Cybercriminals exploit volatile job market for targeted email attacks

Between July–December 2022, the median open rate for text-based business email compromise (BEC) attacks was nearly 28%, according to Abnormal Security.

business email attacks

Business email and supply chain compromise as attack strategies

Additionally, of the malicious emails that were read, an average of 15% were replied to. And while less than one percent of recipients engaged with more than one attack, 36% of replies were initiated by employees who had previously engaged with an earlier attack.

When it comes to email attacks, the odds are stacked against your workforce—and this new data shows just how much. Threat actors are increasingly taking advantage of social engineering tactics to encourage employees to open malicious emails and fulfill requests like providing login credentials, updating bank account information, and paying fraudulent invoices.

“The same techniques that have been used for thousands of years to con people are the same tactics that are used today for email attacks. The only difference is that criminals are using a computer to do it,” says Crane Hassold, director of threat intelligence at Abnormal Security.

“Human beings are relatively easy to manipulate, and employers’ expectations regarding the ability of the average employee to identify these modern attacks are far too high. It is much safer to prevent a threat from reaching an employee’s inbox than to rely on them to try to detect these sophisticated attacks on their own,” Hassold continued.

Utilizing internal data aggregated over the prior six months, Abnormal also explored the steady rise of business email compromise and the continued popularity of supply chain compromise as an attack strategy.

Over the past two halves, BEC attack volume grew by more than 81%, and over the past two years, it increased by 175%.

Employees: Greatest asset or biggest cybersecurity liability

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Only 2.1% of known attacks are reported to the security team by employees, and 84% of employee reports to phishing mailboxes are either safe emails or graymail.
  • Employees in entry-level sales roles with titles like Sales Associate and Sales Specialist read and reply to text-based BEC attacks 78% of the time.
  • Between the first and second half of 2022, BEC attacks targeting SMB organizations grew by 147%.
  • Nearly two-thirds of large enterprises experienced a supply chain compromise attack in the second half of 2022.

“Email is undeniably the most common channel for asynchronous communication. And as our collective dependence on email has increased over the past two years, its popularity as an attack vector has also grown,” said Mike Britton, CISO at Abnormal Security.

“One of the biggest challenges with email attacks is that your employees have to be correct every time whereas threat actors only have to be successful once. While educating employees about potential threats can certainly help reduce the risk of them engaging with a malicious email, the most effective way to prevent attacks is by investing in an email security solution that ensures threats are never delivered in the first place,” Britton continued.

As cybercriminals continue to see success, email threats will only increase in volume and sophistication. To stay one step ahead, enterprises need a cloud email security solution that blocks attacks before they reach employee inboxes.

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