A recent survey by Capterra on British SMEs has revealed 30% have fallen victim to a phishing attack during the COVID-19 lockdown. Just under half of the phishing emails received (45%) were related to coronavirus or COVID-19.
COVID-19 phishing emails increased significantly during the first quarter of 2020 as the coronavirus spread around the world. Since the virus was unknown to science, scientists have been working tirelessly to learn about the virus, the disease it causes, how the virus is spread, and what can be done to prevent infection. The public has been craving information as soon as it is available, which creates the perfect environment for phishing attacks. People want information and threat actors are more than happy to offer to provide it.
The Capterra survey highlights the extent to which these campaigns are succeeding. Employees are receiving phishing emails and being fooled by the social engineering tactics the scammers have adopted. The high success rate has seen many threat actors temporarily abandon their tried and tested phishing campaigns that they were running before the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, and have repurposed their campaigns to take advantage of the public’s thirst for knowledge about the virus. In the first quarter of 2020, KnowBe4 reported a 600% increase in COVID-19 and coronavirus themed phishing emails.
The high percentage of businesses that have experienced phishing attacks during the COVID-19 lockdown indicates many SMEs need to augment their anti-phishing defenses. There is also a need for further training to be provided to employees, as the emails are being opened and links are being clicked.
On the training front, formal training sessions may be harder to administer with so many employees working remotely. Consider conducting short training sessions via teleconferencing platforms and sending regular email alerts warning about the latest techniques, tactics and procedures being used in targeted attacks on remote workers. Phishing simulation exercises can be hugely beneficial and will help to condition workers to check emails thoroughly and report any threats received. These simulations also help identify which employees need further training to help them recognize potential phishing attacks.
Of course, the best way to ensure that employees do not open phishing emails and malicious attachments is to ensure they are not delivered to employees’ inboxes. That requires an advanced spam filtering solution.
Many SMEs and SMBs have now moved to an Office 365 hosted email solution, in which case email filtering will be taking place using Microsoft’s Exchange Online Protection – The default spam filtering service that protects all office 365 users. If you are reliant on this solution for filtering out phishing emails and other types of malicious messages, you should consider adding a third-party solution on top of EOP.
Exchange Online Protection provides a reasonable level of security and can block phishing emails and known malware threats, but it lacks the features of more advanced spam filtering solutions and cloud-based email security gateways, such as machine learning and predictive technology to identify attacks that have not been seen before.
As an additional protection against phishing attacks, a web filtering solution should be considered. In the event of a phishing email arriving in an inbox, a web filter serves as an additional layer of protection to prevent attempts by employees to visit websites linked in the emails. When an attempt is made to visit a known phishing website or web content that violates your acceptable internet usage policies, access will be blocked and the user will be directed to a local web page telling them why access has been denied.
Multi-factor authentication should also be implemented for email to ensure that in the event that credentials are compromised, a second factor must be provided before access to the email account is granted.
For more information on spam filtering and web filtering, and further information on TitanHQ’s advanced cloud-based email security solution – SpamTitan – and DNS-based web filtering solution – WebTitan – give the TitanHQ team a call today.