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Email Account Takeover Specialized Economy Emerges

July 24, 2020

Key findings about the ways cybercriminals are attacking and exploiting email accounts has been revealed. A report, titled Spear Phishing: Top Threats and Trends Vol. 4 - Insights into attacker activity in compromised email accounts, details a specialized economy emerging around email account takeover and takes an in-depth look at the threats organizations face and the types of defense strategies you need to have in place.

Over the past year, Barracuda researchers teamed up with leading researchers at UC Berkeley to study the end-to-end lifecycle of a compromised account. Examining 159 compromised accounts that span 111 organizations, they looked at how the account takeover happens, how long attackers have access to the compromised account, and how attackers use and extract information from these accounts.

A Closer Look at Attacker Behavior

Barracuda’s research found fresh insights into these widespread and dangerous attacks, how cybercriminals behave in compromised accounts, and how that should inform your organization’s defense strategies. Highlights from the report include:

More than one-third of the hijacked accounts analyzed by researchers had attackers dwelling in the account for more than one week.

20% of compromised accounts appear in at least one online password data breach, which suggests that cybercriminals are exploiting credential reuse across employees’ personal and organization accounts.

In 31% of these compromises one set of attackers focuses on compromising accounts and then sells account access to another set of cybercriminals who focus on monetizing the hijacked accounts.

78% of attackers did not access any applications outside of email.

“Cybercriminals are getting stealthier and finding new ways to remain undetected in compromised accounts for long periods of time so they can maximize the ways they can exploit the account, whether that means selling the credentials or using the access themselves,” said Don MacLennan, SVP Engineering, Email Protection at Barracuda. “Being informed about attacker behavior will help organizations put the proper protection in place so they can defend against these types of attacks and respond quickly if an account is compromised.”

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