Sharp increase in phishing as cybercriminals exploit SEO to lure victims

Cybercriminals are growing in sophistication, taking advantage of various social engineering techniques and Trojan families to target victims more effectively, according to a new report.

Netskope has published new research that finds that phishing downloads have seen a sharp increase of 450% over the past 12 months, driven by attackers using search engine optimization techniques to improve rankings of malicious PDFs on popular search engines, including Google and Bing.

The findings are part of the latest release of Netskope Cloud and Threat Report: Global Cloud and Malware Trends, which examines the past 12 months of malware downloads from the cloud and the web around the world.

The top web reference categories contained some of the categories traditionally associated with malware, especially shareware/freeware, but were dominated by more non-traditional categories. The acceleration of the use of search engines to deliver malware over the past 12 months provides insight into how adept some attackers are at SEO. The malware downloads flagged by search engines were mostly malicious PDFs, including several malicious fake CAPTCHAs that redirected users to phishing, spam, fraud, and malware websites.

The report also found that most malware over the past 12 months was downloaded from within the same region as its victim, a growing trend that points to the growing sophistication of cybercriminals, who often install malware to avoid geofilters and other prevention measures. traditional.

“Malware is no longer limited to traditional web categories of risk. It is now lurking everywhere, from cloud applications to search engines, putting organizations at greater risk than ever before,” says Ray Kanzanis, Director of Threat Research at Netskope.

“To avoid becoming a victim of social engineering techniques and targeted attack methods, security leaders should regularly review their malware protection strategy and ensure that all potential entry points are considered,” he says.

Based on a subset of anonymized usage data collected by the Netskope Security Cloud platform, additional key findings from the report include:

  • Trojans continue to prove effective: Trojans account for 77% of all malware downloads on the cloud and the web as attackers use social engineering techniques to gain an initial foothold and to deliver a variety of next-stage payloads, including backdoors, hijackers, and ransomware. There is not a single family of Trojans that is dominant in the world. The top ten families of Trojans account for only 13% of the total downloads, with the remaining 87% coming from less common families.
  • The cloud and the web are a perfect pair for attackers: 47% of malware downloads originate from cloud apps compared to 53% from traditional websites, as attackers continue to use a combination of the cloud and the web to target their victims.
  • Popular cloud storage apps continue to be the source of most cloud malware downloads. The best cloud app referral apps included collaboration and email apps, where attackers can send messages directly to their victims in many different forms, including emails, direct messages, comments, and document sharing.
  • Microsoft Office malware files rejected to pre-Emotet levels: EXE and DLL files account for nearly half of all malware downloads as attackers continue to target Microsoft Windows, while malicious Microsoft Office files regress back to pre-Emotet levels. This is due in large part to the proactive warnings and security controls that technology vendors such as Google and Microsoft have introduced in the past years.

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