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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Phishers Target Social Media

Financial institutions still the number one target, according to a new report by RiskIQ.

Social media platforms now rank as one of the most phished brands, right behind financial institutions, according to a new report.

The RiskIQ Q4 Phishing Roundup report also has some good news: The number of blacklisted phishing domains declined 2% from Q3. The number of brands targeted was also down to 259, a drop of 7% in the same time.

But social media has graduated to the Big Time: this was the first quarter where social media platforms were among the top targeted brands for threat actors.

Sam Curcuruto, head of product marketing at RiskIQ, says that phishing actors will always stay "close to the money," but that they're finding that money is following the social media trail. Curcuruto says phishers use social media as an attack vector and to phish log-in credentials: they use the stolen credentials to log into the social media accounts to learn more about the consumer so they can craft more targeted and effective spear-phishing attacks.

Phishing attacks targeting social media accounts aren't new, however. In RiskIQ's Q3 Report, 10% of phishing targets were social media platforms, Curcuruto says. By Q4, though, a full 20% of attacks were against social media targets, putting social media on an equal footing with large tech company and digital transaction provider targets.

Financial institutions still lead the target pack with 40% of targeted domains, but the rise of social media is striking.

Curcuruto says that social media's contribution to a full picture of the phishing target is one reason for the increase in phishing activity. "You can learn a lot about someone by looking at the information on one of those accounts, so you can start to do things like get around authentication questions," Curcuruto says. The other is the rise in social media capabilities for transferring funds from one party to another, making social media "close to the money," in Curcuruto's words.

While broad media attention has shifted to computer actors' involvement with political and election issues, Curcuruto says that he doesn't see anything in the trends to indicate that phishing attackers will re-focus their attention. "When you think about phishing, it all comes down to the money, so I'm not entirely sure we'll see a lot of phishing affected by things like the upcoming elections," he says. "I think that in the next quarter we'll see financial institutions remaining the top target."

New research from Kaspersky Lab seems to confirm that financial targets are at the top of phishing criminals lists. Attacks against banks, payment systems, and online retailers made up the top three categories in overall phishing attacks in 2017, a sign that criminals are now focusing on accessing money directly, according to the security vendor.

RiskIQ's Curcuruto says there's another new phishing target emerging as well: cryptocurrency wallets. "We're seeing an increase in cryptocurrency, so I think we'll see more phishing aimed at cryptocurrency wallets," Curcuruto says. "I think we'll see people using these [wallets] who aren't familiar with the security behind them, so we'll see more phishing."

Phishing remains an active attack method, with 27,285 uniquely blacklisted phishing domains spotted in Q4. This despite consumers and businesses becoming more diligent in defending against phishing attacks. "People are becoming more and more educated about the phishing threat, so fewer are being successful," Curcuruto says, though phishers are becoming more sophisticated in their attacks in response.

Two-factor authentication is another defense strategy making an impact on phishing success. "The more the platforms move to 2FA, the more difficult it is for a [phishing] attempt to be successful," Curcuruto says.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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