The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) has recently released a new report showing the changing trends in phishing in 2016. The report provides interesting insights into how cybercriminal activity is changing and the attack methods most commonly used by cybercriminals to fool end users into installing malware or revealing their login credentials.

The report uses data from more than 250,000 phishing attacks that were detected between 2015 and 2016; clearly showing some of the new trends in phishing and how phishers have been conducting their attacks. The report is focused on phishing rather than spear phishing, with the latter involving highly varied targeted attacks on specific individuals in an organization.

Phishing emails often contain malicious email attachments with scripts and macros used to silently download malware onto end users’ computers. However, the report shows there was a major increase in phishing domains in 2016 with criminals registering more domains than ever before. Phishing attacks also reached record levels last year. Phishing is now the number one cyber threat faced by organizations.

APWG says that almost half of new top-level domains that were available for open registration in 2016 were used for phishing. APWG suggests the increase in malicious domain registrations demonstrates that domain registrars are struggling to detect and take down malicious domains.

While it was previously thought that phishers registered domains for immediate use in phishing attacks, the study suggests domains are most commonly held for up to three weeks before they are used.

Phishing attacks were failry evenly split between domains registered by phishers and compromised websites. One in 20 attacks used a subdomain for phishing, with the number of attacks using subdomains continuing to fall. See here for phishing examples.

Brand spoofing is becoming increasingly common, with major brands are now experiencing thousands of phishing attacks a year. However, the number of targeted brands in 2016 fell to 679 from 783 the previous year. The most targeted brands – which experienced three quarters of attacks – were Apple, PayPal, Yahoo and Taobao.com. Each experienced more than 30,000 attacks each in 2016.

2016 saw a 10% increase in unique phishing attacks, rising from 230,280 in 2015 to 255,065 attacks in 2016. Those attacks were spread across 195,475 unique domain names – the most domains ever detected and almost three times the number used in 2015. While a variety of TLDs are used for phishing websites, 75% involved just four TLDs – .com; .cc, .pw and .tk. APWG says 90% of phishing domains are spread across just 16 TLDs.

Attacks in 2016 were spread across a wide range of industries although 92% of attacks affected four industries:  eCommerce & software/SaaS (30%), banking and finance (25%), social networking/email (19%) and money transfer firms (18%).