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10/19/2020
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Microsoft Tops Q3 List of Most-Impersonated Brands

The technology sector was also the most likely targeted industry for brand phishing attacks, according to Check Point's latest report on brand phishing.

Microsoft bumped Amazon and Google to place first for the brand most imitated by cybercriminals in phishing attacks that go after individuals' account credentials and payment information, according to Check Point's "Q3 Brand Phishing Report."

According to Omer Dembinsky, team leader on Check Point's data research team, 19% of all brand phishing attempts studied by the company last quarter related to Microsoft. Overall, 44% of phishing attacks were via email, 43% were via the Web, and another 12% were mobile.

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"We don't know for sure what the reasons are, but it's clear that many organizations have their people working remotely using Office 365 and Teams, and those Microsoft applications are vulnerable," Dembinsky says. "We don't always tell people whythe trends exist – our goal is to tell security teams whatthe risks are so they can respond."

Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4, which provides security awareness training, says Microsoft is typically among brands most impersonated.

"Microsoft's size and broad range of products and services means that many different types of phishing campaigns can be created to push all sorts of luring messages to fool victims," Sjouwerman says. "Phishers are also likely seizing on the popularity of Office 365 users who already use and trust Microsoft email as a daily part of their lives so that when a message is sent by someone pretending to be from Microsoft, some percentage of potential victims are more inclined to trust a message or suggested action than if it came from a brand that wasn't already part of their daily use."

The technology sector was the most likely targeted industry for brand phishing attacks, followed by banking and social networking sites, according to the Check Point report.

In a brand phishing attack, cybercriminals imitate the official website of a brand by using a similar domain name, or URL, and website design. They send the link to the fake website to targeted individuals via email or text message. The attackers can also redirect users during web browsing, or the brand phishing can get triggered from a fraudulent mobile application. On the mobile front specifically, the top brands imitated in Q3 were WhatsApp, PayPal, and Facebook.

"The top three mobile impersonated brands have a significantly higher proportion of end users who conduct the majority of their business with that brand over their mobile phones," Sjouwerman says. "For example, nearly all Instagram activity occurs over cell phones and very little via larger form-factor devices. So it intuitively makes sense that phishers would borrow the brands that are more closely tied to mobile devices to send mobile-based phishing."

6 Tips
As part of its Q3 report, Check Point offers the following six tips to security teams looking to educate their companies and employees about brand phishing attacks:

Learn the red flags: Certain characteristics can give away an attack via email. They include poor formatting, spelling and grammar mistakes, and generic greetings, such as "Dear user" or "Dear customer." Links should start with https:// (not http://), and  any email that conveys a sense of urgency or wants the user to respond quickly should be regarded with suspicion.

Avoid oversharing information: As a general rule, share the bare minimum, no matter what site is requesting information. Users never need to provide their Social Security numbers to conduct a transaction, and they never need to provide credentials to third parties. 

Delete suspicious emails: If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. Suspicious emails should be deleted without opening or clicking on any links, or forwarded them to the IT department for investigation.  

Don't click on attachments: Do not open attachments – especially Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or PDFs – in suspicious or strange emails.

Verify the sender: With every email received, take a good look at who sent it. Who or what is the source? Watch for misspellings or alterations in the email addresses of the email sender. Do not hesitate to block suspicious email senders via the email client. 

Keep all applications up-to-date: Make sure all apps on mobile phones and desktop and laptop computers have the latest software versions, which contain the latest vulnerability patches and defenses.

Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience and has covered networking, security, and IT as a writer and editor since 1992. Steve is based in Columbia, Md. View Full Bio
 

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