Security Experts:

Social Engineering Still a Major Factor in Corporate Compromise

Businesses today cannot function at full capacity without Email. Criminals know this, and despite billions spent to protect corporate email, it’s the easiest way for an attacker to get inside a company. With that said, FireEye has published a report on the top Spear Phishing campaigns so far this year, which they say have shot up more than 50% compared to levels in 2011.

Spear Phishing, is at its base, a Social Engineering attack. Lately, the phrase has been tossed about to include basic Phishing attacks. Likely because they are so similar, but the difference is that one focuses on a single vertical market; such as energy or banking, while the other simply blasts the same message to millions of people in the hope they will follow a malicious link.

Spear Phishing has been linked to attacks against major companies, such as RSA, and governmental breaches, such as those at Oak Ridge National Labs, in additional to many others.

Spear Phishing Attacks

Spear Phishing is effective, and criminals are quick to jump on a growing trend. Spear Phishing emails are particularly effective, as criminals often use information harvested from social networking sites to personalize emails and make them look mostly authentic. In addition, publicly available information on an organization’s own website or within marketing materials helps push these targeted attacks forward.

FireEye's report, Top Words Used in Spear Phishing Attacks to Successfully Compromise Enterprise Networks and Steal Data, explains that express shipping terms are included in about one quarter of attacks, including “DHL,” “UPS,” and “delivery.”

Urgent terms such as “notification” and “alert” are included in about 10 percent of attacks. Moreover, label, parcel, report, ticket, and shipping are commonly found in this year’s crop of Spear Phishing scams. An example of a malicious attachment is “”

It should come as no shock to learn that these words are just as popular in 2011, especially label, invoice, post, document, and postal.

“Cybercriminals continue to evolve and refine their attack tactics to evade detection and use techniques that work. Spear Phishing emails are on the rise because they work.” said Ashar Aziz, founder and CEO, FireEye.

“Signature-based detection is ineffective against these constantly changing advanced attacks, so IT security departments need to add a layer of advanced threat protection to their security defenses.”

The full report is available here with no registration required.

Related Reading: Social Engineering is Alive and Well. How Vulnerable is Your Organization?

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.