NewsFebruary 22, 2017 @ 7:30 AM

New Google Phishing Report: The Lure of Corporate Inboxes

A new phishing report from Google Research turned up some not-so-surprsing results: Corporate email addresses are 4.3 times more likely to receive malware and 6.2 times more likely to attract phishing lures, according to research presented at the recent RSA Conference. Interestingly, corporate addresses are actually less likely to receive spam than personal accounts, but given the potential damage caused by successful phishing hooks or malware infections, this isn’t exactly great news. How do companies ensure users aren’t falling for shiny email hooks?

Not an Unusual Phishing Report

As noted by Bleeping Computer, the focus on corporate inboxes makes sense, since they often contain information that commands high prices on the Dark Web. In addition, access to top-level credentials paves the way for malicious emails targeting subordinates — if cybercriminals can grab control of the CEO’s inbox, for example, they could cause havoc for HR and accounting departments along with IT.

A recent PhishLabs report, meanwhile, found that phishing attacks were up 23 percent in 2016 over the previous year. Part of this increase stemmed from an overall increase in available targets, with both online and cloud services now in the crosshairs. When it comes to malware, meanwhile, real estate tops the charts ahead of retail, IT, finance and insurance. Priority spam accounts included companies operating in the entertainment and IT sectors along with personal accounts.

For American organizations, however, the number to know is 81 percent: U.S. targets account for just over four-fifths of all phishing attacks worldwide.

Effective Protection

So how do companies stay safe with phishing attacks running rampant? First is situational awareness — as noted above, some industries and email addresses are at greater risk than others. It’s also critical to understand market forces. For example, the PhishLabs report pointed out that in January 2016, there were more IRS phishing sites than in all of 2015 combined. Expect the same in 2017 as fraudsters try to grab personal tax information such as W2 forms, which are ideal for long-term identity compromise.

According to Computer Weekly, however, there’s also a need for new approaches to phishing defense. Right now, many companies employ “line in the sand” policies, which see employees facing serious reprimands or even termination for clicking on malicious links. But as the Google and PhishLabs data reveals, it’s almost impossible for users to stay ahead of malicious actors.

What’s more, attackers now have a range of effective techniques to choose from, including:

  • Urgency: Emails supposedly from banks or cloud services demanding immediate action;
  • Confidence: Calls or emails under the guise of tech support staff asking for account details;
  • Likability: Scammers often become familiar with users’ social networks and may infiltrate social profiles when starting a scam; and
  • Authority: Emails that purportedly come from C-suite executives requiring immediate action are effective, since employees don’t want to risk their job by saying no.

It Starts With Culture

Dealing with phishing and malware attacks means recognizing that some are going to go unnoticed. They’re always evolving and always in development. As a result, companies need to create corporate culture that encourages employees to report suspicious activity or accidental phishing hooks. This allows IT professionals to mitigate the damage ASAP and prevents the formation of “cover up” culture, which leads to employees unintentionally helping cybercriminals by staying silent.

The phishing report is in: More hooks are in the water, and corporate catches are the most sought-after targets. Keep communications clear by recognizing current risk and revamping existing policies to encourage reports rather than reprimands.

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Douglas Bonderud

Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for the IBM Midsize Insider, The Content Standard and Proteomics programs for Skyword, Doug also writes for companies like Ephricon Web Marketing and sites such as MSDynamicsWorld. Clients are impressed with not only his command of language but the minimal need for editing necessary in his pieces. His ability to create readable, relatable articles from diverse Web content is second to none. He has also written a weekly column for TORWars, a videogaming website; posts about invention and design for and general knowledge articles for WiseGeek. From 2010-2012, Doug did copywriting for Doug is currently a municipal police officer, on track to become a fantasy/sci-fi author.