Vast Majority of Phishing and Malware Campaigns Are Small-Scale and Short-Lived


Researchers from Google and Stanford University have analyzed the patterns of more than 1.2 billion email-based phishing and malware attacks targeting Gmail users, and found that most attack campaigns are short-lived and sent to fewer than 1,000 targets.

Users in North America are targeted the most, they found, with 42% of the observed attacks targeted users in the United States, 10% hitting people in the United Kingdom, and 5% aimed at users in Japan.

Most of the analyzed 406,002 phishing campaigns and 1,724,160 malware campaigns, the researchers say, were short, with fewer than 1000 users targeted by 91% of the phishing emails and 99% of the malware emails.

Furthermore, the majority of attacks were brief, with 89% of malware campaigns lasting just one day, and 80% of the phishing campaigns lasting less than a week.

“This short duration is likely a direct response to attackers attempting to re-configure campaigns to evade detection. Absent cycling to new campaigns, traffic to phishing pages has been found to disappear within a few hours after detection,” the researchers explain in a newly published report.

While 83% of phishing and 97% of malware emails were written in English, attackers to employ localization in some cases: 78% of emails targeting users in Japan were written in Japanese, 66% of attacks aimed at Brazilian users occurred in Portuguese, 4% of the attacks targeting users in France were employed emails written in French.

According to the report, the research has revealed that an individual’s email usage patterns, security posture, demographics, and location have a significant impact on the likelihood of attack. The risk would increase with each subsequent age group, and those who had their personal data exposed in a third-party breach are more likely to be targeted.

Users who haven’t yet enabled additional security protections are more at risk, just as those who are more active on Gmail. The use of multiple devices also increases the odds of an attack, the report reveals.

“We identified several stable factors that have a bearing on an individual’s risk level, including age, locality, device classes, and even prior security incidents. Our results represent a first step towards empirically identifying at-risk user populations and the promise of tailoring protections to those users that need it most,” the researchers conclude.

Related: FBI Warns of Employee Credential Phishing via Phone, Chat

Related: U.S. Warns of Phishing, Fraud Schemes Using COVID-19 Vaccine Lures

Related: The Evolution of Phishing: Welcome “Vishing”

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Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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