Academics discovered more than 1,200 phishing kits equipped with the ability to intercept users’ two-factor authentication (2FA) codes in the wild.

Two Types of 2FA Phishing

As noted by researchers from Stony Brook University sponsored by security firm Palo Alto Networks, many of the toolkits referenced above used what’s known as man-in-the-middle (MitM) phishing.

These tools enabled threat actors to bypass 2FA procedures by working as reverse proxies. Here, the toolkits relayed traffic between the victim, the malicious site and the targeted service.

A user who fell prey to one of these MitM toolkits did succeed in authenticating themselves on the legitimate service. However, the reverse proxy meant the attacker also gained access to a copy of the authentication cookie.

With that cookie in their possession, the malicious actor had the option of abusing access to their victim’s account. That way, they could steal stored information or conduct payment card fraud. The attacker also had the choice of monetizing the cookie on a darknet marketplace.

Real-Time Phishing

Note that MitM phishing is different than real-time phishing. The latter requires a human operator to monitor a user’s interaction with a malicious landing page in real-time. The human operator sits in front of a web panel, waiting for the user to submit their credentials to the imposter site. Once that happens, they then use those same details to authenticate themselves on the legitimate service’s web page as their victim.

First, the attacker receives a prompt to submit a 2FA code. Then, they push a button and generate a prompt for the victim to retrieve the code via SMS-based text message, authentication app or other methods. The malicious actor then submits the code and gains access to the victim’s account.

From an attacker’s perspective, MitM phishing can free them from needing to actively monitor an authentication session. But this type of phishing isn’t ideal in every use case. As noted by The Record, real-time phishing toolkits tend to be more prevalent in attacks targeting banks. This is because the login sessions don’t last as long and every authentication request prompts the need for a new 2FA code.

A Phishing-Filled 2021

Phishing attacks reached unprecedented heights in 2021. By the end of the second quarter, for instance, credential phishing attempts accounted for 73% of advanced attack attempts. That was up from two-thirds back in Q4 2020.

The third quarter followed a similar course. As reported by APWG via Help Net Security, security researchers detected 260,642 attacks in July 2021 alone. That was the highest monthly total since the researchers began sharing their findings back in 2004.

In addition, the number of targeted brands jumped from just over 400 in the early part of the year to 700 by the end of Q3 2021.

How to Protect Your Business

The Record predicted that the MitM toolkits discussed above are only the beginning. They expect most phishing attacks will include it in the near future.

Therefore, it’s important that organizations invest in defending against a phish. They can do this by blending multifactor authentication and other technical controls with regular phishing simulations for all employees including senior management. At the same time, consider alerting the Federal Trade Commission, FBI and other agencies to some of the phishing attempts analyzed by IT and security teams.

More from News

The White House on Quantum Encryption and IoT Labels

A recent White House Fact Sheet outlined the current and future U.S. cybersecurity priorities. While most of the topics covered were in line with expectations, others drew more attention. The emphasis on critical infrastructure protection is clearly a top national priority. However, the plan is to create a labeling system for IoT devices, identifying the ones with the highest cybersecurity standards. Few expected that news. The topic of quantum-resistant encryption reveals that such concerns may become a reality sooner than…

Malware-as-a-Service Flaunts Its Tally of Users and Victims

As time passes, the security landscape keeps getting stranger and scarier. How long did the “not if, but when” mentality towards cyberattacks last — a few years, maybe? Now, security pros think in terms of how often will their organization be attacked and at what cost. Or they consider how the difference between legitimate Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) brands and Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) gangs keeps getting blurrier. MaaS operators provide web-based services, slick UX, tiered subscriptions, newsletters and Telegram channels that keep users…

New Survey Shows Burnout May Lead to Attrition

For many organizations and the cybersecurity industry as a whole, improving retention and reducing the skills gap is a top priority. Mimecast’s The State of Ransomware Readiness 2022: Reducing the Personal and Business Cost points to another growing concern — burnout that leads to attrition. Without skilled employees, organizations cannot protect their data and infrastructure from increasing cybersecurity attacks. According to Mimecast’s report, 77% of cybersecurity leaders say the number of cyberattacks against their company has increased or stayed the…

Alleged FBI Database Breach Exposes Agents and InfraGard

Recently the feds suffered a big hack, not once, but twice. First, the FBI-run InfraGard program suffered a breach. InfraGard aims to strengthen partnerships with the private sector to share information about cyber and physical threats. That organization experienced a major breach in early December, according to a KrebsOnSecurity report. Allegedly, the InfraGard database — containing contact information of over 80,000 members — appeared up for sale on a cyber crime forum. Also, the hackers have reportedly been communicating with…