Phishing Attacks Surge in Last Six Months

Phishing attacks are rapidly on the rise, and growing in sophistication.

According to a survey conducted by Cyota, the number of attacks per month has doubled in the last six months.

“Whereas six months ago, the industry was asking whether the number of attacks would continue to grow or flatten out, it’s now clear that phishing continues to grow rapidly,” said Naftali Bennet, Cyota’s chief executive. “The number of people aware of them is also growing.”

The study was based on a survey of 655 respondents conducted by Infosurv, an online market research company.

Key findings include:

  • 44 percent of online banking customers use the same password for multiple online banking services. A password obtained by fraudsters can be used at a number of banks.
  • 37 percent of online online banking customers use the same password at other, less secure sites.
  • 79 percent of account holders check for the lock icon at the bottom of a secure Web page, but only 40 percent click the lock to view the security certificate. A lock icon is easily spoofed by fraudsters.
  • 70 percent of account holders are less likely to respond to an email from their bank, and more than half are less likely to sign up or continue to use their bank’s online services because of phishing.

    “We’ve been seeing two major trends: a dramatic increase in volume and an increase in quality,” Bennett said. “Before Phishing, emails were marked by bad grammar and formatting. Now, they’re flawless.”

    Cyota has also observed an increased use of phishing tactics, involving sophisticated Trojans that don’t require duping a victim into providing information. The New York-based company has identified two variants: one is Trojan software that records all keystrokes, including passwords, on an infected computer, which it then emails back to the fraudster; the other variant waits until a user logs in to an online banking Web site to access the victim’s financial account.

    “Once you’re in,” Bennet said, “they’re in, too. These guys are pretty clever.”

    Because some Trojans can be activated by simply opening an email, clicking an attachment, or in some cases, merely browsing a certain Web site, the threat posed by phishers is likely to increase, Bennett added.

    With Cyota’s proprietary technology, it can track the country where phishing attacks originate. The leading phishing-originating countries in non-sequential order are: the U.S., China, the U.K., Taiwan, and South Korea, which is roughly approximate to the leading spam-originating countries.

    Cyota has even located do-it-yourself online phishing kits. The technology to pull off a phishing attack can be purchased for around $270.

    In 2005, Bennett predicts phishing will become even more mainstream as fraudsters shift their focus from the most-attacked major banks to small and mid-sized institutions.

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