COVID-related attacks increased 436% between the second and third weeks of March 2020, with an average 173% week-over-week increase during the quarter, according to Abnormal Security.
A trend toward payment fraud
There has also been a shift from individual to group BEC attacks, with campaigns with more than 10 recipients up 27% compared to Q4 2019. Attackers also adjusted their targets, with attacks on finance employees increasing more than 75% as attacks on C-Suite executives decreased by 37%. This illustrates a trend away from paycheck and engagement fraud and toward payment fraud, specifically invoice fraud attacks, which increased more than 75%.
“The email security trends we witnessed during Q1 are most certainly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to work from home, but they also reflect greater sophistication and attack strategy by threat actors,” said Evan Reiser, CEO, Abnormal Security.
“By increasing campaign target size, attackers increase the opportunity for social validity and by targeting finance employees who manage third-party payments, they’ve found a new vector for payouts.”
COVID-19-related attacks capitalizing on fear and uncertainty
COVID-19-related attacks during Q1 2020 capitalized on fear and uncertainty, leveraging trusted entities and using spoofed and compromised accounts to scam recipients, steal credentials or install malware.
Attack themes followed the pandemic news cycle, using lures such as testing and vaccines and financial relief and stimulus payments, as attackers impersonated trusted entities such as the CDC.
“With employees largely working from home and a daily inundation of information related to the pandemic, attackers saw multiple areas of vulnerability in Q12020 and they took swift advantage of them,” said Reiser.
“Without sophisticated BEC security measures in place, the likelihood of business and email compromise increases significantly. The good news is that technology exists to thwart these attacks before they reach their intended targets.”