Half of phishing attack victims’ credentials stole in first hour

2 Dec 2010

Security investigators have discovered how the cyber criminals behind phishing attacks usually harvest their victims’ credentials within the first hour of a phishing email arriving.

A phishing email usually consists of an email where the receiver is fooled into thinking it has come from a trusted source, like a bank, and in which they are asked to surrender bank account information.

Security firm Trusteer recently conducted research into the attack potency and time-to-infection of email phishing attacks.

It found that 50pc of phishing victims’ credentials are harvested by cyber criminals within the first 60 minutes of phishing emails being received.

‘Golden hour’

Given that a typical phishing campaign takes at least one hour to be identified by IT security vendors, which doesn’t include the time required to take down the phishing website, Trusteer has dubbed the first 60 minutes of a phishing site’s existence as the critical “golden hour”.

The fact that so many internet users visit a phishing website within such a short period of time means that blocking a phishing website – which is sometimes a cracked legitimate site – within this golden hour has become absolutely critical.

During the golden hour, Trusteer’s research suggests that:

• More than 50pc of stolen credentials are harvested

• Within five hours, more than 80pc are collated and become usable by cyber criminals

• The first 10 hours produce more than 90pc of the total credentials that will be stolen by any given phishing site

Therefore, says Trusteer, blocking a phishing site after five to 10 hours is almost irrelevant.

Industry challenge

“A more effective model would prevent users from being directed to a phishing site and/or prevent them from entering their credentials if they do end up on a criminal site,” the company said.

“As an industry, our goal should be to reduce the time it takes for institutions to detect they are being targeted by a phishing attack from hours to within minutes of the first customer attempting to access a rogue phishing page.

“We also need to establish really quick feeds into browsers and other security tools, so that phishing filters can be updated much more quickly than they are today. This is the only way to swiftly take down phishing websites, protect customers, and eliminate the golden hour.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years