AI, quishing and multi-channel attacks top phishing trends

AI, quishing and multi-channel attacks top phishing trends

Egress report reveals millennials are the key target.

The third Phishing Threat Trends Report from Egress explores evolving payloads, AI’s rise in cybercrime, the success of multi-channel attacks and how secure email gateways (SEGs) are trailing behind in an advancing threat landscape.

Key stats: 

  • QR code phishing (quishing) has risen from 0.8% in 2021 to 10.8% in 2024, whereas attachment-based payloads halved from 72.7% to 35.7% in the same timeframe.
  • 77% of impersonation attacks imitated well-known brands. DocuSign is the most impersonated brand, followed by Microsoft.
  • 16.8% of phishing attacks rely solely on social engineering methods.
  • Microsoft Teams was the most popular second step in multi-channel attacks, accounting for 30.8%, followed by Slack (19.2%), and SMS (18.6%).
  • AI is being used for nearly every aspect of cyberattacks.
  • From Jan-Mar 2024, 52.2% more attacks got through SEG detection.
  • Millennials are the key target for cybercriminals.

Key themes:

Quishing on the rise as payloads evolve

Egress’ Threat Intelligence team has closely followed the popularity of quishing in 2023, with attacks being both prolific and highly successful. In 2021 and 2022, QR code payloads in phishing emails were relatively rare – accounting for 0.8% and 1.4% of attacks, respectively. In 2023, this jumped to 12.4% and has continued at 10.8% for 2024 so far.

Social engineering has also increased, now representing 19% of phishing attacks and phishing emails are over three times longer than they were in 2021, likely due to the increase in use of generative AI. On the other hand, the use of attachment-based payloads has decreased since 2021; three years ago, these accounted for 72.7% of attacks detected by Egress Defend and by the first quarter of 2024, this had fallen to 35.7% as threat actors evolve their payloads to evade cybersecurity efforts.

Multi-channel attacks capitalize on work messaging apps’ popularity

Following initial phishing email attacks, Microsoft Teams and Slack account for 50% of second steps in multi-channel attacks. The Egress Threat Intelligence team only expects this to rise in popularity amongst cybercriminals. Microsoft Teams was the most popular second step in multi-channel attacks, accounting for 30.8%, followed by Slack (19.2%) and SMS (18.6%).

AI sends cyberattacks into hyperdrive

Deepfakes continue to hit the headlines and the use of Zoom and mobile phone calls as the second step in multi-channel attacks has increased in the first quarter of 2024 compared with the last quarter of 2023; Zoom by 33.3% and mobile phone calls by 31.3%.

Egress predicts the use of video and audio deepfakes in cyberattacks will increase over the next 12 months and beyond.

Generative AI is also expected to increase attack success rate, including creating payloads such as malware, phishing websites and invoices for wire fraud attacks as cybercriminals look to streamline their processes and deliver more efficient campaigns at even swifter pace.

SEGs are static in an evolving landscape

The new report reveals that in the first three months of 2024, there was a 52.2% increase in the number of attacks that got through SEG detection with 68.4% of these attacks passing authentication checks, including DMARC, which is a primary detection capability used by SEGs – SEGs are less effective against legitimate but compromised third-party accounts, which is where most of these attacks have been sent from.

Sitting at the network’s edge, SEGs utilize definitions libraries and scan for known threats using signature-based and reputational-based detection, with this detection mechanism remaining relatively static despite the rapid evolution of phishing threats.

Obfuscation techniques frequently bypass SEGs such as hijacking legitimate hyperlinks and masking hyperlinks to phishing websites within image-based attachments like JPEGs. These two techniques make up 45.5% of obfuscation methods that bypass SEGs and layering multiple techniques is increasingly popular for avoiding detection.

Threat actors are targeting a dream profile and personalizing at pace

The report reveals that Millennials are the top targets for phishing attacks, receiving 37.5% of phishing emails. The most targeted industries are finance, legal and healthcare, with people working in Accounting and Finance teams receiving the most phishing emails, followed by Marketing and HR. Unsurprisingly, the most targeted job role is the CEO and 13.4% of phishing attacks impersonated someone the victim knew such as CEOs and senior leadership.

Social engineering is evident in the most phished day of the year so far, as February 9th came out on top in the lead up to Valentine’s Day.

Jack Chapman, SVP of Threat Intelligence, Egress, said:” The one thing that won’t change in 2024 is cybercriminals investing heavily in attacks that give them the highest rewards. Some tactics will stay the same, but where returns diminish or disappear entirely, new tactics will emerge. Looking at the trends explored in the latest report, we can say with certainty that AI-powered attacks are here to stay.

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