Barracuda Networks has published its 2023 spear phishing trends report, which shows that 46% of Australian organisations studied were victims of spear phishing in 2022, and 24% globally had at least one email account compromised through account takeover.
The report presents propriety spear-phishing data and analysis, drawing on a data set that comprises 50 billion emails across 3.5 million mailboxes, including nearly 30 million spear-phishing emails. The report also features survey findings from Barracuda-commissioned research. The survey, conducted by independent researcher Vanson Bourne, questioned IT professionals from frontline to the most senior roles at 1,350 companies with 100 to 2,500 employees, across a range of industries in the U.S., EMEA, and APAC countries.
Overall, the research shows that cybercriminals continue to barrage organisations with targeted email attacks, and many companies are struggling to keep up. While spear-phishing attacks are low-volume, they are widespread and highly successful compared to other types of email attacks.
Spear phishing is widespread
Some 46% of Australian organisations analysed were victims of spear phishing in 2022, and global organisations received five highly personalised spear-phishing emails per day on average.
These attacks are highly successful
Spear phishing attacks make up only 0.1% of all global e-mail-based attacks, according to Barracuda data, but they are responsible for 66% of all breaches.
Organisations are feeling the impact
The report found 45% of Australian respondents that experienced a spear phishing attack reported machines infected with malware or viruses; 41% reported having sensitive data stolen and 38% reported direct monetary loss.
Threat detection and response remains a challenge
On average, Australian organisations take over 100 hours to identify, respond to, and remediate a post-deliver email threat 73 hours to detect the attack and 103 hours to respond and remediate after the attack is detected.
Remote work is increasing risks
Users at global companies with more than a 50% remote workforce report higher levels of suspicious emails eight per day on average, compared to seven per day for those with less than a 50% remote workforce.
Having more remote workers slows detection and response
Global companies with more than a 50% remote workforce also reported that it takes longer to both detect and respond to email security incidents – 55 hours to detect and 63 hours to respond and mitigate, compared to an average of 36 hours and 51 hours respectively for organisations with fewer remote workers.
Energy and utilities companies experienced the highest incidence of spear phishing attacks globally with a staggering 73% surveyed falling victim in 2022.
"Even though spear phishing is low volume, with its targeted and social engineering tactics, the technique leads to a disproportionate number of successful breaches, and the impact of just one successful attack can be devastating," says Fleming Shi, CTO, Barracuda.
"To help stay ahead of these highly effective attacks, businesses must invest in account takeover protection solutions with artificial intelligence capabilities," he says.
"Such tools will have far greater efficacy than rule-based detection mechanisms. Improved efficacy in detection will help stop spear-phishing with reduced response needed during an attack."