The number of phishing websites increased by 250% between the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of this year, according to new Anti-Phishing Working Group data.
That may be an eye-popping increase in activity, but Dylan Sachs, director of identity theft for threat intelligence and remediation company BrandProtect, says it should come as no surprise.
“Email is an attractive target,” he says. “Plus, for the past several years, data leakage has been a major focus. So while companies have focused on large data breaches, the hackers have turned to phishing; they are much quieter attacks."
According to the APWG report, the retail sector remained the most-targeted industry sector during the first quarter of 2016 at 42.7%, followed by the financial industry at 18.7%, and the payment services industry at 14.7%.
The vast majority of the phishing sites are hosted in the US. For example, in March 75.6% of the phishing sites were hosted in the US, followed by China at 4.2%.
Given the ubiquity of the threat, what can security teams do about it? Sachs offers five tips for protecting the organization from phishing:
Check new domain registrations. Security managers need to consistently check and see if new domains similar to the domain of the company have been registered. For example, acmetools.com should be suspicious if it found that an acme-tools.com or acme-tools.net was registered. There are two warning signs security managers should look for: First, any domain registered by someone outside the company should be considered suspicious. And, if the domain is registered from outside the company and it’s generating mail exchange (MX) records, then the odds are it is a malicious site and should be blocked.
Flag external emails. Make it a practice to put a flag or icon clearly stating that the email was sent by an outside source. Employees will know who they are communicating with outside the company, but flagging external emails will make the employee look twice before clicking, giving an added layer of protection.
Employ some controls on money transfers. Use some kind of two-factor authentication on money transfers above a certain financial limit deemed appropriate by the company. The two-factor authentication should not be just a dongle, and someone higher up in the organization like the chief financial officer should sign off on more expensive transactions.
Educate the staff. Lower-level HR or midlevel managers in the accounting department are most at risk. Many companies run mock phishing exercises where they identify the people who need more training. Run an exercise to give the staff experience checking for phishing attacks. Then run a mock exercise six months later and see if the staff has improved. Over a period of several months and years, employees will adjust and it will be become another layer of defense.
Set up blacklists. This includes blacklists of websites as well as attachment types. Set it up so all .zip, .doc, and .pdf files are scanned for malicious content before they are delivered to end users.
But even with these phishing protection practices, there are no guarantees that a company won’t still get successfully phished or spoofed by fraudsters, Sachs notes. There is no magic bullet. Rather, take a series of small steps that hedge the company’s bets and reduce the chance it will be infected.