Cybercriminals count on human interaction in 99% of attacks, research shows

Cybercrooks exploit
human flaws in about 99% of their attacks, using social engineering across
email, cloud applications and social media to gain a foothold in a targeted
infrastructure, new research shows. Almost all cyber-attacks begin with luring
employees into clicking on malicious content.

Cybercriminals target mainly people, rather than systems, to install malware, steal data or initiate fraudulent transactions, according to Proofpoint’s 2019 Human Factor report.

“Cybercriminals
are aggressively targeting people because sending fraudulent emails, stealing
credentials, and uploading malicious attachments to cloud applications is
easier and far more profitable than creating an expensive, time-consuming
exploit that has a high probability of failure,” says Proofpoint’s chief of
threat operations.

More than 99%
of threats require human interaction to execute, such as enabling a macro,
opening a file, following a link, or opening a malicious document. This means
social engineering plays a crucial role in a successful attack.

Nearly 1 in
4 phishing emails sent in 2018 were associated with Microsoft products, and the
top phishing lures focused on credential theft, creating feedback loops,
lateral movement and internal phishing.

Hackers are
refining tools and techniques while the top malware families over the past 18
months have consistently included banking Trojans, information stealers, RATs,
and malware designed to remain undetected on infected devices and exfiltrate
data to help in future attacks.

Other
findings include:

  • Imposters mimic business routines to
    evade detection (message delivery closely mirrors legitimate organizational email
    traffic patterns)
  • Malware actors are less likely to
    follow expected email traffic (i.e. campaigns that began on Sundays)
  • Click times show significant
    geographic differences, reflecting differences in work culture and email habits
    between major global regions
  • Education, finance and
    advertising/marketing topped the industries with the highest average Attack
    Index
  • The Chalbhai phish kit was the the third-most-popular
    lure in the first half of 2019
  • The most effective phishing lures in
    2018 were dominated by “Brainfood,” a diet and brain enhancement affiliate scam
    that harvests credit cards, which had click rates over 1.6 clicks per message, indicating
    that attackers also leverage human insecurity with great success

The results underscore the importance of conducting thorough cybersecurity audits as well as staff training, as employees remain the weakest link in targeted cyber threats.

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