New threat research released by Trend Micro gives empirical evidence that an aggressive breed of phishing attacks is well under way. In its analysis of targeted attack data collected between February and September 2012, the global cloud security firm found that 91 percent of targeted attacks involved spear phishing..
Spear phishing is a breed of highly targeted phishing that makes the use of information about a target to make attacks more specific and “personal” to the target. Spear phishing emails, for instance, may refer to their targets by their specific name, rank, or position instead of using generic titles as in broader phishing campaigns. The email message is cleverly crafted to entice a specific individual to either open a malicious file attachment or to click a link to a malware- or an exploit-laden site, starting a compromise within the victim’s network
According to the report, “Spear Phishing Email: Most Favored APT Attack Bait,” 94 percent of targeted emails use malicious file attachments as the payload or infection source. The remaining 6 six percent use alternative methods such as installing malware through malicious links that download malicious files. The reason for this huge discrepancy is straightforward: Employees in large companies or government organizations normally share files (e.g., reports, business documents, and resumes) via email since downloading materials straight off the Internet is regarded as insecure.
The most commonly used and shared file types accounted for 70 percent of the total number of spear phishing email attachments during the monitored time period. The main file types were: .RTF (38 percent), .XLS (15 percent), and .ZIP (13 percent). Alternatively, executable (.EXE) files were not as popular among cybercriminals, most likely because emails with .EXE file attachments are usually detected and blocked by security solutions.
The most highly targeted industries are government and activist groups. Extensive information about government agencies and appointed officials are readily found on the Internet and often posted on public government websites. Activist groups, highly active in social media, are also quick to provide member information in order to facilitate communication, organize campaigns or recruit new members. These habits elevate member profiles, making them visible targets. As a result, three out of four of the targeted victims email addresses are easily found through web searches or using common email address formats.