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10/11/2012
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Report: Four Out Of Five Phishing Attacks Use Security Scams

Phishers scare users into clicking by sending security 'alerts,' Websense says

Email scammers are increasingly using security as their chief weapon for fooling users into clicking on infected links and attachments, according to a report issued this week.

In a blog about spear-phishingposted Tuesday, researchers from Websense posted new data about phishing trends, including the most popular methods of attack.

"After an analysis looking at the most recent quarter of this year, Websense Security Labs has determined that four of the top five subject lines of phishing attempts by volume are security messages," the blog states.

The top five phishing email subject lines are:

1. Your account has been accessed by a third party

2. (Bank Name) Internet Banking Customer Service Message

3. Security Measures

4. Verify your activity

5. Account security Notification

Spear-phishing, in which attackers target a specific user or group of users, has become the phishers' attack of choice, Websense says. About 1.62 percent of all spam messages are phishing attacks.

"While this may not seem huge, it can be placed into perspective by the fact that spam campaigns can reach more than a quarter of a million emails per hour and that the percentage of virus-related email spam was only 0.4 percent," Websense says. "Phishing attempts outnumber malicious executables in email volume."

Most phishing emails emanate from the U.S. and are sent on Fridays or Mondays, the blog says. "The bad guys have learned that they can evade email security measures by sending an email with a clean link on Friday or over the weekend – bypassing email URL scanning," Websense says. "Then, over the weekend, they compromise the URL with malicious code."

"Phishing attacks on Friday and Monday are becoming more prevalent by a factor of three to one," says Websense researcher Chris Distacio. "They catch people when their guard is down, as they're looking forward to the weekend on Friday or taking their time getting back to work on Monday."

Attackers often use phishing as a first step in more sophisticated attacks, and enterprises can expect many more spear-phishing campaigns in the future, Websense says. Deploying an inbound email sandboxing solution can help.

"The most important control for stopping spear-phishing is to deploy a solution that checks the safety of an emailed link when a user clicks on it," the blog says. "You need to have URL sandboxing technology in place that analyzes website content and browser code in real time."

User education is another essential element in phishing defense, Websense says. "The human element is incredibly important," the blog states. "Consider pen-testing your users. Show them why they need to think before they click. Also, use a combination of audio and visual education methods like videos, webinars, newsletters and in-person trainings."

"It's been shown that educated employees are not only more resilient to attacks, but they also add value by reporting suspicious emails to incident responders and effectively become a new data source feeding into SIEMs and other information security management systems," says Scott Greaux, vice president of product management and services at PhishMe, which offers phishing education and awareness services.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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