The FBI issued a warning Tuesday to consumers to beware a surge in spear-phishing attacks aimed at stealing intellectual property, financial credentials and personal information, often for the purposes of faking someone's identity. Separately, a security firm warned that in the past year, the volume of phishing attacks more than tripled.
Increasingly, fake -- but often real-looking -- phishing emails come personalized. "Often, the e-mails contain accurate information about victims obtained via a previous intrusion or from data posted on social networking sites, blogs, or other websites," said the bureau's warning. "This information adds a veneer of legitimacy to the message, increasing the chances the victims will open the email and respond as directed."
Internet users today are much more likely to encounter a phishing website than even just two years ago. According to Google's Transparency Report, as of June 9 the search service detected 108,225 phishing sites, up from the 9,264 it detected on May 23, 2010.
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Spear-phishing awareness campaigns notwithstanding, the attacks are notoriously difficult for businesses to block. Victims have included security firm RSA, the White House and numerous defense contractors.
As the quantity of attacks has increased, so has the list of targeted data. Historically, many phishing attacks launched for criminal purposes have focused on stealing financial details from consumers and businesses so that gangs could drain money from bank accounts. But today, just 20% of all phishing attacks were disguised to look like they've come from a legitimate financial services organization, according to Kaspersky Lab's recently released report, "The Evolution of Phishing Attacks."
Kaspersky Lab's report is based on data gathered anonymously -- between May 1, 2012, and April 30, 2013 -- from 50 million individual Windows users. Comparing data gathered in that timeframe to the prior 12 months, the security firm found that the number of distinct phishing attack sources tripled, and that 87% more people were targeted than before.
Of all the sites emulated by attackers, 30% were search and email services, followed by social networks (20%), banks and financial institutions (12%), IT company sites (8%), gaming sites (7%), online shopping and auction (7%) and payment services (6%). In the United States, the site most often emulated by phishing attackers was Yahoo, followed by Facebook, Google, Amazon.com, Wow-Europe, Microsoft, AOL, American Express, an unnamed bank and Twitter.
According to the study, the people most often targeted by phishing attacks resided in Russia, the United States, India, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the majority of phishing attacks were launched from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and India.
The FBI recommends that anyone who falls victim to a phishing attack file a complaint with its Internet Crime Complaint Center.