Last month, the UK government published the findings of its 2024 cyber security breaches survey. The annual survey was conducted by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) in partnership with the Home Office between September 2023 and January 2024 on 2,000 UK businesses, 1,004 registered UK charities, and 430 educational institutions. The survey provides insights into the nature of cyberattacks and data breaches experienced in the UK and confirms that attacks are increasing.

In the past year, 50% of surveyed businesses and almost one-third of charities (32%) experienced at least one cybersecurity breach or attack, with medium-sized businesses (70%), large businesses (74%), and high-income charities with £500,000+ annual income (66%) more likely to experience a cybersecurity breach.

It is often reported that cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated; however, the most common cyber threats are relatively unsophisticated and are often effective. The most common type of cyberattack was phishing, which was reported by 84% of businesses and 83% of charities, with impersonation of organizations – online and via email – reported by more than one-third of businesses (35%) and charities (37%). Malware was used in 17% of attacks on businesses and 14% of attacks on charities. In terms of prevalence, phishing was by far the most common type of cybercrime. 90% of businesses and 94% of charities that were victims of cybercrime experienced at least one phishing attack.

The costliest type of phishing attack is business email compromise (BEC). BEC covers several types of attacks, with the most common involving criminals accessing work email accounts and using them to trick others into transferring funds or sending sensitive data. For example, a threat actor gains access to an email account of a vendor and uses the account to send an email to a customer containing a fake invoice or a request to change bank account information for an upcoming payment.

The losses to BEC attacks can be considerable. Attacks frequently result in fraudulent transfers of tens of thousands of pounds or in some cases hundreds of thousands or millions. With such large sums involved, criminals put considerable effort into these scams. Targets are researched, phishing is used to compromise an employee email account, internal phishing is used to gain access to the right accounts, the contents of accounts are studied to identify information that can be used in the scam, and the legitimate account holder is impersonated in the attack on the targeted organization or individual.

The goal in these attacks is often to gain access to the email account of the CEO or a senior executive, and that account is used to conduct a scam internally or externally. Since the request comes from a trusted authority figure and uses their legitimate account, the request is often not questioned.

BEC attacks can be difficult to identify by employees but also by email security solutions as trusted accounts are used for the scams and the emails usually do not contain any malicious content such as a URL to a phishing website or malware. These attacks use social engineering and target human weaknesses.

Defending against BEC and phishing attacks requires a combination of measures. Since targets are extensively researched, businesses should consider reducing their digital footprint and making it harder for cybercriminals to obtain information that can be used in convincing phishing and BEC campaigns, especially by reducing the amount of information that is available online about senior staff members.

Anti-spam software is a must for blocking the initial phishing attacks that are used to compromise accounts; however, an advanced solution is required to block sophisticated BEC attacks. TitanHQ’s cloud-based anti-spam service – SpamTitan – performs a barrage of spam checks for inbound and outbound emails to identify spam, phishing, and BEC content, including reputation checks of domains and accounts, scans of message content, sandboxing to identify malicious attachments, and AI and machine learning analysis to identify emails that deviate from the standard messages typically received by an organization.

PhishTitan is an anti-phishing solution for Microsoft 365 that enhances Microsoft’s anti-phishing measures and catches the phishing threats that Microsoft misses. The solution adds banners to emails to warn employees about potentially malicious content and allows security teams to quickly remediate phishing attempts across the entire email environment.

Since phishing and BEC attacks target human weaknesses, it is vital to provide training to the workforce. The aim should be to improve awareness and condition employees to always be on the lookout for a scam and to err on the side of caution and report suspicious emails to their IT security team. Phishing simulations are useful for helping staff to recognize phishing emails and identify knowledge gaps. TitanHQ’s SafeTitan training platform has all the content you need to run effective training programs to improve defenses against phishing and BEC attacks.

Contact TitanHQ today about these solutions and other ways you can improve your defenses against phishing, BEC, and other types of cyberattacks.