Why people are much more vulnerable than computers…
The danger of phishing attacks is significant and they are constantly becoming more sophisticated. Phishing attacks are a type of psychological manipulation employed by hackers to deceive people into disclosing sensitive information or taking actions that put their security at risk. Despite advancements in technology that have improved defensive systems, it is evident that human intelligence remains crucial in defending against these malicious attacks.
Social engineering, which involves manipulating individuals rather than taking advantage of technical weaknesses, is the basis for numerous phishing attacks. These attacks exploit human psychology by capitalizing on trust, fear, and urgency to deceive people. Interestingly, extensive technical expertise is not necessary for social engineering to be successful; instead, it relies on the human factor.
Surprisingly, in 2022, 50% of organizations that were examined fell victim to spear phishing. On an average day, a typical organization received five highly personalized spear-phishing emails. Although spear-phishing attacks only constitute 0.1% of all email-based attacks, they are responsible for 66% of all breaches, according to data from Barracuda.
Successful spear-phishing attacks have diverse impacts on organizations, and detecting and responding to these attacks prove challenging. Among respondents who experienced a spear-phishing attack, 55% reported malware or virus infections on their machines, 49% reported the theft of sensitive data, 48% reported stolen login credentials, and 39% reported direct financial losses.
AI and Defense Systems
The progress of artificial intelligence has enabled defense systems to analyze past attack patterns and develop new ways to detect them. However, targeted attacks, particularly those using social engineering, remain a significant obstacle. These attacks can overcome most hardware and software defenses by using advanced psychological techniques. Regardless of the strength of your Firewalls, Intrusion Detection Systems, or Anti-Virus Software, a single error made by a human can lead to an attacker gaining control over the entire infrastructure of an organization, regardless of the defensive measures implemented.
Persistency of Phishing
Phishing attacks remain prevalent as scammers and hackers continually adapt their methods to avoid anti-phishing measures. They employ various personalized techniques, such as spear-phishing, whaling, and business email compromise (BEC), gathering information from social media and past conversations to create convincing phishing messages. Advanced techniques like Zombie Phish, shortened URLs, and SPF/DMARC spoofing are successfully bypassing strong security systems.
Mistakes made by humans are a common occurrence that affects everyone. In the realm of cybersecurity, these errors can have serious and expensive consequences. The 2022 Data Breach Investigation Report by Verizon reveals that human error remains a major factor in security breaches. An astounding 82% of breaches can be attributed to human actions, including successful phishing attacks, improper use of credentials, and other oversights. Additionally, employee mistakes directly caused 18% of data breaches. While employees are the first line of defense, they can also be the weakest link in an organization’s security system. It is crucial to acknowledge the role individuals play in preventing phishing attacks. Human intelligence, which includes critical thinking, analysis, and adaptability, can fill the gaps left by technical solutions and identify new phishing techniques. By using judgment, questioning the legitimacy of emails, being cautious in interactions with unknown or unexpected contacts, and recognizing unusual content, the likelihood of falling victim to phishing attacks can be significantly reduced.
Effective security training and awareness programs, for example by mimicking real-life scenarios, can empower businesses to make informed decisions.
The Zepto Method
Our perspective on enhancing protection and training employees against more sophisticated attacks involves reevaluating how organizations currently train their employees to defend against targeted attacks. Current training methods often rely on basic online platforms that offer simulated phishing exercises, which do not adequately prepare employees for real-world threats. The underlying issue is that those responsible for creating these training campaigns often lack the necessary knowledge and skills to create truly immersive offensive security scenarios.
A more effective approach would be to consistently organize two well-planned red team campaigns. These campaigns should replicate the tactics used by actual malicious actors, requiring a certain level of expertise in Reconnaissance (Recon) and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) techniques to gather valuable insights on potential targets. The emphasis should be on personalization, creating unique attack scenarios for each employee based on extensive social engineering research.
These campaigns should incorporate techniques such as spoofing, bypassing SPF records, and evading email security filters. This personalized, real-world approach helps employees gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of modern cyber threats, fostering a more vigilant and cautious mindset, even in organizations with multiple layers of security measures.
The ZEP$EC offensive approach goes beyond raising awareness about cybersecurity; it provides employees with practical experience to better equip them against evolving phishing threats.
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Based on a 2022 study on cybercrime rates involving 1,400 organizations, it was found that a staggering 80% of them viewed email-based cyber-attacks as a looming danger. Among these organizations, 79% reported a notable increase in the number of emails received, with 33% experiencing a substantial rise compared to previous years. What is concerning is that a significant 96% confirmed encountering at least one phishing attack in the past year, with 52% considering these threats to be increasingly sophisticated.
The rising number of phishing emails has significantly increased the likelihood of a successful attack. The majority of respondents, 92%, reported at least one instance of a compromised business email, while 93% experienced data breaches resulting from issues such as carelessness, negligence, or the compromise of employee credentials.
Moving forward, the focus on social engineering is expected to grow as cybercriminals find it easier to bypass security measures and directly target employees on their personal devices or computers, using that as a starting point to gain access to businesses. Phishing attacks will continue to pose a significant threat to both individuals and businesses, and humans will remain the weakest link in this regard.
Be proactive, not reactive. Cybercriminals need just one flaw to strike.
Looking for a better way to secure your business? Whether you need a product audit, vendor security assessment, or overall security testing, we can help. Our team of experts will work with you to identify your specific security needs and provide tailored recommendations to improve your overall security posture.
ZEP$EC can prepare you for unseen encounters with hackers after you get a free attack surface evaluation, during which we’ll check all the locks on your public-facing digital doorways in begin helping you mitigate existing threats.