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APWG Report 2nd Half 2008

The Anti-Phishing Working Group produce two reports a year now on Phishing Activity Trends. I was reminded to look at the report from the second half of last year recently by problems encountered by an organisation I'm involved with(!), which has suffered two successful phishing attacks in the last 9 months. The two incidents both followed the same pattern: a phishing email was sent round purporting to be from the technical staff talking of lack of storage space on the user's account. They asked for the user's password in order to be able to reconfigure the quota. Now, the vast majority of people deleted this email, but on each occasion one person (a different one in each incident) replied with their username and password. This resulted in vast amounts of spam being sent through the users' email accounts, sufficient for the domain to be blacklisted by Message Labs in the first incident. The problem is that people still fall for this type of scam, and it only needs one person in an organisation to do it.

Anyway, back to the report. The APWG highlight a few interesting things in their report. Phishing reports and unique phishing sites detected both peaked in October, at 34,758 and 27,739 respectively, then fell sharply to December, when the figures were 23,187 and 15,709 respectively. These are way off the high of 55,643 detected in April 2007 and the lowest since August 2006, when they fell to 10,091. This is in sharp contrast to the password stealing malicious code URLs, which soared to 31,173 in December from 11,834 in November and a low of 3,113 in May last year. Although, interestingly, the number of unique keyloggers and malicious applications has dropped from 1,519 in July to 559 in December.

This trend has been followed by a new category of 'Rogue Anti-Malware Programs.' This is where fake applications are sold, purporting to be anti-malware (e.g. AV products) but either do little or nothing but make money off people buying it, or they become harvesters of information. The rise is from a low of 2,084 in September to 9,287 in December.

The final thing to note concerns Brand Hijacking. Brand hijacking is still high, with 269 brands hijacked in November, but the balance in the sectors is changing. Back in 2007 Financial Services accounted for 93.8% of the hijacked brands, which peaked at a high of 178 in November 2007. The remainder were: Retail 2.8%, ISP 2.2% and Government 1.2%. In Q3 2008 Financial had dropped to 61% and dropped further in Q4 2008 to only 46%. This shows a drop in real terms as well as percentage as around 124 financial brands were hijacked in Q4 2008 against around 167 in 2007. Retail has shown a drop from around 5 brands to around 3 and makes up for only 1% in Q4 2008. The 'big winner', if it can be described thus, is Payment Services, which is up to 38%, with Auction sites making up 11% and 4% for other brands. This 'other' category is up from 3% in Q3 2008, which is attributed to more attacks against MySpace, Facebook, etc., by the authors.

For more information about the Anti-Phishing Working Group, to report phishing attacks or to see their reports yourself, visit


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