How to deal with the escalating phishing threat

In today’s world, most external cyberattacks start with phishing. For attackers, it’s almost a no-brainer: phishing is cheap and humans are fallible, even after going through anti-phishing training.

deal with phishing

Patrick Harr, CEO at SlashNext, says that while security awareness training is an important aspect of a multi-layered defense strategy, simulating attacks during computer-based training sessions is not an effective way to learn, because people don’t necessarily retain the information.

“Working from home, where there are more distractions, makes it even less likely that people really pay attention to these trainings. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see the same people who tune out training falling for scams again and again,” he noted.

That’s why defenders must preempt attacks, he says, and reinforce a lesson during a live attack. When something gets through and someone clicks on a malicious URL, defenders must be able to simultaneously block the attack and show the victim what the phisher was attempting to do.

Latest phishing trends

Harr, who has over 20 years of experience as a senior executive and GM at industry leading security and storage companies and as a serial entrepreneur and CEO at multiple successful start-ups, is now leading SlashNext, a cybersecurity startup that uses AI to predict and protect enterprise users from phishing threats.

He says that most CISOs assume phishing is a corporate email problem and their current line of defense is adequate, but they are wrong.

“We are detecting 21,000 new phishing attacks a day, many of which have moved beyond corporate email and simple credential stealing. These attacks can easily evade email phishing defenses that rely on static, reputation-based detection. That’s why we typically see 80-90% of attacks evading conventional lines of defense to compromise the network,” he told Help Net Security.

“Magnify this by 150,000 new zero-hour phishing threats a week, almost double the number of threats versus a year ago, and we can safely say, ‘Houston we have a problem!’”

They are seeing:

  • More text-based phishing, with no actual links, across SMS, gaming, search services, ad networks, and collaboration platforms like Zoom, Teams, Box, Dropbox, and Slack, as well as attacks on mobile devices
  • A proliferation of phishing payloads beyond credential stealing scams which have been around for ages
  • An increase in scareware, where phishers attempt to scare people into taking an action, such as sharing an email
  • Rogue software attacks embedded in browser extensions and social engineering schemes like the massive Twitter bitcoin scam that happened in July

“Finally, we’re seeing cybercriminals trying out innovative ways to evade detection. For example, bad actors may register a domain that lays dormant for months before going live,” he added, and noted that they’ve witnessed a 3,000% increase in the number of phishing attacks since everyone began working and learning from home, and they expect this growth trend will continue.

Advice for CISOs

His main advice to CISOs is not to be complacent and to be diligent: near term, mid-term, and long term.

“You’ve got to take a comprehensive, multi-layer phishing defense approach outside the firewall, where your biggest user population is working remotely, and inside the firewall for your internal users. You need to protect mobile devices and PC/Mac endpoints, with end-to-end encryption (E2EE) deployed,” he opined.

“You also have to be mindful of corporate users’ personal side as their personal and business lives have converged, and many people use the same devices and same credentials across personal and business accounts.

Thirdly, this type of attacks need to be prevented from happening. “Use AI-enabled defenses to fight AI-enabled attacks. Fight machines with machines and adopt a preemptive security posture.”

Finally: some attacks inevitably breach all defenses and they must be prepared to quickly detect and respond to attack, and perform the necessary cleanup.

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