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2/25/2016
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Phishing Attacks Increase Tech Sophistication, Focus On Financial Fraud

With a prevalence of free, feature-rich phishing kits and multi-million dollar profits from business email compromise attacks, no wonder phishing's so popular.

Phishing attacks are becoming more sophisticated, even when the attackers themselves aren't. Basic, even free, phishing kits now contain a variety of clever functions, as well as obfuscation and anti-analysis techniques, according to a report released today by PhishLabs.

Phishing kits now often include features like pre-filled form data, high-quality emulation, live polls, and chained forms with false error messages to encourage victims to share more information, and phishing pages for mobile platforms. They're equipped with measures that allow them to impersonate legitimate businesses without being flagged by Web crawlers and identified as phishing pages.

More sophisticated attackers may sell phishing kits to amateurs on the black market for anywhere from $1 to $50 to turn a profit. According to PhishLabs, some others are making their kits freely available -- with a backdoor secretly installed in the code so those thrifty amateur phishers unknowingly export all the data they steal straight back to the malware writer, who can then sell that for a profit.

According to the report, spearphishing remains APT groups' intial attack vector of choice. It's financial fraud and similar crimes, however that were the focus of the most spearphishing attacks, accounting for 22 percent. 

Among them were business email compromise (BEC) attacks, which increased in 2015. BEC attacks begin with extensive reconaissance about the personnel within an organization. By posing as executives within the company (or company partners), phishers convince employees with spending authority to send wire transfers to attacker-controlled accounts -- sometimes taking individual companies for tens of millions of dollars.

According to the PhishLabs report, BEC fraudsters have begun to increase their use of ploys that reference mergers and acquisitions, as opposed to less sensitive operations, to "reinforce the need for secrecy." Ploys that purport to quote conversations with lawyers are particularly successful at convincing the same victim to make multiple payments.

Further, the researchers found that BEC attackers' biggest costs are managing the money mule accounts they use to receive payments and withdraw cash. It's the campaigns' largest investments, often costing more than all other overhead combined.

Other interesting findings: the top industries that were targeted by consumer phishing (not spearphishing) were finance, cloud hosting, online services, e-commerce, and payment services. The researchers also found that Gmail was attackers' drop location of choice for receiving stolen credentials, making up 57% of drop email accounts.


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Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad ... View Full Bio

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