With spear phishing attacks being favoured for their effectiveness by attackers. We look at what businesses can do to protect themselves.
Spear Phishing Accounted For Two-Thirds Of All Attacks Last Year
A recent report from security provider Barracuda has revealed that although spear phishing attacks make up just 0.1 per cent of all email-based attacks in 2023, they were responsible for two-thirds of all breaches. The report showed that a massive 50 per cent of the 1,350 organisations surveyed had fallen victim to a spear-phishing attack in 2022, a quarter had had at least one email account compromised via an account takeover. The report also showed that of those who fell victim to a successful spear phishing attack, 55 per cent had machines infected with malware or viruses, and 49 per cent and 48 per cent respectively had sensitive data or login details stolen.
What Is Spear Phishing?
Spear phishing is a targeted form of phishing that aims to deceive individuals or organisations by sending bogus, fraudulent emails or messages. While traditional phishing attempts are more generic and widespread, spear phishing campaigns are highly tailored and personalised to trick specific targets, such as employees of a particular company or members of an organisation.
Targets Are Researched
The attackers behind spear phishing typically research their targets extensively to gather information that will make their messages appear legitimate and increase the chances of success. They may gather details from social media profiles, online directories, or leaked data from previous breaches. This information is then used to create highly convincing email messages that appear to be from a trusted source, such as a colleague, a client, or a supervisor.
Personalised Content To Make Them More Convincing
Spear phishing emails often contain personalised content, such as the recipient’s name, job title, or other relevant details, which makes them appear more authentic. They may also exploit psychological manipulation techniques to evoke a sense of urgency, curiosity, or fear to compel the target to click on a malicious link or download a malicious attachment. Once the recipient interacts with the malicious content, the attacker may gain unauthorised access to sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial data, or proprietary information.
Spear phishing attacks can have severe consequences for individuals and organisations, including data breaches, financial loss, reputational damage, and further exploitation of compromised accounts.
How To Protect Your Business From Spear Phishing
To protect against phishing, it is important to exercise caution when opening emails, verify the legitimacy of unexpected or suspicious requests, and regularly educate and train employees on identifying and reporting phishing attempts. Also, account takeover protection solutions with artificial intelligence capabilities can be effective.
It is difficult, however, to stop attackers from gathering the information about a business and specific personnel within that business to help them target their attacks. For example, some information may have been gathered from information stolen in previous cyberattacks or data breaches and may have been gathered from social media. Businesses should, where possible, be careful about how much information is shared online about the business and staff members, e.g., ‘meet the team’ or ‘about us’ pages, as this could also be used by attackers.
A Launching Point For More Advanced Attacks
Spear Phishing is widely recognised as one of the most successful and commonly used techniques in cybercriminal campaigns and is favoured by attackers because it capitalises on human vulnerabilities/human error, exploits the trust placed in familiar or authoritative sources, and can be easier than trying hack complicated and well-defended systems – cyber criminals always look for the maximum payoff from minimum effort and risk.
By carefully crafting personalised messages, attackers can significantly increase the chances of success in compromising targets compared to generic phishing attempts. The level of sophistication and customisation in spear phishing attacks makes them harder to detect and raises the probability of successful infiltration.
Moreover, spear phishing serves as a launching point for more advanced attacks, such as targeted malware infections, social engineering exploits, or business email compromise (BEC) schemes. Once an attacker gains a foothold through spear phishing, they can proceed with their malicious activities, including data exfiltration, network infiltration, or financial fraud.
Reasons For The New Figures
The reasons why spear phishing makes up only 0.1 per cent of all email-based attacks but are responsible for two-thirds of all breaches (i.e they have disproportionately higher success rate compared to other types of email-based attacks) are, therefore, that:
– Spear-phishing attacks are highly targeted and tailored to specific individuals or organisations, and this customisation makes the attacks more convincing, increases the likelihood of victims falling for them and, therefore, increases their effectiveness.
– These attacks take advantage of human psychology and behavioural traits, such as trust, curiosity, and urgency and, by leveraging these vulnerabilities, attackers can trick individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing actions that compromise security.
– Spear Phishing bypasses technical security measures, e.g. firewalls, antivirus software, and spam filters, enabling attackers to circumvent traditional security controls and directly target individuals.
– While spear-phishing attacks may target a specific individual initially, their success can lead to broader repercussions. For example, compromising one employee’s credentials through a spear-phishing attack could provide the attacker with access to sensitive systems or information, potentially leading to a significant breach affecting an entire organisation.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
The obvious effectiveness of phishing attacks and the fact that most ransomware attacks are now targeting backups presents significant challenges for businesses, requiring proactive measures to protect themselves.
As highlighted by Barracuda’ report, spear phishing attacks have proven to be highly successful, accounting for two-thirds of all breaches despite constituting a small percentage of email-based attacks. The targeted and personalised nature of phishing makes it difficult to detect, as attackers extensively research their targets to create convincing messages. To protect against phishing, businesses should, therefore, exercise caution when opening emails, verify the legitimacy of requests, and provide regular training to employees on identifying and reporting phishing attempts. Account takeover protection solutions with artificial intelligence capabilities can also be effective.
If you are looking to take on an IT provider, contact us here. We currently offer a free IT consultation, so don’t forget to fill out our IT Workplace Assessment, so we can come back to you with our recommendations.