SecurityBrief Asia logo
Asia's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

Phishing scams – a deep dive into this year’s cyber attack trends

By Sara Barker
Mon 16 Jul 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

There’s no doubt email is the number one vector used to initiate attacks on organisations, and of those email attacks, phishing is king. According to a recent survey Mimecast conducted with Vanson Bourne, 94% of enterprise organisations had seen untargeted phishing attacks in the last 12 months, and 92% had seen targeted spear phishing attacks incorporating malicious links.

So, what’s contributing to this rise? We’re seeing hackers increasingly seeking to hijack popular events. In recent weeks, phishing scams have targeted events like the FIFA World Cup, and the end of financial year in Australia as people prepare to do their tax returns.

One notable campaign preying on unsuspecting football fans during the FIFA World Cup promised users the ability to download a match schedule, or to obtain a free pair of Adidas shoes - via a malicious link. Scams like this illustrate the difficulty of protecting organisations and individuals from bad actors who want to gain access to corporate networks or personal information.

These scams are also becoming harder to spot. The Adidas threat, for example, takes the form of a homographic attack.

Targeting Adidas customers, a longstanding partner of the FIFA World Cup, in this phishing attack, the letter “I” in the brand name displayed in the URL was replaced with a vertical character. When a user, mistaking the link for a genuine one, clicked through, they were taken to another web page, where they were prompted for credentials, and faced with the threat of malicious software being automatically downloaded. These attacks have been in the wild since 2001, but they have risen in popularity over the last twelve months.

The key to a homographic attack is what’s known as ‘punycode’. Using punycode, popular browsers will automatically substitute elements of the ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange - a character encoding standard for electronic communication) character set in place of the Unicode characters used to display non-English languages online.

The result is that characters are replaced with similar characters from a non-English language, such as Cyrillic, and to the casual observer the domain being presented looks legitimate. 

These homograph attacks remain a particular problem because aside from being able to display the domain name in its punycode output to help warn users, the majority of major browsers, including Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Microsoft Edge are not able to comprehensively protect against them.

Another vector for phishing attacks is social engineering. Most recently, emails have been sent from multiple domains resembling invoices or tax statements from well-known companies such as accounting software firm Xero, office supply chain OfficeWorks, and the Australian Taxation Office.

These emails include a link prompting recipients to download a malicious file, downloading a banking trojan via compromised Sharepoint sites. For attackers, these emails represent easy pickings, because the recipient sees the logo of a trusted firm prominently displayed and won’t necessarily check the URL to ensure that it is legitimate.

When it comes to orchestrating email attacks, cybercriminals know that a person is sitting on the end of an email address, and the majority of these people are not security trained. Attackers will send these emails because they’re easy – using social engineering to get a user to click on a malicious link is simpler than complex network or application attack vectors.

Once the user clicks on one of these phishing emails, they are generally asked to enter log-ins, personal information or credit card data, or they are subject to an unwanted, malicious download (malware) that automatically harvests these credentials through key-logging or the monitoring of network connections without detection.

During peak periods such as the FIFA World Cup or tax deadlines, recipients are usually more willing to click on links that resemble something of interest to them and as a result, become less vigilant.

When it comes to human error, defending against these attacks remains complex. Humans are frequently cited as the weakest link in any security chain and so it can be hugely beneficial to employ automatic email security. This automated security is able to detect attacks such as the Xero, OfficeWorks and ATO attacks because the software checks the sender URLS and blocks those ones that are generated by non-legitimate sources.

While automated email protection remains the key defence against phishing attacks, user awareness can’t be forgotten. With the threat landscape constantly evolving, users can’t be expected to just figure out the good from the bad.

Training users can be as simple as getting people to check the email address and seeing if it makes sense given the type of email they have received. Or asking questions like – is it asking for something unusual – and if they hover over links, do those links go where they say they will? A couple of minutes spent asking the security team if a link or email is legitimate will save hours or days of effort and embarrassment if the email is fraudulent.

Email remains the number one attack vector, but with vigilance and software protection, it doesn’t have to be the downfall of your organisation.

Article by Mimecast A/NZ principal consultant Garrett O'Hara.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
How to ensure ethical deployment of AI implentations
The increase in automation and machine technology such as AI and machine learning has unlocked a whole new level of scale and service to organisations. 
Story image
Digital Transformation
How to modernise legacy apps without compromising security
At a time when digital transformation has become central to business, even the most important applications come with a ‘use-by’ date.
Story image
Ransomware
A third of companies paying ransom don’t recover data - report
Veeam's report finds 76% of businesses who are victims of cyberattacks paid the ransom to recover data, but a third were still unable to get their information back.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
AI-based email security platform Abnormal Security valued at $4B
"A new breed of cybersecurity solutions that leverage AI is required to change the game and stop the rising threat of sophisticated and targeted email attacks."
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Cisco, Hitachi Vantara, Tricentis & Zscaler
We round up all job appointments from April 28 - May 5, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Companies rushing to secure print infrastructure
As the pandemic prioritised communication channels and the shift to remote work, IT departments fell behind in updating the security of print and IT infrastructure.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Managed service providers: effective scoping to avoid costly vendor pitfalls
Managed security services are outsourced services focusing on the security and resilience of business networks.
Story image
Data Protection
Managed Service Providers key to customer data protection
Frequent cyberattacks in the ASEAN region drive the demand for MSPs that can deliver purpose-built security solutions for SME customers.
Story image
Cybersecurity
ThoughtLab reveals 10 best practices for cybersecurity in 2022
The benchmarking study reveals best practices that can reduce the probability of a material breach and the time it takes to find and respond to those that happen.
Story image
Ransomware
Anniversaries remind us to review identity risks
World Password Day provides a timely reminder for ordinary citizens and organisations to stop and think about the risks associated with digital identities.
Story image
Training
Fortinet training edges toward closing cybersecurity gap
The Fortinet Training Institute has made significant progress in closing the cybersecurity skills gap, on track to train one million people by 2026.
Story image
Sift
Sift shares crucial advice for preventing serious ATO breaches
Are you or your business struggling with Account Takeover Fraud (ATO)? One of the latest ebooks from Sift can provide readers with the tools and expertise to help launch them into the new era of account security.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Updates from Google Workspace set to ease hybrid working troubles
Google Workspace has announced a variety of new features which will utilise Google AI capabilities to help make hybrid working situations more efficient and effective.
SonicWall
Find out how you and your business can prevent being caught out by everything from ransomware to cryptojacking.
Link image
Story image
Blue Prism
Blue Prism Desktop uses IA to defend against vulnerabilities
SS&C Blue Prism Desktop aims to help protect businesses against vulnerabilities, using a combination of security measures and intelligent automation tech.
Story image
Cybersecurity
A10 Networks finds over 15 million DDoS weapons in 2021
A10 Networks notes that in the 2H 2021 reporting period, its security research team tracked more than 15.4 million Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) weapons.
Story image
Phishing
KnowBe4 celebrates reaching 50,000 customers worldwide
KnowBe4 has reached the milestone of 50,000 customers, adding nearly 2,500 in the first quarter of 2022 alone.
Story image
Malware
Sharp increase in phishing as cybercriminals leverage SEO to lure victims
"Malware lurking everywhere, from cloud apps to search engines, leaving organisations at greater risk than ever before."
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Datacom, Micro Focus, SnapLogic and VMware
We round up all job appointments from May 6-12, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Hard numbers: Why ambiguity in cybersecurity no longer adds up
As cybersecurity costs and risks continue to escalate, CEOs continue to struggle with what their investment in cyber protection buys. Getting rid of ambiguity becomes necessary.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from IronNet
Michael Ehrlich joins us today to discuss the history of IronNet and the crucial role the company plays in the cyber defence space.
Story image
Cybersecurity
New report reveals evolving techniques targeting cloud-native environments
Companies are adopting cloud-native technologies faster than ever before. Unfortunately, with new technology comes new threats and challenges.
Story image
BeyondTrust
BeyondTrust integrates Password Safe solution with SailPoint
BeyondTrust has announced the integration of BeyondTrust Password Safe with SailPoint identity security offerings.
Story image
Cybersecurity
CyberArk launches $30M investment fund to advance security
CyberArk has announced the launch of CyberArk Ventures, a $30 million global investment fund dedicated to advancing the next generation of security disruptors.
Story image
Microsoft
Apple, Google and Microsoft expands plans to get rid of passwords
FIDO Alliance says the world is closer to not relying on passwords after Apple, Google and Microsoft expands their support for a passwordless sign-in standard.
Story image
Malware
Use of malware, botnets and exploits expands in Q1 2022
"As zero-day attacks and other vulnerabilities among companies like Google and Microsoft come to light, threat actors are quickly adjusting their tactics."
Story image
Hyperscale
SpaceDC partners with Aofei for data center sales in Asia
SpaceDC has partnered with Aofei Data International to sell Aofei's data centers, CDN and SDN in China.
Story image
Ransomware
Zerto unveils updates to ransomware recovery capabilities
"Organisations face increased risks from the volume and sophistication of ransomware attacks prevalent today."
Story image
Digital Transformation
Physical security systems guide the hybrid workplace to new heights
Organisations are reviewing how data gathered from their physical security systems can optimise, protect and enhance their business operations in unique ways.
Story image
Forensics
Exterro adds advanced capabilities to digital forensic tool
The launch is in-line with Exterro’s investment in the FTK product line, and underscores the company's commitment to the digital forensics.
Story image
Surveillance
Genetec launches new enclosure management system for data centers
Genetec has released a new enclosure management solution that will give data centers the ability to secure, monitor and manage access to racks and cabinets remotely.
Story image
APAC
Odaseva expands in APAC and UK with more security features
Odaseva, a data platform for Salesforce, is establishing new headquarters in London as well as a new data center in India.
Story image
Ivanti
Ivanti and Lookout bring zero trust security to hybrid work
Ivanti and Lookout have joined forces to help organisations accelerate cloud adoption and mature their zero trust security posture in the everywhere workplace.
Story image
Cybersecurity
HackerOne launches Attack Resistance Management solution
HackerOne has launched Attack Resistance Management - a new category of security solution that targets the root causes of the attack resistance gap. 
Story image
Firewall
Sophos named Gartner Peer Insights Customers Choice for network firewalls
The company earned the highest overall customer rating among vendors with at least 150 verified customer reviews.
Story image
SaaS
Absolute Software expands Secure Access product offering
Absolute Software is enhancing its Secure Access product portfolio, enabling minimised risk exposure and optimised user experiences in the hybrid working environment.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
ForgeRock releases Autonomous Access solution powered by AI
ForgeRock has officially introduced ForgeRock Autonomous Access, a new solution that uses AI to prevent identity-based cyber attacks and fraud.
Story image
Ransomware
Cybersecurity starts with education
In 2021, 80% of Australian organisations responding to the Sophos State of Ransomware study reported being hit by ransomware. 
Story image
Fortinet
Fortinet sees 34% revenue increase in latest financial results
Fortinet has released its financial results for the first quarter ended March 31, 2022, seeing a total revenue increase of 34.4% compared to the same quarter last year.
Story image
Phishing
Developments in phishing and how to protect your business
Phishing, the practice of sending malicious emails to encourage users to perform actions that benefit an attacker, is a key security concern for modern businesses due to its prevalence and impact.
Story image
Appian
Appian awarded billions in damages against Pegasystems Inc.
Appian has been awarded USD$2.036 billion in damages against Pegasystems Inc as the result of a jury verdict in the Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Virginia.
Story image
Application Security
What are the DDoS attack trend predictions for 2022?
Mitigation and recovery are vital to ensuring brand reputation remains solid in the face of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack and that business growth and innovation can continue.
Story image
Cybersecurity
The 'A-B-C' of effective application security
Software applications have been a key tool for businesses for decades, but the way they are designed and operated has changed during the past few years.
Story image
VPN
Palo Alto Networks says ZTNA 1.0 not secure enough
Palo Alto Networks is urging the industry to move to Zero Trust Network Access 2.0 because previous versions have major gaps in security protection.