Kaspersky urges organizations to pay attention as most APT attacks infect enterprises, governments through targeted phishing

Phishing incidents are still increasing dramatically in Southeast Asia (SEA) and it only took cybercriminals six months to surpass their attacks against users in the region last year, a most recent data from the international anti-provider Karpersky revealed.

Karsperky said its anti-phishing system blocked a total of 12,127,692 malicious links in SEA from January to June 2022. It is 1 million more than the 11,260,643 phishing attempts that were discovered here in 2021 as a whole.

Phishing is a form of social engineering attack that perpetrators frequently use to compromise both people and organizations as their targets. It operates in a manner similar to how it is carried out on a large scale, where cybercriminals send massive waves of emails posing as legitimate businesses or individuals to advertise fake pages or infect users with malicious attachments.

The ultimate goal of a phishing attack, in Karpersky’s view, is to obtain credentials, particularly financial and login information, in order to either steal money or, worse yet, compromise an entire organization.

More than half of the H1 2022 phishing detections were targeting Kaspersky users in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Four out of six countries from SEA – Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam – recorded more phishing emails during the first six months of this year compared to their total number of incidents in 2021.

“The first half of 2022 is eventful in good and bad ways. On a personal level, we went through the seismic shift of trying to regain our lives post-pandemic, forcing companies and organizations to welcome remote and hybrid work. The travel sector, including airlines, airports, travel agencies, and more, has also been overwhelmed by the influx of tourists wanting to travel with borders now open. Behind these shifts are networks and systems that needed to be updated and secured hastily. On the other hand, cybercriminals are all ears and with their ability to tweak their messages and infuse them with believable urgency. As a result, we’ve seen real, unfortunate incidents of victims losing money because of phishing attacks,” comments Yeo Siang Tiong, General Manager for Southeast Asia at Kaspersky.

Aside from individual’s loss of money, Kaspersky’s elite researcher recently sounded the alarm that most of the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups in the Asia Pacific including SEA use targeted phishing to enter into a highly-defended network.

As the name “advanced” suggests, an APT uses continuous, clandestine, and sophisticated hacking techniques to gain access to a system and remain inside for a prolonged period of time, with potentially destructive consequences.

Because of the level of effort needed to carry out such an attack, APTs are usually leveled at high-value targets, such as nation states and large corporations, with the ultimate goal of stealing information over a long period of time, rather than simply “dipping in” and leaving quickly, as many black hat hackers do during lower level cyber assaults.

Noushin Shabab, Senior Security Researcher for Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) at Kaspersky, revealed in a recent presentation that targeted phishing, also known as spear phishing, is the preferred infection vector of APT groups operating in the region.

“We did a report this year which found that the majority (75%) of executives here are aware and even anticipate an APT attack against their organizations. With phishing incidents hitting the roof in just the first six months of the year, enterprises, public entities, and government agencies should understand the impact of one wrong click on their critical networks and systems. We, humans, remain the weakest link and it is time to look beyond training and awareness. Backup security plans – like incident response capabilities – should be in place to stop a phishing email from becoming the launch pad of a damaging attack to your organization,” adds Yeo.

Traditional security often doesn’t stop spear phishing attacks because they are so cleverly customized. As a result, they’re becoming more difficult to detect. One employee mistake can have serious consequences for businesses, governments, and even nonprofit organizations.

With stolen data, fraudsters can reveal commercially sensitive information, manipulate stock prices or commit various acts of espionage. In addition, spear phishing attacks can deploy malware to hijack computers, organizing them into enormous networks called botnets that can be used for denial of service attacks.

To fight spear phishing scams, employees need to be aware of the threats, such as the possibility of bogus emails landing in their inbox. Besides education, technology that focuses on email security is necessary. Kaspersky recommends installing protective anti-phishing solutions on mail servers as well as employee workstations.

For enterprises and organizations, Kaspersky suggests building incident response capabilities that will help manage the aftermath of an attack and to incorporate threat intelligence services to have in-depth knowledge of the evolving threat and tactics of active APT groups.

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