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healthcare email phishing attack

By Jessica Davis

– Phishing continues to be a successful attack vector given its highly targeted nature, as well as its hackers constantly modify the variants, according to recent Google research.

Presented at Black Hat last week, the report showed that Google blocks more than 100 million phishing emails every day. Google Safe Browsing protects about 4 billion devices from phishing and other malicious sites.

Phishing has been one of the biggest challenges to healthcare security in recent years. Of the 15 million patient records breached in 2018, the Protenus Breach Barometer showed that hackers are increasing the use of phishing attacks to gain access to hospital networks.

Another report from Barracuda found 70 percent of emails attempt to establish rapport or a sense of urgency with victims, using personalization or exploiting a sense of urgency.

The new research from Google upholds the earlier data and determined four key elements continue to fuel the success of phishing attacks. Namely, phishing emails are constantly evolving: 68 percent of phishing emails blocked by Google are new variations not yet seen before in the wild.

As a result, humans and security tools need to quickly adapt to keep pace with the threat, the researchers explained.

The targeted nature also adds to the success rate, as many of the campaigns sent to end-users and enterprise users only target a few members of the organization. Google found that enterprise users are targeted nearly five-times more than end-users.

Research from University of Florida Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Daniela Seabra Oliveria attributed phishing’s success rate to its hackers mastering persuasion techniques, emotional salience, and gain or loss framing to dupe users into reacting to the malicious emails.

Lastly, 45 percent of users still don’t completely understand phishing and the risk it poses. Google researchers explained that the “lack of awareness increases the risk of being phished and potentially hinders the adoption of 2-step verification.”

To protect against phishing threats, Google recommended better education for users to improve their understanding on how to detect phishing attempts and how to protect themselves. Organizations should also leverage advances in AI, which can keep pace with the evolving threat landscape.

Phishing warnings should be actively displayed and easily understood, so users know how to react when they see an alert, Google researchers explained. Two-factor authentication should also be implemented to make it more difficult for hackers to compromise user accounts and can also build user awareness and adoption.

In the healthcare setting, industry stakeholders have recommended the use of multi-factor authentication on patient portals and other internet-facing platforms to make it more difficult for hackers to steal credentials. Proofpoint found credential compromise was the goal of the majority phishing attempts last year.

“While technologies to help mitigate phishing exist, such as FIDO standard security keys, there is still work to be done to help users increase awareness understand how to protect themselves against phishing,” Google wrote.