Canadian Security Magazine

Report finds social engineering cyberattacks and credential compromise jumped in 2018

By Staff   

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SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Proofpoint Inc., a cybersecurity and compliance company, has released its fifth annual “State of the Phish Report.”

The report uncovers phishing cyberattack trends across more than 15 industries and details the fundamental cybersecurity knowledge of more than 7,000 working adults in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K.

The firm says data from tens of millions of simulated phishing attacks sent over a one-year period were analyzed along with nearly 15,000 cybersecurity professional survey responses, from both Proofpoint customers and outside organizations, to provide an in-depth look at state of global phishing attacks.

According to the report, 83 per cent of global infosecurity respondents experienced phishing attacks in 2018, up from 76 per cent in 2017, and nearly 60 per cent saw an increase in employee detection following security awareness training. In addition, more organizations were affected by all types of social engineering attacks (phishing, spear phishing, sms phishing, voice phishing and USB drops) year-over-year. For the first time, compromised accounts bypassed malware infections as the most commonly identified impact of successful phishing attacks.

“Email is the top cyberattack vector, and today’s cybercriminals are persistently targeting high-value individuals who have privileged access or handle sensitive data within an organization,” said Joe Ferrara, general manager of Security Awareness Training for Proofpoint, in a prepared statement. “As these threats grow in scope and sophistication, it is critical that organizations prioritize security awareness training to educate employees about cybersecurity best practices and establish a people-centric strategy to defend against threat actors’ unwavering focus on compromising end users.”


Key findings include the following:

  • Infosecurity professionals reported a higher frequency of all types of social engineering attacks year-over-year. Phishing increased to 83 per cent vs. 76 per cent. Spear phishing increased to 64 per cent from 53 per cent. Vishing and/or smishing increased to 49 per cent vs. 45 per cent, and USB attacks increased to 4 per cent vs. 3 per cent.
  • Credential compromise has increased 70 per cent since 2017 and 280 per cent since 2016, surpassing malware infections to become the most common phishing attack impact in 2018. Respondents reporting phishing attacks, that resulted in data loss, more than tripled between 2016 and 2018, underscoring the growing phishing threat and impact from such attacks.
  • 83 per cent of global respondents experienced phishing attacks in 2018, demonstrating a 9 per cent year-over-year increase. Only 10 per cent of respondents reported experiencing a ransomware attack, confirming that ransomware took a back seat to other types of attacks last year. 
  • 59 percent of suspicious emails reported by end users were classified as potential phishing, indicating that employees are being more diligent and thoughtful about the emails they receive.
  • Baby boomers outperformed all other age groups in fundamental phishing and ransomware knowledge, underscoring why organizations should not assume a younger workforce has an innate awareness of cybersecurity threats.
  • Educating employees about today’s cyber threats is essential. In a global survey, working adults identified the following terms correctly: phishing (66 per cent correct), ransomware (45 per cent correct), smishing (23 per cent correct), and vishing (18 per cent correct). These findings spotlight a knowledge gap when it comes to the language security teams are using when communicating to end users.

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