47% of payloadless phishing emails are able to bypass the most popular secure email gateways (SEGs), according to researchers at IronScales. These are emails that don’t contain malicious links or attachments, but instead try to manipulate the user in a more targeted manner.
“The overwhelming majority of email phishing attacks are now driven by social engineering messages aimed at prompting an action, and distributed via advanced phishing techniques such as business email compromise (BEC), VIP/CEO impersonation and other forms of email spoofing and fraud,” the researchers write. “From an attacker’s perspective, the transition from spear-phishing emails packed with malicious payloads to social engineering was a no brainer.”
The researchers explain that spear phishing is much more effective because the most popular secure email gateways “were not built to analyze the language within an email and decipher a message’s context and intent.”
“The phishing attack technique with the greatest penetration rate was sender name impersonations, which occur when an email masquerades as coming from a trusted source, such as a colleague, friend or family member,” IronScales says. “Sender name impersonations accounted for 30% of all SEG penetrations, which represents a 6% increase from our 2019 analysis. Domain name impersonations, which occurs when an email is from a similar domain, in which attackers register the domain to set the right authentication records in the DNS, accounted for 25% of penetrations. This represents a 23% increase from our 2019 research. VIP impersonations, such as CEO spoofs, and fake login pages came in at 22% and 16%, respectively.”
Technical defenses are useful and have improved greatly over the years. As security technology improves, however, attackers have shifted to more targeted social engineering attacks that won’t be flagged by these defenses. New-school security awareness training can address this problem by enabling your employees to recognize social engineering attacks that reach their inboxes.
IronScales has the story.