Report: GenAI Drives 1,760% Surge in Business Email Compromise Attacks

A report recently published by Perception Point, a provider of advanced email and workspace security solutions, has identified a 1,760% year-on-year increase in social engineering-based Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks over the course of 2023. Perception Point's '2024 Annual Report: Cybersecurity Trends & Insights' highlights how threat actors are leveraging increasingly accessible GenAI tools to scale and craft highly sophisticated and novel social engineering attacks. Also reported was a substantial shift to attacks using evasive tactics, including quishing (QR code phishing) and two-step phishing, that bypass traditional security systems. The report's findings are based on in-depth analysis by Perception Point's Incident Response team and data collected from the company's threat detection platform.

The past year has been defined by unprecedented advances in the capabilities and accessibility of GenAI, which malicious actors have harnessed to enhance and scale cyberattacks. In particular, GenAI has fueled the phenomenal growth in BEC attacks, facilitating incredibly well-crafted and targeted social engineering-based attacks that are challenging to detect. Whereas BEC attacks accounted for only 1% of all cyberattacks in 2022, their proportion of the total rose to 18.6% of all attacks in 2023.

A deeper exploration of 2023's most prominent attack trends reveal a number of other concerning developments that threaten the modern organization's workspace, which encompasses email, web browsers, and cloud collaboration channels.

Phishing is still the top cyber threat, accounting for more than 70% of all attacks, with little change from the previous year. But quishing emerged as a new trending threat in 2023, accounting for 2.7% of all phishing attempts. Attackers are exploiting the prevalence and inherent trust of QR codes in modern life to turn a straightforward scan into a serious threat. Throughout 2023, 1 out of 18 (6%) QR codes sent via email were malicious.

Over the year, the prevalence of two-step phishing attacks increased by 175%. These attacks are particularly deceptive as unlike traditional phishing methods, their multi-stage character makes them especially hard to detect. In these attacks, threat actors exploit legitimate services and hosting sites, often utilized for website-building, web hosting, or file-sharing. Exploiting the reputation of these well-known domains helps evade detection, particularly as these platforms are commonly used for legitimate business collaboration.

Additionally, account takeover (ATO) based threats, in which a legitimate account outside the organization is compromised (Vendor Email Compromise) and then used in highly targeted attacks, increased by 350% in 2023. Threat actors also impersonate well-known brands and invest in impersonating the brand of specific organizations that they target. In 2023, 55% of all brand impersonation attacks impersonated the organization that an employee works for.

Email continued to be the top attack vector, with 1 in 5 emails categorized as either malicious or spam. However, threat actors also exploited the expanding user workspace to target organizations in new ways:

  • Phishing attacks via the web browser increased in frequency from 60% of all browser-based attacks in 2022 to nearly 80% of all browser-based attacks in 2023.
  • Malware distribution accounted for 65% of attacks in M365 Apps including OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams.
  • Evasive threats and malware accounted for more than 50% attacks targeting CRMs like Zendesk and Salesforce.

The full report can be viewed here.

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