Phishing attacks aren’t a new threat. In fact, these scams have been circulating since the mid-’90s. But, over time, they’ve become more and more sophisticated, have targeted larger numbers of people, and have caused more harm to both individuals and organizations.
That means that this year – despite a growing number of vendors offering anti-phishing solutions – phishing is a bigger problem than ever. The problem is so big, in fact, that it’s hard to keep up with the latest facts and figures.
That’s why we’ve put together this article. We’ve rounded up the latest phishing statistics, including:
If you’re familiar with phishing, spear phishing, and other forms of social engineering attacks, skip straight to the first category of 2020 phishing statistics. If not, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite resources that you can check out first to learn more about this hard-to-detect security threat.
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 88% of organizations around the world experienced spear phishing attempts in 2019. Another 86% experienced business email compromise (BEC) attempts.
But, there’s a difference between an attempt and a successful attack. 65% of organizations in the United States experienced a successful phishing attack. This is 10% higher than the global average.
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:
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%).
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.
While we’ve already discussed credential theft, malware, and financial motivations, the consequences and impact vary. According to one report:
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 2019, BEC scammers made nearly $1.8 billion. That’s over half of the total losses reported by organizations.
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:
Earlier this year, Check Point released its list of the most impersonated brands. These vary based on whether the attempt was via email or mobile, but the most impersonated brands overall for Q1 2020 were:
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.
But, after the outbreak of COVID-19 at the end of Q1, hackers changed their tactics and, by the end of Q2, Zoom was the most impersonated brand in email attacks. Read on for more COVID-related phishing statistics.
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%.
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.
We’ve created several resources to help employees identify phishing attacks. You can download a shareable PDF with examples of phishing emails and tips at the bottom of this blog: Coronavirus and Cybersecurity: How to Stay Safe From Phishing Attacks.
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.
To learn more about how tools like Tessian Defender can prevent spear phishing attacks, speak to one of our experts and request a demo today.