The number of phishing attacks soared by more than 20 percent in the third quarter of 2013, says a just-issued report from the APWG (Anti-Phishing Working Group), noting that the bulk of the increase is due to a surge of attacks against money-transfer, retail and e-commerce websites.
The report also says that the number of unique phishing Web sites jumped between June and July - then stayed at relatively elevated levels throughout Q3 2013.
Whilst the number of hijacked brands declined slightly - as phishers stopped targeting less lucrative options - the APWG says that Trojans remained the most popular form of malware - and a record number of new malware strains were detected during the quarter.
Commenting on the figures, Ihab Shraim, CISO and VP of anti-fraud engineering and operations with MarkMonitor - and a contributing analyst to the report - said that fraudsters look for profit and zeroed in on the brands that deliver the highest returns.
The AWPG says its report shows that over 31 percent of computers around the world were infected by some sort of malware during the third quarter - slightly down on a quarterly basis.
The good news, however, is that Europe continues to have the lowest infection rates - with the UK clocking in at 20.35 percent of computers infected, just behind Germany with 20.6 and the Netherlands with 19.19 percent.
Troy Gill, a senior security analyst with email and web security specialist AppRiver, says that malware distributors, phishers and scammers have long used brand recognition to add legitimacy to their malware and phishing campaigns - but over the last few months his team has seen an uptick in both spam activity and an even greater increase in emails activity distributing malware.
"Both of these categories rely heavily on posing as certain brands to trick users into opening their messages and following links. Some of the more popularly used are UPS/Fedex, Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter, major banks and credit card providers," he said.
Dana Tamir, director of enterprise security with web security specialist Trusteer - an IBM company, said that phishing and spear-phishing messages continue to be an effective way to draw users to phishing and exploit sites.
"As the sophistication of phishing campaigns increases, it's become more difficult for users to differentiate between legitimate messages and phishing messages. As a result, users fall for these schemes, which lead to credentials theft and malware infections," she said.
Organisations should be especially concerned about phishing, she added, because they are the main method used by cyber-criminals and adversaries to infiltrate the organisation.
Tamir told SCMagazineUK.com that she and her team are also seeing rising levels of attacks against money-transfer and retail sites because cyber criminals know these sites' defences are lagging.
Tim Keanini, CTO of network security specialist Lancope, meanwhile, stressed that the increase in phishing levels should be no surprise to anyone.
"It's a near perfect time to become a cyber-criminal because conditions are exceptional," he explained, adding that a lack of authentication, ransomware and cryptocurrency are all contributing factors.
"These trends will continue to rise until it becomes more expensive for these cyber-criminals to operate. We need to disrupt their economics. We have done a good job so far with the preventative measures on the technical front, now we need to improve on the social as these trends clearly show a weakness on the social vectors being exploited," he said.
"But even with that said, we need to get faster with the incident response feedback loop – this will change the economics of the criminal operations drastically because the minute they are detected and details disclosed both socially and technically, they have to go back and retool and innovate. Incident response as a part of the business or your daily life is the reality because again, it is a great time to make money in cyber crime unfortunately," he added.