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Brute Force Email Attacks And Account Takeover Attempts Rise 671%, Reaching Unprecedented Levels, According To Abnormal Security Research

New email threat report also finds 61% of organizations experienced a vendor email compromise/supply chain attack in Q2 2021

Abnormal Security, provider of a leading cloud-native email security platform that leverages behavioral data science to stop modern email attacks, released its Q3 2021 Email Threat Report. It examines the escalating adverse impact of socially-engineered and never-seen-before email attacks, and other advanced email threats—both financial and reputational—to organizations worldwide. The report surveyed advanced email attacks across eight major industry sectors, including retail and consumer goods; manufacturing; technology; energy and infrastructure services; medical; media and television; finance; and hospitality.

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Key report findings include:

  • 32.5% of all companies were targeted by brute force attacks in early June 2021
  • 137 account takeovers occurred per 100,000 mailboxes for members of the C-suite
  • 61% of organizations experienced a vendor email compromise attack this quarter
  • 22% more business email compromise attacks since Q4 2020
  • 60% chance of a successful account takeover each week for organizations with 50,000+ employees
  • 73% of all advanced threats were credential phishing attacks
  • 80% probability of attack every week for retail and consumer goods, technology, and media and television companies
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Over the course of the quarter, Abnormal researchers saw a significant increase in credential phishing, as well as brute force attacks, which are used to obtain personal information such as passwords, passphrases and usernames through a string of continuous, automated attempts. Once accessed, compromised accounts can be leveraged to send additional attacks on coworkers, partners and vendors, and provide the credentials necessary to infiltrate other parts of the organization.

Credential phishing and account takeover is also a major issue because it provides the access needed to send other more nefarious types of attacks such as ransomware and malware.

“Socially-engineered attacks are dramatically rising within enterprises, worldwide, creating unprecedented financial and reputational risks,” said Evan Reiser, CEO, Abnormal Security. “These never-before-seen attacks are becoming more sophisticated with every passing day. They don’t contain indicators of compromise, such as links, attachments and reputational risks, so they evade secure email gateways and other traditional email infrastructure, landing in inboxes where unsuspecting employees fall victim to their schemes, which include ransomware. In order to effectively protect against these attacks, we can no longer rely only upon established threat intelligence. We need to look farther to comprehensively understand employee and vendor identities, their relationships, all with deep context, including content and tone to baseline good behavior. Any subtle deviations from this baseline expose the possibility of a threat or attack.”

The report also underlines that impersonation is on the rise, with threat actors using both well-known brands and internal automated systems to trick their victims into submitting credentials, revealing sensitive data, or sending money. In fact, impersonation of internal systems like IT Help Desk and IT Support rose 46% over the past two quarters. This increase in specific types of impersonation shows the extent to which cybercriminals are willing to change their tactics, and highlights the need for an email security system that will detect ever-evolving threats.

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