The majority of businesses have experienced a phishing attack in the past year, and according to one survey on SMBs in the United States, 72% have experienced a phishing attack in the past 3 months.
In healthcare, phishing is the leading cause of data breaches by some distance. In November 2019, there were 17 phishing-related data breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights out of 33 for the month. Since OCR only makes breach reports public if they have resulted in the exposure of 500 or more records, the total number of phishing attacks is likely to be substantially higher.
Phishing attacks are increasing, and the reason is simple. Phishing is the easiest way of attacking an organization to deliver malware or obtain sensitive information. That is because phishing targets the weakest link: Employees. Employees are getting better at identifying phishing emails through security awareness training, but cybercriminals have responded and are now conducting highly sophisticated phishing attacks that are much harder for employees to identify.
There has also been an increase in spear phishing attacks. This is a much more targeted form of phishing. Instead of millions of emails being sent out in a campaign, only a handful are sent or to very specific targets. The emails are written to maximize the chances of success and are usually personalized.
So how can a business improve its defenses against phishing and spear phishing? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. Businesses need to take a defense in depth approach to significantly improve resilience to phishing attacks.
The best place to start is with an advanced email security solution. Phishing requires some form of manual action in order to succeed. If you prevent phishing emails from reaching inboxes, employees will not be able to click on links or download malware. An advanced email security solution will be able to block the vast majority of phishing emails before they reach your email system.
You will no doubt already have a spam filtering solution in place, but is it effective? Are phishing emails still being delivered? One common mistake made by SMBs is to believe that their Office 365 environment is well protected by default, when the reality is Exchange Online Protection (EOP) that comes with Office 365 fails to block many phishing attempts. One study showed 25% of phishing emails were not blocked by EOP. If you want to improve your defenses against phishing, you should use a third-party anti-spam and anti-phishing solution on top of EOP: One that compliments EOP but provides greater protection. SpamTitan for example.
With more phishing emails being blocked, your security posture will be much improved, but you can’t stop there. No anti-phishing solution will block all phishing threats, 100% of the time. Since all it takes is for one phishing email to be clicked for a data breach to occur, you need to add another layer to your defenses.
A DNS filtering solution provides protection against the web-based part of phishing attacks. When an employee clicks a link in an email and is directed to a fake Office 365 login page or a site where malware is downloaded, the attempt to access the site will be blocked.
A DNS filter blocks attempts to access phishing sites at the DNS lookup stage, before any web content is downloaded. If an attempt is made to access a phishing site, the employee will be directed to a block page before any harm is done. DNS filters can also block malware downloads from sites that are not yet known to be malicious.
Employees are the weak link that are targeted by cybercriminals so it is important they are trained how to recognize phishing emails. You should provide security awareness training regularly to develop security aware culture in your organization. Over time, employees can be conditioned to respond correctly and report phishing threats to the security team. Also conduct phishing simulation exercises to make sure training has been effective. A failed phishing simulation allows you to identify a weak link and provide further training.
If all of the above defenses have failed, there is another layer that can keep your business protected: Multi-factor authentication. MFA requires another factor to be used before access to an email account or other system is provided. If an employee’s login credentials are disclosed in a phishing attack, MFA should stop those credentials from being used by a cybercriminal to access to gain access email accounts and other systems.
All of these layers are necessary to block today’s sophisticated phishing threats. It may seem like a lot of expense, but the above anti-phishing measures need not be expensive. TitanHQ can’t train your employees to be security titans, but through SpamTitan Email Security and WebTitan DNS filtering, phishing threats can be blocked.