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According to the FBI, phishing was the most common type of cybercrime in 2020—and phishing incidents nearly doubled in frequency, from 114,702 incidents in 2019, to 241,324 incidents in 2020.
The FBI said there were more than 11 times as many phishing complaints in 2020 compared to 2016.
According to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 22% of breaches in 2019 involved phishing. While this is down 6.6% from the previous year, it’s still the “threat action variety” most likely to cause a breach.
The frequency of attacks varies industry-by-industry (click here to jump to key statistics about the most phished). But 75% of organizations around the world experienced some kind of phishing attack in 2020. Another 35% experienced spear phishing, and 65% faced BEC attacks.
But, there’s a difference between an attempt and a successful attack. 74% of organizations in the United States experienced a successful phishing attack. This is 30% higher than the global average, and 14% higher than last year.
ESET’s Threat Report reveals that malicious email detections rose 9% between Q2 and Q3, 2020. This followed a 9% rise from Q1 to Q2, 2020.
⚡ Want to learn how to prevent successful attacks? Check out this page all about BEC prevention.
Hackers are relying more and more heavily on the credentials they’ve stolen via phishing attacks to access sensitive systems and data. That’s one reason why breaches involving malware have decreased by over 40%.
According to Sonic Wall’s 2020 Cyber Threat report, in 2019, PDFs and Microsoft Office files were the delivery vehicles of choice for today’s cybercriminals. Why? Because these files are universally trusted in the modern workplace.
When it comes to targeted attacks, 65% of active groups relied on spear phishing as the primary infection vector. This is followed by watering hole websites (23%), trojanized software updates (5%), web server exploits (2%), and data storage devices (1%).
96% of phishing attacks arrive by email. Another 3% are carried out through malicious websites and just 1% via phone. When it’s done over the telephone, we call it vishing and when it’s done via text message, we call it smishing.
According to Symantec’s 2019 Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), the top five subject lines for business email compromise (BEC) attacks:
Analysis of real-world phishing emails revealed these to be the most common subject lines in Q4, 2020:
Google Safe Browsing uncovers unsafe URLs across the web. The latest data shows a world-wide-web rife with phishing websites.
Here you can see how phishing sites have rocketed ahead of malware sites over the years.
Many phishing emails contain malicious payloads such as malware files. ESET’s Threat Report reports that in Q3 2020, these were the most common type of malicious files attached to phishing emails:
You can learn more about malicious payloads here.
The top five “types” of data that are compromised in a phishing attack are:
While instances of financially-motivated social engineering incidents have more than doubled since 2015, this isn’t a driver for targeted attacks. Just 6% of targeted attacks are motivated by financial incentives, while 96% are motivated by intelligence gathering. The other 10% are simply trying to cause chaos and disruption.
When asked about the impact of successful phishing attacks, security leaders around the world cited the following consequences:
According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost per compromised record has steadily increased over the last three years. In 2019, the cost was $150. For some context, 5.2 million records were stolen in Marriott’s most recent breach. That means the cost of the breach could amount to $780 million.
But, the average breach costs organizations $3.92 million. This number will generally be higher in larger organizations and lower in smaller organizations.
Losses from business email compromise (BEC) have skyrocketed over the last year. The FBI’s Internet Crime Report shows that in 2020, BEC scammers made over $1.8 billion—far more than via any other type of cybercrime.
And, this number is only increasing. According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group’s Phishing Activity Trends Report, the average wire-transfer loss from BEC attacks in the second quarter of 2020 was $80,183. This is up from $54,000 in the first quarter.
This cost can be broken down into several different categories, including:
Costs associated remediation generally account for the largest chunk of the total.
While the Manufacturing industry saw the most breaches from social attacks (followed by Healthcare and then Professional services), employees working in Wholesale Trade are the most frequently targeted by phishing attacks, with 1 in every 22 users being targeted by a phishing email last year.
According to a different data set, the most phished industries vary by company size. Nonetheless, it’s clear Manufacturing and Healthcare are among the highest risk industries.
The industries most at risk in companies with 1-249 employees are:
The industries most at risk in companies with 250-999 employees are:
The industries most at risk in companies with 1,000+ employees are:
New research found the brands below to be the most impersonated brands used in phishing attacks throughout Q4, 2020.
In order of the total number of instances the brand appeared in phishing attacks:
The common factor between all of these consumer brands? They’re trusted and frequently communicate with their customers via email. Whether we’re asked to confirm credit card details, our home address, or our password, we often think nothing of it and willingly hand over this sensitive information.
Because hackers tend to take advantage of key calendar moments (like Tax Day or the 2020 Census) and times of general uncertainty, individuals and organizations saw a spike in COVID-19 phishing attacks starting in March. But, according to one report, COVID-19 related scams reached their peak in the third and fourth weeks of April.
And, it looks like hackers were laser-focused on money. Incidents involving payment and invoice fraud increased by 112% between Q1 2020 and Q2 2020. It makes sense, then, that finance employees were among the most frequently targeted employees. In fact, attacks on finance employees increased by 87% while attacks on the C-Suite decreased by 37%.
According to Microsoft’s New Future of Work Report:
While you can’t stop hackers from sending phishing or spear phishing emails, you can make sure you (and your employees) are prepared if and when one is received.
You should start with training. Educate employees about the key characteristics of a phishing email and remind them to be scrupulous and inspect emails, attachments, and links before taking any further action.
But, humans shouldn’t be the last line of defense. That’s why organizations need to invest in technology and other solutions to prevent successful phishing attacks. But, given the frequency of attacks year-on-year, it’s clear that spam filters, antivirus software, and other legacy security solutions aren’t enough.
That’s where Tessian comes in. By learning from historical email data, Tessian’s machine learning algorithms can understand specific user relationships and the context behind each email. This allows Tessian Defender to not only detect, but also prevent a wide range of impersonations, spanning more obvious, payload-based attacks to subtle, social-engineered ones.