Phishing Attacks Increasingly Focus on Social Networks, Studies Show

Three different studies find that financial services account for the greatest phishing attack volume, but email and social networks are more successfully compromised.

phishing and social networks

An analysis of three studies of phishing attacks—each focusing on different data sets—has suggested that online fraudsters are increasingly attacking social network and email services because they offer the best prospects for success.

In a survey of some 9,000 software programs and scripts used for phishing published on June 25, security firm PhishLabs found that—while the brands of financial companies and e-payment services continued to be the most popular targets—social networking brands and email services were the focus of more than a third of phishing kits.

The trend was evident in data collected by antivirus firm Kasperksy Lab as well. In the firm's quarterly spam report, the Russian security firm found that email search and social networks accounted for 61 percent of the brands targeted by blocked phishing attacks.

While the phishing attacks that use fake social media sites and email services are not as sophisticated as those targeting the users of financial site, victims tend to be less concerned about their social media credentials, Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence for PhishLabs, told eWEEK.

"The quality is lower, there are more typos, and more rough edges, so they are a little easier to spot," he said. "But phishing is a big danger for people using social networks, because they don't have their shields up like with other types of phishing."

While PhishLabs' and Kaspersky's data agree on the trend, a third data set—from the latest quarterly trend report by the Anti-Phishing Working Group—showed that the e-payment and financial firms continued to be the dominant target of fraudsters, with fraudulent sites created to mimic their brands accounting for 67 percent of all attacks.

In many ways, the three security firms and their different views of phishing are like the proverbial blind men analyzing an elephant by touch alone.

PhishLabs analyzed the actual phishing kits—also known as scam pages in the underground marketplaces—to attempt to estimate online fraudsters’ demand for attacks on specific brands. While actual attack data shows that many campaigns focus more on financial sites and e-payment services, the fact that phishing kits support attacks on social networks and email services suggest that clients are demanding that functionality, Jackson said.

"For us, it is more of a market place study, focusing on supply and demand," he said. "We wanted to see what was out there. Financial services are targeted a lot, but the available kits [that] focused on social networks were likely getting a lot of click-throughs."

Phishers targeted more than 550 brands in the first three months of the year, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group report, which based its study on more than 170,000 unique reports of phishing attacks.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...