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Barracuda Research Uncovers Most Popular Phishing Tactics

Between 60 to 90 percent of cyber attacks start from emails, remarked James Forbes-May, the Vice President of APAC Sales for Barracuda, adding that cybercrime has become a lucrative business for today’s threat actors.

Spear phishing especially, he said, is gaining popularity among cybercriminals due to its effectiveness as it is designed to evade traditional email security solutions. Compared to regular phishing, spear phishing is a “highly-personalised” form of email attack whereby attackers would carefully research their targets and craft customised messages, often impersonating legitimate websites, businesses or even a trusted colleague.

Through spear phishing emails, the threat actors would typically try to convince unsuspecting victims to reveal sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information, or even transfer large sums of money.

James spoke at a media briefing where Barracuda released key findings from the “Spear Phishing: Top Threats and Trends” report, together with Tong Chee-Leong, Barracuda’s Country Sales Manager for Malaysia and Indonesia, and Melvin Lim, PhishLine APAC Sales Manager. For the report, Barracuda researches evaluated over 360k spear phishing emails over a time span of three months to identify and analyse three major attack types: brand impersonation, business email compromise (BEC) and blackmail.

The research uncovered insights into how the attacks are evolving and as well as the tactics that phishers are using to avoid detection. Some of the findings of the research include:

  • Impersonating Microsoft is one of the more common techniques used by hackers trying to take over accounts.
  • Financial institutions are impersonated in nearly 1 in 5 attacks. Finance department employees are heavily targeted, as they are most likely to deal with banks and other financial institutions.
  • The majority of subject lines on sextortion emails contain some form of security alert.
  • Attackers often include the victim’s email address or password in the subject line.
  • Subject lines on more than 70 percent of BEC emails try to establish rapport or a sense of urgency; many imply the topic has been previously discussed.
  • Scammers use name-spoofing techniques, changing the display name on Gmail and other email accounts to make the email appear to come from a company employee. This tactic can be especially deceiving to those reading the email on a mobile device.

James said that while securing an organisation and dealing with attacks were much easier when IT operations were mainly on-prem, it became exponentially more difficult as businesses moved to the cloud. In terms of email, James mentioned that a massive number of users are now making the switch to Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity suite which includes an email client, citing over 200 million global users and 2-3 million new users migrating each month.

As the threat is constantly evolving and attackers keep on finding new ways to avoid detection and trick users, traditional methods of protection can no longer cut it and businesses must have “layers of protection” to avoid getting breached.

“Staying ahead of these types of attacks requires the right combination of technology and user training, so it’s critical to have a solution in place that detects and protects against spear-phishing attacks, including business email compromise, brand impersonation, and sextortion,” he said.

To help businesses improve their email security posture, Barracuda has developed its Sentinel email protection platform which leverages AI and deep Office 365 integration to detect spear phishing attacks and stop them before they reach the mail server – that’s the technology part.

As for the user training part, James mentioned how Barracuda had the foresight to acquire PhishLine, a leading SaaS platform for social engineering simulation and training, two years ago to help companies cultivate better user awareness – thereby fortifying the human element which is a critical link in the security value chain.

A combination of Barracuda Sentinel with Barracuda Essentials, Barracuda PhishLine and Barracuda Forensics and Incident Response make up Barracuda’s Total Email Protection suite which aims to provide organisations with a complete email security, archiving, remediation and data protection solution.

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