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Social Engineering

6/12/2018
09:35 AM
Scott Ferguson
Scott Ferguson
News Analysis-Security Now
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Email-Based Attacks Still Wreaking Havoc on Enterprises, Study Finds

A recent study by Barracuda Networks found that 87% of businesses have sustained at least one email-based attack in the past year, and most times it's poor training that allows these breaches to happen.

Email-based attacks, specifically ones using phishing or other social engineering techniques, continue to challenge enterprise security teams, with nearly nine out of ten businesses sustaining at least one attempt in the past year.

Making matter worse, it's usually poor employee behavior and training that allows these attacks to happen.

Those are some of the results found in a new study about email security entitled "Email Security Trends," conducted by networking and security vendor Barracuda Networks and released June 12. The survey is based on answers from 634 security executives and experts at large, midsized and small businesses across the globe.

Overall, 87% of respondents to the survey reported that their enterprise had sustained at least one attempted email-based attack in the past year. Additionally, 88% remained concerned about ransomware, with about one third reporting that their business had been attacked already.

The most common, and still troublesome, types of email attacks are either phishing or some other form of social engineering scheme. This conclusion reflects similar findings by the FBI, which noted that business email compromise (BEC) is a growing cybersecurity concern. (See FBI: Ransomware Contributed to $1.4B in Losses in 2017.)

"Social engineering (or business email compromise) presents a huge challenge for organizations right now because it goes beyond just having the correct security tools in place," Mike Flouton, senior director of product marketing at Barracuda Networks, wrote in an email to Security Now.

"Social engineering frequently goes undetected by email security solutions, which leave users as the last line of defense," Flouton added. "Many of these messages appear legitimate, so unless the users who receive them know what to look out for, there’s a huge risk of users actually entreating criminal requests."

While ransomware has declined over the last six months as attackers have moved on to more lucrative cryptojacking and cryptomining schemes, Flouton notes that enterprises need to be reminded that phishing and social engineering remain essential hacking tools. (See Cryptomining Malware, Cryptojacking Remain Top Security Threats.)


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"In the old days, the adversary would steal credentials, account details or credit card numbers and then attempt to sell them on the dark web," Flouton added. "In more recent attacks -- be they ransomware, cryptojacking or business email compromise -- the adversary cuts out the middleman. It's far more efficient."

The report finds that 84% of respondents blame bad employee behavior for these types of security attacks, while only 16% reported inadequate security tools caused the breach. Of all the different types of employees that enterprises employ, 24% report that those working in the financial departments are the most vulnerable.

Everyone surveyed, a stunning 100%, agreed that better employee training is needed to prevent attacks.

The key, Foulton wrote, is to tailor training to employees and make sure that those best practices are reinforced continuously.

"It should be flexible, easy to digest and scalable," Foulton wrote. "Training doesn't have to mean sitting in a classroom for hours at a time in order to be effective; in fact, today it's quite the opposite. You can make it fun by adding gamification into the programs, or by offering short videos instead of a lengthy class. But most important of all is continuous reinforcement -- that's where simulation comes in."

As more email services have moved to the cloud, especially as software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, larger enterprises, which have more data, are growing concerned about attacks. Specifically, the study found that 31% of large enterprises are more concerned about security around Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 suite.

Other studies have also shown that as more data moves to the cloud, more businesses are experiencing issues with data theft and data breaches. (See As Public Cloud Use Increases, So Does Data Theft.)

Related posts:

— Scott Ferguson is the managing editor of Light Reading and the editor of Security Now. Follow him on Twitter @sferguson_LR.

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