Phishing increase builds on hijacked brand names, study reports

The number of brands used in spoofed emails that trick people into visiting malicious Web sites or clicking on malware attachments rose in the second quarter, an indication that phishers are hijacking the good names of businesses from new markets, a report says.

The number of unique brands owned by businesses and other organizations that were hijacked by phishers reached a record 639 in the quarter ended in June, according to the latest Phishing Activity Trends Report published this week by the Anti-Phishing Working Group. The previous high was 614 in the fourth quarter of 2012.

"The landscape continues to evolve as fraudsters seek new victims in untapped markets by targeting more brands," Ihab Shraim, contributing analyst and chief information security officer for MarkMonitor, said in the report.

Brands within the payment and financial services industries remained the most popular, used in three-quarters of attacks. Hijacked payment services brands were the favorite at 48 percent.

Other key targets included Internet service providers, cloud-based services, and hosting companies, Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor, said. Stealing credentials for these sites can open the door to "treasure troves" of profitable data.

The use of brands in other sectors followed in the report, including retail, government, auction, and social networking, was the same as in the first quarter. The exception was computer and online gaming. The number of attacks brands in those sectors were used fell to 2 percent from 6 percent in the previous quarter.

Shift in sources

The United States remained the number one hosting country for phishing sites for most of the quarter. In May, Germany was ranked at the top for the first time, pushing the U.S. to second.

Interestingly, Russia, which is traditionally near the top, nearly disappeared from the list in June, replaced by Kazakhstan. The switch was likely due to the latter country experiencing a rise in people making mobile payments, contributing analyst Carl Leonard of Websense Security Labs, said in the report.

sms phishing

Most phishing attacks on mobile devices involve sending malicious links via the phone's SMS service, which is the "low-hanging fruit" for phishers, Jeff Debrosse, director of the Websense Security Labs, said.

"The one thing every one has across the planet on their phones, numbering 7 billion (by 2014), is SMS," Debrosse said.

In April, Hong Kong vanished from the list for the quarter, an indication of how criminals will move phishing infrastructures when needed to evade detection and shutdowns by law enforcement, Leonard said.

New malware surfaces

The amount of new malware used in phishing attacks rose by 12 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the report. So far this year, the number of unique malware is up 17 percent. Trojans accounted for a record 77 percent of all new malware.

Globally, the average malware infection rate of computers was 33 percent, up from the first quarter, the report said. China had the highest rate, with more than half of the computers in the country infected.

Other countries above the global average included Turkey, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Russia, Argentina, Taiwan, Slovenia, and El Salvador. Europe and Japan had the lowest infection rates and the U.S. fell in the middle with 31 percent.

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