Phishing attacks are on the rise: are you prepared? 

October 25, 2022 4 minute read

It doesn’t have to be Cybersecurity Awareness Month to read a flurry of news about human-based phishing attack stories – also called smishing if the “fishing line” is cast via SMS. These attacks boil down to the art of tricking people into revealing personal information and credentials – including usernames, passwords, authentication codes, and sensitive work details – with the intent of taking over user accounts or acquiring higher levels of access and freedom to move around an enterprise’s sensitive data assets. Attackers usually approach a victim via email, phone, text message, or social media direct message, and then direct the user to a malicious look alike website which matches the look and feel of the legitimate site so victims will enter personal details there.

The details and angle of phishing attacks are constantly changing, but the unfortunate truth is that most threat actors are not breaking in – they are simply logging in due to human error. In fact, 85 percent of breaches are caused by employee mistakes according to Tessian’s recent Psychology of Human Error Report. The primary culprit is found in the associated risks with the continued reliance of usernames and passwords, as Yubico’s recent State of Global Enterprise Authentication study found that 59 percent of employees still rely on username and password as their primary method to authenticate into their accounts.

In a high-profile hack against Twitter in July 2020, a bad actor executed a phone spear phishing attack which involved employees being tricked into handing over their credentials. Once they were able to gain access through their entry point, the cyber criminals continued to move through Twitter’s internal systems until they were able to access admin access tools. Through the attack, they gained access to verified Twitter accounts and were able to send out nefarious tweets impersonating the account owner and propagate a cryptocurrency scam.

Other recent phishing attacks, including ones at Uber and Twilio, show that fairly simple social engineering tactics can give hackers the “keys to the kingdom” just through persistent and repeated text or two-factor authentication push notification requests. In both cases, experts cited a breakdown of security culture within organizations and targets’ lack of knowledge about how to verify someone or a website is who they say they are.

Inside the mind of an ethical hacker

To show how phishing attacks happen and how easy it is for these attacks to succeed, Yubico partnered with ethical hacker and CEO of SocialProof Security Rachel Tobac, to create the below video which details how hackers trick employees into sending their credentials to someone impersonating their colleagues or IT Support – and how that attack could be different with YubiKeys.

“Your current threat model might be elevated if you have admin access at work, are in the public eye, or are being targeted/harassed,” said Tobac. ”It’s essential to consider FIDO security keys to prevent the most common attacks we’re seeing in the news right now if you have an elevated threat model.” 

Rachel’s primary security tips for business and consumers include: 

  • Use a unique and long password, and use a different one for every site you stored in a password manager.
  • Match your MFA to your threat model. If you have access to sensitive data, use a FIDO security key.
  • Assume your password – no matter how long or unique it is – is at risk of a breach. Use MFA as a back up, including the right MFA for your threat model.

Incorporating these tips are a great way to get started to help protect yourself against attacks. 

For companies that need additional cybersecurity protections and are transitioning to security keys, Tobac advises enterprises to: 

  1. Try FIDO security keys in a pilot program with a small group of admin access users, then you can roll out to a wider group over time. Small trials work!
  2. While you’re waiting for your FIDO key trial to run, turn on number matching to reduce phishing risks that come from app-based MFA codes.
  3. Also turn on alerts and rate limiting for MFA push notifications
  4. Use a password manager for credential generation and storage.
  5. Ensure contractors have the same access to technical tools and education as your in-house IT teams. 


For more insights into the current state of authentication and MFA globally, read Yubico’s full 2022 State of Global Enterprise Authentication here. To see how your organization can benefit and save from implementing YubiKeys, check out Forrester’s Total Economic Impact of YubiKeys report here.

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