current, live email security infrastructures. This report summarizes the results from a cross-section of 15 such engagements conducted in 2018, in which Cyren examined 2.7 million emails that were classified as clean by their existing email security systems and delivered to user mailboxes. Every email was also copied to Cyren for analysis. Of this total, 7.2% were found to be spam, phishing and malware.

A devilishly ingenious vishing scam seen in February 2019 plays on your user’s familiarity with business voicemail, seeking to compromise online credentials without raising concerns. Many organizations have their PBX system integrated with email; miss a call and the recording pops into your Inbox. Nothing inappropriate with this scenario. But, that’s exactly what scammers are hoping you’ll think when your users receive their email pretending to be an internal voicemail notification. Using subjects such as Voice:Message, Voice Delivery Report, or PBX Message, these emails contain another email as the attachment (to avoid detection by email scanning security solutions) containing the actual phish.

Sextortion scam emails continue to circulate which claim that a popular adult site has been hacked, allowing an attacker to record videos of users through their webcams. The attacker claims that these videos will be sent to all of the victim’s contacts unless the victim pays around $969 in Bitcoin. Some of the emails contain links, supposedly leading to sample videos of the victim as proof of the attacker’s claims.

Criminals are still using hijacked GoDaddy domains to launch spam campaigns, despite GoDaddy taking steps to address the authentication flaw exploited by the attackers. The spammers had realized that they could add domains to their GoDaddy accounts without proving that they owned the domains. A large-scale campaign using the hijacked domains to distribute phishing emails laden with GandCrab ransomware was observed in February of 2019.

A new phishing scam uses Google Translate to hide a spoofed logon page when asking a user for their Google credentials. The user is sent a supposed Google Security Alert about a new device accessing their Google account with a “Consult the Activity” button to find out more. The user is then taken to a spoofed Google logon page. The cybercriminals use Google Translate to display the page, filling up the URL bar and obfuscating the malicious domain.

As the story broke about the charges against former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist who defected to Iran and support targeted hacking against some of her former colleagues, one clear takeaway stood out: even U.S. intelligence officers can fall victim to basic phishing schemes.

According to Danny Palmer at ZDNet: "A cyber espionage campaign is targeting national security think tanks and academic institutions in the US in what's believed to be an intelligence gathering operation by a hacking group working out of North Korea. A series of spear-phishing attacks using fake emails with malicious attachments attempts to deliver a new family of malware, dubbed BabyShark. The campaign started in November and remained active at least into the new year.

New 'NoRelationship' attack bypasses Office 365 email attachment security by editing the relationship files that are included with Office documents. A relationship file is an XML file that contains a list of essential components in the document, such as font tables, settings, and external links. A number of popular email filters only scan the links contained in the relationship file, rather than scanning the entire document. Attackers can remove the links from a document’s relationship file, but they will still be active in the actual document. Avanan has the full story.

A phishing campaign is using a phony Google reCAPTCHA system to deliver banking malware was observed in February 2019 by researchers at Sucuri. The attackers are sending emails, supposedly from a Polish bank, telling users to confirm an unknown transaction. Recipients that click the link get to a spoofed 404 error page. PHP code then replicates a reCAPTCHA using HTML and JavaScript to trick victims into thinking the site is real. The PHP code then either downloads a .zip dropper or an .apk file, depending on which device the victim is using.

Scams seeking to harvest online credentials have long tried to replicate known logon pages. But this newly found instance is just about perfect.Researchers at security vendor Myki found a website purporting to use Facebook for sign-on, but are instead providing an exact HTML copy of the logon page.

A growing percentage of cyberattacks are using encryption to avoid detection, according to a March 2019 report by Zscaler’s ThreatLabZ researchers. Last year, Zscaler’s platform detected and blocked 2.7 million encrypted phishing attacks per month. It also found that 32% of newly-registered, potentially malicious domains were using SSL certificates. In total, Zscaler blocked 1.7 billion attacks executed over SSL between July and December of 2018.

New details from international security company Group-IB’s Computer Forensic Lab shows how cybercriminals are no longer looking to just steal from one bank. Instead they chain their phishing attacks to improve their chances of success. One of the reasons, according to the report, is that Russian banks are easy targets: 74% of banks weren’t ready for an attack, 80% have no logging depth to investigate an attack and 70% have insufficient staff to investigate infections or attacks.

Microsoft’s latest Security Intelligence Report highlights the trends seen in 2018 with phishing as the preferred attack method and supply chains as a primary attack target. Microsoft saw a 250% rise in phishing attacks over the course of 2018, delivering malicious zero-day payloads to users. Microsoft admits that this rise has caused them to work to “harden against these attacks” signaling the attacks are becoming more sophisticated, evasive, and effective.

A December 2018 report from antivirus firm McAfee, a new campaign dubbed “Operation Sharpshooter” is showing signs of going global, demonstrating a concerted effort to hit organizations in industries including nuclear, defense, energy and financial groups.  malicious source code is implanted into endpoints using a phishing attack disguised as legitimate industry job recruitment activity. The malicious code, 'Rising Sun' has source code that links it back to the Lazarus Group – a cybercriminal organization believed to be based out of North Korea that was responsible for the 2014 cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The latest report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) 3rd Quarter Phishing Activity Trends Report  highlights the prevalence of phishing and how it’s changing to remain an effective attack method. Highlights this quarter include: Unique phishing reports has remained steady from Q2 to Q3, Payment processing firms remained the most-targeted companies, Phishing attacks hosted on secure sites continues its steady increase since 2015 and phishing attacks are using redirectors both prior to the phishing site landing page and following the submission of credentials to obfuscate detection via web server log referrer field monitoring. So how can organizations protect themselves? Expect phishing to continue and ensure all layers of protection, including security awareness training for users, is in place.

Three Romanian citizens have pleaded guilty to carrying out vishing and smishing schemes worth $21 million that used recorded messages and cellphone texts to trick thousands of people into revealing their social security numbers and bank account information, federal authorities said. The men stored the stolen PII on the compromised computers. The pilfered data was accessed by two of the suspects who then sold or used the information with the help of the third participant.

A new phishing campaign in March of 2019 spreads malware through emails that claim to have Bitcoin investment updates, according to My Online Security. The emails direct the victim to download an attachment, which is an [.]iso file with a fake file extension. The malware is thought to be a new Bitcoin currency stealer, although it’s difficult to tell exactly what it does because it appears to have anti-analysis capabilities.

Microsoft took control of 99 phishing domains operated by Iranian state hackers. The domains had been used as part of spear-phishing campaigns aimed at users in the US and across the world. Court documents unsealed in March 2019 revealed that Microsoft has been waging a secret battle against a group of Iranian government-sponsored hackers. The OS maker sued and won a restraining order that allowed it to take control of 99 web domains that had been previously owned and operated by a group of Iranian hackers known in cyber-security circles as APT35, Phosphorus, Charming Kitten, and the Ajax Security Team.

Lower-level employees are the workers most likely to face highly-targeted attacks, according to the online marketing firm Reboot. Citing information from Proofpoint’s most recent quarterly analysis of highly-targeted cyberattacks, Reboot says that 67% of these attacks are launched against low-ranking employees. Contributors come in second, experiencing 40% of targeted attacks. Management and upper management both face 27% of these attacks.

Businesses and consumers see more than 1.2 million phishing attacks each year, as hackers use the effective social engineering attacks to con employees into clicking a malicious link or attachment. Despite how widely known and damaging these attacks can be, companies still fail to adequately prevent them from happening, according to a Friday report from Valimail. Furthermore, the vast majority—90%—of large tech companies remain unprotected from impersonation (CEO Fraud) attacks, the report found.


Phishing Techniques

There are a number of different techniques used to obtain personal information from users. As technology becomes more advanced, the cybercriminals' techniques being used are also more advanced.

To prevent Internet phishing, users should have knowledge of how the bad guys do this and they should also be aware of anti-phishing techniques to protect themselves from becoming victims.

Spear Phishing

Think of spear phishing as professional phishing. Classic phishing campaigns send mass emails to as many people as possible, but spear phishing is much more targeted. The hacker has either a certain individual(s) or organization they want to compromise and are after more valuable info than credit card data. They do research on the target in order to make the attack more personalized and increase their chances of success. 

Session Hijacking

In session hijacking, the phisher exploits the web session control mechanism to steal information from the user. In a simple session hacking procedure known as session sniffing, the phisher can use a sniffer to intercept relevant information so that he or she can access the Web server illegally.

Email/Spam

Using the most common phishing technique, the same email is sent to millions of users with a request to fill in personal details. These details will be used by the phishers for their illegal activities. Most of the messages have an urgent note which requires the user to enter credentials to update account information, change details, or verify accounts. Sometimes, they may be asked to fill out a form to access a new service through a link which is provided in the email.

Content Injection

Content injection is the technique where the phisher changes a part of the content on the page of a reliable website. This is done to mislead the user to go to a page outside the legitimate website where the user is then asked to enter personal information.

Web Based Delivery

Web based delivery is one of the most sophisticated phishing techniques. Also known as “man-in-the-middle,” the hacker is located in between the original website and the phishing system. The phisher traces details during a transaction between the legitimate website and the user. As the user continues to pass information, it is gathered by the phishers, without the user knowing about it.

Phishing through Search Engines

Some phishing scams involve search engines where the user is directed to product sites which may offer low cost products or services. When the user tries to buy the product by entering the credit card details, it’s collected by the phishing site. There are many fake bank websites offering credit cards or loans to users at a low rate but they are actually phishing sites.

Link Manipulation

Link manipulation is the technique in which the phisher sends a link to a fake website. When the user clicks on the deceptive link, it opens up the phisher’s website instead of the website mentioned in the link. Hovering the mouse over the link to view the actual address stops users from falling for link manipulation.

Vishing (Voice Phishing)

In phone phishing, the phisher makes phone calls to the user and asks the user to dial a number. The purpose is to get personal information of the bank account through the phone. Phone phishing is mostly done with a fake caller ID.

Keyloggers

Keyloggers refer to the malware used to identify inputs from the keyboard. The information is sent to the hackers who will decipher passwords and other types of information. To prevent key loggers from accessing personal information, secure websites provide options to use mouse clicks to make entries through the virtual keyboard.

Smishing (SMS Phishing)

Phishing conducted via Short Message Service (SMS), a telephone-based text messaging service. A smishing text, for example, attempts to entice a victim into revealing personal information via a link that leads to a phishing website.

Trojan

A Trojan horse is a type of malware designed to mislead the user with an action that looks legitimate, but actually allows unauthorized access to the user account to collect credentials through the local machine. The acquired information is then transmitted to cybercriminals.

Malware

Phishing scams involving malware require it to be run on the user’s computer. The malware is usually attached to the email sent to the user by the phishers. Once you click on the link, the malware will start functioning. Sometimes, the malware may also be attached to downloadable files.

Malvertising

Malvertising is malicious advertising that contains active scripts designed to download malware or force unwanted content onto your computer. Exploits in Adobe PDF and Flash are the most common methods used in malvertisements.

Ransomware

Ransomware denies access to a device or files until a ransom has been paid. Ransomware for PC's is malware that gets installed on a user’s workstation using a social engineering attack where the user gets tricked in clicking on a link, opening an attachment, or clicking on malvertising.

Website Forgery

Forged websites are built by hackers made to look exactly like legitimate websites. The goal of website forgery is to get users to enter information that could be used to defraud or launch further attacks against the victim.

 Domain Spoofing

One example is CEO fraud and similar attacks. The victim gets an email that looks like it's coming from the boss or a colleague, with the attacker asking for things like W-2 information or funds transfers. We have a free domain spoof test to see if your organization is vulnerable to this technique. 

Evil Twin Wi-Fi

Hackers use devices like a pineapple - a tool used by hackers containing two radios to set up their own wi-fi network. They will use a popular name like AT&T Wi-Fi, which is pretty common in a lot of public places. If you're not paying attention and access the network controlled by hackers, they can intercept any info you may enter in your session like banking data. 

Social Engineering

Users can be manipulated into clicking questionable content for many different technical and social reasons. For example, a malicious attachment might at first glance look like an invoice related to your job. Hackers count on victims not thinking twice before infecting the network. 


Top-Clicked Phishing Emails

Curious about what users are actually clicking on? Every quarter we release which subjects users click on the most!

Every quarter, KnowBe4 reports on the top-clicked phishing emails by subject lines in three categories: Social, General, and 'In the Wild'.  The first two sections rank email subjects related to social media and general emails. That data comes from millions of phishing tests our customers run per year. 'In The Wild' attacks are the most common email subjects we receive from our customers by employees clicking the Phish Alert Button on real phishing emails and allowing our team to analyze the results. The most recent results reveal LinkedIn-related messages to be the most popular in the social media category. Click below to see the full infographic, and see the full post here. Sharing this info with your users is a great way to keep them updated on the types of attacks their peers are currently falling for.

Q2-2019-Image-for-Phishing-Page

KnowBe4 Q2 2019 Top-Clicked Social Phishing Email Subjects


Phishing Examples

Classic Phishing Email

Over the past few years online service providers have been stepping up their security game by messaging customers when they detect unusual or worrisome activity on their users' accounts. Not surprisingly, the bad guys are using this to their advantage. Many are designed poorly with bad grammar, etc. but others look legitimate enough for someone to click if they weren't paying close attention:

Consider this fake Paypal security notice warning potential marks of "unusual log in activity" on their accounts. Hovering over the links would be enough to stop you from ending up on a credentials stealing web site. The first example is a fake Microsoft notice, almost identical in appearance to an actual notice from Microsoft concerning "Unusual sign-in activity". The second example email points users to a phony 1-800 number instead of kicking users to a credentials phish.

Paypal Phishing Security NoticeMalicious Windows Warning Email


Infected Attachments

Malicious .HTML attachments aren't seen as often as .JS or .DOC file attachments, but they are desirable for a couple of reasons. First, there is a low chance of antivirus detection since .HTML files are not commonly associated with email-borne attacks. Second, .HTML attachments are commonly used by banks and other financial institutions so people are used to seeing them in their inboxes. Here are a few examples of credential phishes we've seen using this attack vector.

Google Credentials Phish

Fake Adobe Login

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Malicious macros in phishing emails have become an increasingly common way of delivering ransomware in the past year. These documents too often get past antivirus programs with no problem. The phishing emails contain a sense of urgency for the recipient and as you can see in the below screenshot, the documents step users through the process. If users fail to enable the macros, the attack is unsuccessful.

Macro Warning Screenshot

 

Social Media Exploits

Several Facebook users received messages in their Messenger accounts from other users already familiar to them. The message consisted of a single .SVG (Scaleable Vector Graphic) image file which, notably, bypassed Facebook's file extensions filter. Users who clicked the file to open it were redirected to a spoofed Youtube page that prompted users to install two Chrome extensions allegedly needed to view the (non-existent) video on the page. 

              Malicious Facebook SVG Message                Spoofed YouTube Site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For most users, the two Chrome extensions were used to allow the malware a limited degree of self-propagation by exploiting the "browser's access to your Facebook account in order to secretly message all your Facebook friends with the same SVG image file."

On some users' PCs the embedded Javascript also downloaded and launched Nemucod [PDF], a trojan downloader with a long history of pulling down a wide variety of malicious payloads on compromised PCs. Users unlucky enough to encounter this version of the malicious script saw their PCs being taken hostage by Locky ransomware.


LinkedIn has been the focus of online scams and phishing attacks for a number of years now, primarily because of the wealth of data it offers on employees at corporations. Malicious actors mine that data to identify potential marks for business email compromise attacks, including wire transfer and W-2 social engineering scams, as well as a number of other creative ruses. Here are some examples we've seen through KnowBe4's Phish Alert Button:

In one case a user reported receiving a standard Wells Fargo credentials phish through LinkedIn's InMail:

LinkedIn InMail Phish

Note that this particular InMail appears to have originated from a fake Wells Fargo account. The supplied link leads to a fairly typical credentials phish (hosted on a malicious domain since taken down):

Wells Fargo LinkedIn Phishing Scam
It looks like the bad guys set up a fake Wells Fargo profile in an attempt to appear more authentic.

Another similar phish was delivered to an email account outside of LinkedIn:

LinkedIn Email Phish Screenshot

This email was delivered through LinkedIn, as did the URLs used for the several links included in the footer of this email ("Reply," "Not interested," "View Wells's LinkedIn profile"):

Wells Fargo LinkedIn Phishing Email Screenshot
Those URLs were obviously auto-generated by LinkedIn itself when the malicious actors used LinkedIn's messaging features to generate this phish, which hit the external email account of the mark (as opposed to his InMail box, as was the case in the first phish discussed above).

CEO Fraud Scams

Here's an example of a KnowBe4 customer being a target for CEO fraud. The employee initially responded, then remembered her training and instead reported the email using the Phish Alert Button, alerting her IT department to the fraud attempt.

When the employee failed to proceed with the wire transfer, she got another email from the bad guys, who probably thought it was payday:

CEO Fraud Phishing


Mobile Phishing

Mobile phishing attacks have increased by 85% every year since 2011, according to a recent report by Lookout. Attacks on mobile devices are nothing new, however they are gaining momentum as a corporate attack vector. Attackers now take advantage of SMS, as well as some of today’s most popular and highly used social media apps and messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram, as a means of phishing. Security professionals who overlook these new routes of attack put their organizations at risk.

Here are just a few phishing related risks posed by mobile device use:

  • Apps - lack built-in security. Free apps usually ask for a lot of access they shouldn’t need.
  • WiFi - your device typically picks up the strongest signal, which may be a rogue WiFi that seems legitimate but is actually an attacker just waiting to monitor, intercept or even alter communications from your device.
  • Bluetooth - can be used to spread viruses, and hackers can use it to hack into phones to access and exploit your organization’s data.
  • Human error - thieves sell lost and stolen devices to buyers who are more interested in the data that the device itself.
  • Smishing - aka phishing conducted via SMS. Similar to phishing emails, an example of a smishing text might attempts to entice a victim into revealing personal information. asking the recipient to take action on any number of seemingly mundane activities, i.e., the user’s bank claiming it has detected unusual activity or a congratulatory notice saying the person has won a prize from their favorite store.

At a minimum, use this checklist to help mitigate the threat:

  • Always use strong passwords
  • Encrypt or lock sensitive data
  • Don’t bypass built-in security, use multi-factor authentication options like fingerprint or facial recognition
  • Enable remote tracking
  • Enable your device to erase remotely
  • Never leave your device in a public place or anywhere it can be easily stolen
  • Only use apps available in your device’s app store - NEVER download them from a browser
  • Watch out for new apps from unknown developers or with limited/bad reviews
  • Keep your apps updated, this will ensure they have the latest security. If they’re no longer supported by the app store, just delete them!
  • Think before you click any links in text messages or emails on your mobile device
  • Never jailbreak your iOS or root your Android - that leads to unrestricted access, making it way too easy for hackers
  • Always turn off WiFi when you aren’t using it or don’t need it
  • Don’t allow your device to auto-join unfamiliar WiFi networks
  • Don’t send sensitive information over WiFi unless you’re absolutely certain it’s a secure network
  • If you’re able to, disable automatic Bluetooth pairing and always turn off Bluetooth when it isn’t needed
  • NEVER save your login information when you’re using a web browser

How to Prevent Attacks

These are what we have found to be best practices in the prevention of phishing attacks. Note there is no single 'silver bullet' that will protect you, you must take a layered approach to stay secure:

While it may seem trite to offer a recommendation simply to understand the risks that your organization faces, we cannot overstate the importance of doing just that. Decision makers must understand that they face threats not only from phishing attacks, but also a growing variety of threats across all of their communication and collaboration systems, the personal devices that their users employ, and even users themselves. Cybercrime is an industry with significant technical expertise, extensive funding, and a rich target environment.

Many organizations have not yet developed and published detailed and thorough policies for the various types of email, Web, collaboration, social media and other tools that their IT departments have deployed or that they allow to be used as part of “shadow IT”.

As a result, we recommend that an early step for any organization should be the development of detailed and thorough policies that are focused on all of the tools that are or probably will be used in the foreseeable future.

These policies should focus on legal, regulatory and other obligations to encrypt emails and other content if they contain sensitive or confidential data; monitor all communication for malware that is sent to blogs, social media, and other venues; and control the use of personal devices that access corporate systems.

Establishing robust policies will not provide security protection per se, but it can be useful in limiting the number of tools that employees use when accessing corporate resources. In turn, these limitations can be helpful in reducing the number of ingress points for ransomware, other forms of malware, phishing attempts, and other content that could pose a security risk.

Application, OS and system vulnerabilities can allow cybercriminals to successfully infiltrate corporate defenses. Every application and system should be inspected for vulnerabilities and brought up-to-date using the latest patches from vendors.

A useful method for recovering from a ransomware attack, as well as from other types of malware infections, is to restore from a known, good backup taken as close as possible to the point before the infection occurred.

Using a recent backup, an endpoint can be reimaged and its data restored to a known, good state with as little data loss as possible. While this strategy will likely result in some level of data loss because there will normally be a gap between the most recent backup and the time of reimaging, recent backups will minimize data loss if no other remedy can be found.

There are good solutions available that can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud that can detect phishing attempts and a variety of other threats. Every organization should implement solutions that are appropriate to its security infrastructure requirements, but with specific emphasis on the ability to detect, isolate and remediate phishing threats.

While the overall spam problem has been on the decline for the past several years, spam is still an effective method to distribute malware, including ransomware.

Next, implement a variety of best practices to address whatever security gaps may exist in the organization. For example:

  • Employees should employ passwords that correspond to the sensitivity and risk associated with the corporate data assets they are accessing. These passwords should be changed on an enforced schedule under the direction of IT.
  • Implement a program of robust security awareness training that will help users to make better judgments about the content they receive through email, what they view or click on in social media, how they access the Web, and so forth. The goal of security awareness training is to help users to be more careful about what they view, what they open and the links on which they click. While security awareness training by itself will not completely solve an organization’s security-related problems, it will bolster the ability for users – the last line of defense in any security infrastructure – to be more aware of security issues and to be less likely to respond to phishing attempts. It is essential to invest sufficiently in employee training so that the “human “firewall” can provide an adequate last line of defense against increasingly sophisticated phishing and other social engineering attacks.
  • Establish communication “backchannels” for key staff members that might be called upon to deal with corporate finances or sensitive information. For example, if a traveling CEO sends a request to her CFO to transfer funds to a supplier, the CFO should have an independent means of verifying the authenticity of the request, such as texting or calling to the CEO’s smartphone.
  • Regularly send simulated phishing emails to employees to reinforce their security awareness training and to make sure they stay on their toes with security top of mind.
  • Employees should be reminded continually about the dangers of oversharing content on social media. Employees’ friends might be interested in the latest breakfast, vacation or restaurant visit that gets posted on social media – but this information could give cybercriminals the information they need to craft a spear phishing email.
  • Ensure that every employee maintains robust anti-malware defenses on their personally managed platforms if there is any chance that these employee-owned devices will access corporate resources.
  • Employees should be reminded and required to keep software and operating systems up-to-date to minimize the potential for a known exploit to infect a system with malware.

 

Every organization should use historical and real-time threat intelligence to minimize the potential for infection. Real-time threat intelligence can provide a strong defense to protect against access to domains that have a poor reputation and, therefore, are likely to be used by cybercriminals for spearphishing, ransomware and other forms of attack. Threat intelligence can also be used proactively by security analysts and others to investigate recent attacks and discover previously unknown threat sources. Moreover, historical threat intelligence – such as a record of Whois data that includes information on who has owned domains in the past – can be useful in conducting cybercrime investigations.

Using both real-time and historical domain and IP-based threat intelligence is an important adjunct for any security infrastructure because it offers protection in several ways: There are good solutions available that can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud that can detect phishing attempts, ransomware and a variety of other threats.

  • Organizations can remain compliant with the variety of regulatory obligations they face to protect employee data, customer data and other information they own or manage.
  • Good threat intelligence helps to monitor both intentional and inadvertent use of corporate brands so that these brands can be protected.
  • Threat intelligence provides forensics researchers with deep insight into how attacks began, how cybercriminals carried out their attacks, and ways in which future attacks can be detected early on and thwarted before they can do damage.

 


Here are some additional tips to share with your users that can keep them safe at the office (and at home). As your last line of defense, they need to stay on their toes with security top of mind:

New phishing scams are being developed all the time. The less you stay on top of them, the easier they are to fall for. Keep your eyes peeled for news about new phishing scams. By finding out about them as early as possible, you will be at much lower risk of getting snared by one.

It’s ok to click on links when you’re on trusted sites. Clicking on links that appear in random emails and instant messages, however, is never a good idea. Hover over links that you are unsure of before clicking on them. Do they lead where they are supposed to lead?

A phishing email may claim to be from a legitimate company and when you click the link to the website, it may look exactly like the real website but it's actually a phishing site. It's better to go directly to a site than click on a questionable link.

Most popular Internet browsers can be customized with anti-phishing toolbars. Such toolbars run quick checks on the sites that you are visiting and compare them to lists of known phishing sites. If you stumble upon a malicious site, the toolbar will alert you about it. This is just one more layer of protection against phishing scams, and it is completely free.

It’s natural to be a little wary about supplying sensitive financial information online. As long as you are on a secure website, however, you shouldn’t run into any trouble. Before submitting any information, make sure the site’s URL begins with “https” and there should be a closed lock icon near the address bar. Check for the site’s security certificate as well.

If you get a message stating a certain website may contain malicious files, do not open the website. Never download files from suspicious emails or websites. Even search engines may show certain links which may lead users to a phishing webpage which offers low cost products. If the user makes purchases at such a website, the credit card details will be accessed by cybercriminals.

If you don’t visit an online account for a while, someone could be having a field day with it. Even if you don’t technically need to, check in with each of your online accounts on a regular basis. Get into the habit of changing your passwords regularly too.

To prevent bank phishing and credit card phishing scams, you should personally check your statements regularly. Get monthly statements for your financial accounts and check each and every entry carefully to ensure no fraudulent transactions have been made without your knowledge.

Security patches are released for popular browsers all the time. They are released in response to the security loopholes that phishers and other hackers inevitably discover and exploit. If you typically ignore messages about updating your browsers, stop. The minute an update is available, download and install it.

High-quality firewalls act as buffers between you, your computer and outside intruders. You should use two different kinds: a desktop firewall and a network firewall. The first option is a type of software, and the second option is a type of hardware. When used together, they drastically reduce the odds of hackers and phishers infiltrating your computer or your network.

Pop-up windows often masquerade as legitimate components of a website. All too often, though, they are phishing attempts. Many popular browsers allow you to block pop-ups; you can allow them on a case-by-case basis. If one manages to slip through the cracks, don’t click on the “cancel” button; such buttons often lead to phishing sites. Instead, click the small “x” in the upper corner of the window.

As a general rule, you should never share personal or financially sensitive information over the Internet. This rule spans all the way back to the days of America Online, when users had to be warned constantly due to the success of early phishing scams.

When in doubt, go visit the main website of the company in question, get their number and give them a call. Most phishing emails will direct you to pages where entries for financial or personal information are required.

Confidential entries should never be made through the links provided in the emails. Never send an email with sensitive information to anyone. Make it a habit to check the address of the website. A secure website always starts with “https”.

There are plenty of reasons to use antivirus software. Special signatures that are included with antivirus software guard against known technology workarounds and loopholes. Just be sure to keep your software up to date. New definitions are added all the time because new scams are also being dreamed up all the time.

Anti-spyware and firewall settings should be used to prevent phishing attacks and users should update the programs regularly. Firewall protection prevents access to malicious files by blocking the attacks. Antivirus software scans every file which comes through the Internet to your computer. It helps to prevent damage to your system.

What Industries Are Most At Risk Of Phishing Attacks?

KnowBe4 studied phishing statistics for top industries for the second year in a row and found construction companies have the highest percentage of Phish-prone employees in both small and medium–sized organizations. The  takes the lead in large organizations. New to the 2019 Report, the hospitality industry displaced Not-for-Profit and took the lead with an astounding 48.4 percent. The winner of the lowest Phish-prone benchmark was large Transportation organizations at 16 percent, another new industry included in the 2019 Report, which is still a significant number when considering how many users in a larger organization could put your organization in jeopardy if they click on a phishing link.

whosatrisk-1
 
2019 Top Three Industries at Risk By Size

 

The study, drawn from a data set of more than nine million users across nearly 18,000 organizations, benchmarks real-world phishing results in an analysis of over 20 million simulated phishing security tests. Results show a radical drop of careless clicking to just 15 percent 90 days after initial training and simulated phishing and a steeper drop to two percent after 12 months of combined phishing and computer based training (CBT).

Researchers anonymously tracked users by company size and industry at three points:

1. A baseline phishing security test
2. Results after 90 days of combined CBT and simulated phishing
3. The results after one year of combined CBT and phishing is encouraging:

2019-Chart
 
Visible Proof the KnowBe4 System Works!
 
 

Download the full 2019 Phishing Industry Benchmarking Report 

The 2019 Phishing By Industry Benchmarking Report compiles results from a new study by KnowBe4 and reveals at-risk users that are susceptible to phishing or social engineering attacks. Taking it a step further, the research reveals radical drops in careless clicking after 90 days and 12 months of security awareness training.

Download Report

2018-Phishing-By-Industry-Benchmarking-Report-2-1
Webinars23

Watch the Phishing Industry Benchmarking Webinar

One of your important and ongoing IT security initiatives is getting the Phish-prone percentage of your users as low as possible. But how are you doing compared to the "similar-size peers" in your industry?  Join Stu Sjouwerman and Perry Carpenter as they discuss brand-new research based on what your users are clicking and find out how you are doing compared to your peers.

Watch the Webinar

How To Phish Your Users

Phishing and training your users as your last line of defense is one of the best ways to protect yourself from attacks. Here are the 4 basic steps to follow: 

  1. Baseline Testing to assess the Phish-prone percentage of your users before training them. You want to know the level of attack they will and won't fall for as well as have data to measure future success.
  2. Train Your Users with on-demand, interactive, and engaging training so they really get the message.
  3. Phish Your Users at least once a month to reinforce the training and continue the learning process.
  4. See The Results for both training and phishing, getting as close to 0% Phish-prone as you possibly can

An additional 5 points to consider:

  1. Awareness in and of itself is only one piece of defense-in-depth, but crucial
  2. You can't and shouldn't do this alone
  3. You can't and shouldn't train on everything
  4. People only care about things that they feel are relevant to them
  5. The ongoing process is to help employees make smarter security decisions

...and what we've found to e the 5 best practices to embrace:

  1. Have explicit goals before starting
  2. Get the executive team involved
  3. Decide what behaviors you want to shape - choose 2 or 3 and work on those for 12-18 months
  4. Treat your program like a marketing effort
  5. Phish frequently, once a month minimum

Phishing your users is actually FUN! You can accomplish all of the above with our security awareness training program. If you need help getting started, whether you're a customer or not you can build your own customized Automated Security Awareness Program by answering 15-25 questions about your organization


How To Report Phishing

With over 100 billion spam emails being sent daily, it's only a matter of time before you get hit. There are several ways you can and should report these:

  1. KnowBe4’s Phish Alert button gives your users a safe way to forward email threats to your internal security team for analysis and deletes the email from the user's inbox to prevent future exposure, all with a single click!
  2. The United Stated Computer Emergency Readiness Team website provides information on where to send a copy of the email or the URL to the website so that they may be examined by experts. 
  3. The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) website features a text box in which to copy and paste the entire suspicious email you have received, including the header as well as the body of the message. 
  4. If you come across a website you believe is spoofed, or just looks like a phishing page attempting to steal user information, you can report the URL and submit comments to Google here.
  5. The Federal Trade Commission has an entire section of their website where complaints on phishing, identity theft and other scams can be filed. 
  6. The FBI's Intenet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) accepts complaints on their website. Make sure you have all the information needed before filing a complaint, they will ask for information about the victim, whether there was a financial transaction, and of course any info you may have about the sender.

Free Tools

Phishing Security TestPhishing Security Test

Did you know that 91% of successful data breaches started with a spear phishing attack?

Learn More

Phish Alert ButtonPhish Alert Button

Do your users know what to do when they receive a suspicious email or attachment?

Learn More

Second ChanceSecond Chance

Wish your users could "roll back time" when they click a bad link?

Learn More



Webinars

On- Demand Webinar: Phishing and Social Engineering Trends in 2018: Is the Worst Yet to Come?

Watch this insider’s perspective of cybersecurity trends to expect in 2018 from our founder Stu Sjouwerman. The list of six predictions are founded on KnowBe4’s deep insight into threats that organizations experience today and should expect tomorrow.

Watch Now!

On- Demand Webinar: Phishing and Social Engineering Trends in 2018: Is the Worst Yet to Come?

Watch this insider’s perspective of cybersecurity trends to expect in 2018 from our founder Stu Sjouwerman. The list of six predictions are founded on KnowBe4’s deep insight into threats that organizations experience today and should expect tomorrow.

Watch Now!

On-Demand Webinar: How To Phish Like the Bad Guys

Successful hackers understand that the user is the weakest link in the security chain. Email phishing campaigns have proven to be the path of least resistance to get unsuspecting individuals to download and install their malicious software. In this 30-minute webinar, you’ll learn the techniques that social engineers are finding success with and how to implement them into your simulated phishing attacks to inoculate your end users.

Watch Now!



Whitepapers

The Phishing Breakthrough Point Whitepaper

The Phishing Breakthrough Point Whitepaper

Security awareness training and simulated phishing tests can be effective tools to reduce unintentional insider threats. However, if robust metrics are not put in place, they can create social engineering blind spots. Find out more about the breakthrough point in an organization's phishing awareness level.

Get The Whitepaper

Best Practices for Dealing With Phishing and Ransomware Whitepaper

Best Practices for Dealing With Phishing and Ransomware Whitepaper

Phishing and ransomware are serious problems that can steal data or disable access to your organization’s network. This new Osterman Research whitepaper gives you a variety of best practices to minimize your potential for becoming a victim of phishing and ransomware.

Get The Whitepaper


Phishing In The News

Phishing Nightmare? New "Deadline" Email From Equifax Settlement Administrator Notifies of Changes in Filing.

You’d better check your email queue for a new email from The Equifax Breach Settlement Administrator that was sent out several days ago to those who previously filed a claim. It will include your claim number prominently noted at the top.  If you don’t re...

[Brand New Webinar] Crafty Ways the Bad Guys Use Pretexting to Own Your Network

Today’s phishing attacks have evolved way beyond spray-and-pray emails that mass target victims. Instead, the bad guys have carefully researched your organization in order to set the perfect trap. And pretexting is the key.

FBI Cyber Warning: Attacks On Key Employees Up 100%, As 281 Are Arrested

Zak Doffman, contributor at Forbes reported: "There is a cyberattack epidemic hitting businesses around the world, targeting individuals responsible for requesting fund transfers or safeguarding financial information held by companies. Defending against s...

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