TMCnet Feature
March 06, 2020

State of the Phish 2020: There's No End in Sight

With all the focus on malware and phishing, it seems like these problems should be well on the way to being solved -- but the reality is quite different.   

There are thousands of articles telling CIOs and senior technology leaders that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are the best tools on the market for fighting cybercrime. While this certainly might be the case, enterprising hackers are also taking advantage of these advanced solutions -- leveraging AI and machine learning to hone their algorithms in an attempt to bypass security measures. While AI is still fairly new in the world of cybersecurity, it did not take long for cybercriminals to decide to corrupt the tools that were keeping them out of lucrative networks. With AI-powered malware on the rise and being used to transmit malicious applications inside a benign data payload, it becomes increasingly challenging for security administrators to stop these attacks before they reach end-users.

Expansion of PHaaS

It seems there is a service for everything these days, and phishing is no different. Off the shelf kits offer phishing-as-a-service (PHaaS), something that should bring shudders to technology professionals everywhere. These turnkey kits provide everything a novice or experienced hacker needs to start breaking and entering your network via the most effective form of attack: phishing. These kits offer a range of attack modes including randomized URLs that make it easy for cybercriminals to turn a quick profit and then pop out to focus in another direction once security software catches on to their game. With 83% of security professionals admitting to experiencing phishing attacks and 48% of these attacks including innocuous Microsoft (News - Alert) Office files as their delivery mechanism, it's not difficult to see that phishing is an expanding threat that will continue to trouble security administrators in the coming years.

According to Joe Cannata, owner of Techsperts, LLC, "Most of the phishing emails we have come across lately are almost undetectable. We are seeing legitimate email addresses of business contacts being spoofed in these emails, making the communication seemingly legit to most users." While users are still able to detect some of these threats by quickly copying and pasting any suspicious links into a Word document or notepad in order to see where links really lead, there's only a small percentage of business users who will take this additional step without ongoing training and encouragement from IT staff. Cannata notes: "We recommend all our clients utilize 3rd party email security protection, which is crucial to helping eliminate any email-borne threats."

AI and Machine Learning are Top Tools for Cybercriminals

With BEC (Business Email Compromise) on the rise, companies are reporting over $12 billion in aggregate losses due to these intrusive phishing, spear-phishing and whaling attacks. Learning algorithms have been used for some time looking for clustering, patterns and correlations between emails that have been marked as malicious. In this way, organizations are often able to filter some of the most blatant email problems out before they reach users. Evan Eakin, co-founder and CEO of Elevate Services Group, shares: "Phishing will increase in 2020 because the entry costs for AI technology are coming down sharply. The profit motive is going to continue to drive ransomware attacks." Hackers are now deploying AI-powered malware that waits until specific actions are completed before the hostile payload is triggered. The triggers used are frightening and can include everything from geo-location to face recognition or security cam information -- meaning these attacks may lie in wait until you enter your home to infect your systems.

When you are living in a world where malicious code can be deployed by a user looking into a webcam, it can feel like we are in a surreal world of the future. Unfortunately, these threats are a very real and present danger for companies, making it vital to ensure that you have active cybersecurity measures in place and a strong backup and disaster recovery strategy ready to launch at a moment's notice.


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