Email Impersonation Attacks Dramatically Spike in 2017

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The number of malwareless impersonation attacks are on the rise, successfully evading traditional defenses.

Mimecast’s Email Security Risk Assessment (ESRA), which measures the effectiveness of existing email security systems in regular use by tens of thousands of organizations globally, found there to be the continued challenge of securing organizations from malicious attachments and spam—but most alarming was the rising impersonation success rate.

Mimecast reported that impersonation attacks (aka whaling or business email compromise), which rely on duping recipients into wiring the attacker money or highly monetizable data, rose almost 50% quarter over quarter. Emails with malware attachments or dangerous files types, combined, only increased about 15%.

Further, missed impersonation attacks were seen to occur more than seven times as often as missed email-borne malware.

“Impersonation attacks are an easy and effective way to dupe unsuspecting victims by gaining trust through a combination of social engineering and technical means,” said Ed Jennings, COO at Mimecast. “This latest ESRA report reveals that many email security providers are leaving organizations very vulnerable to these often hard to detect impersonation attacks. Cyber-criminals know that many traditional email security services are improving their ability to stop email-borne malware, but remain ineffective against impersonation attacks.”

The latest ESRA reflects findings by inspecting the actual inbound email of almost 100,000 users over a cumulative 631 days received. These organizations used a variety of common email security systems. More than 55 million emails to date have been inspected as part of the Mimecast ESRA program, all of which had passed through the organization’s incumbent email security vendor. Completed ESRA assessments have found more than 12,400,000 pieces of spam, 9,055 emails containing dangerous file types, 1,844 known and 691 unknown emails with malware attachments, and 18,971 impersonation attacks missed by incumbent providers and delivered to users’ inboxes. 

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