Education and government most at risk from email threats

New report finds phishing remains most dominant threat to IT security

Organizations in the education sector and local and state government are most at risk from email threats, according to a new report.

The report, published by IT security firm Cyren, also found that phishing remains the dominant form of attack against all industries.

Based on data gathered from nearly 45,000 incidents, researchers found that the education sector received over five threats per thousand emails received. State and local government bodies received just over two threats per thousand emails received, nearly double the amount received by the next most targeted industry, software.

The report also looked at the number of attacks per 100 users across a wide range of industries. It found that there were nearly 400 per 100 users in education compared to just over 150 in the construction industry.

Researchers said there was a surprisingly low rate for manufacturing, especially when compared to the construction industry, which is closely related.

“We observed 20 confirmed threats per 100 users in the manufacturing vertical. Without solid detection and automated incident response, a manufacturer with 100 Office 365 users would spend at least 16 hours manually investigating and remediating emails,” they added.

In a blog post, security researchers found that the data supported a widely held theory that phishing is a precursor to more damaging attacks such as business email compromise (BEC) and ransomware.

The report looked at phishing compared with malware and BEC attacks across four industries. Phishing remained the dominant threat in healthcare (76%), finance and insurance (76%), manufacturing (85%), and real estate (93%).

In healthcare, BEC attacks made up the remaining 24%. Researchers said that robust malware detection capabilities in the healthcare industry explains the high rate of BEC attempts. 

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“Attackers understand that they can’t easily slip malware past automated defenses, so they have shifted to social engineering tactics,” said researchers.

Researchers said that when it comes to solving the email threat problem, user education is an important component, but several organizations have “over-rotated” on the idea that users are responsible for keeping sophisticated email threats at bay.

“The predominant trend is to use an email hygiene technology such as Microsoft Defender for Office 365 to catch 80% of threats, deploy a specialized add-on to catch and contain zero-day phishing and most BEC attempts, enable employees to perform initial analysis on the small percentage of emails that are classified as suspicious (rather than malicious or clean), and automate incident response workflows to save time and reduce exposure,” added researchers.

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