Social Networks Most Likely to be Imitated by Criminal Groups, with LinkedIn Now Accounting for Half of all Phishing Attempts Worldwide

Check Point Research issues its Q1 Brand Phishing Report, highlighting the brands that hackers most often imitate to lure people into giving up their personal data

Our latest Brand Phishing Report for Q1 2022 highlights the brands which were most frequently imitated by criminals in their attempts to steal individuals’ personal information or payment credentials during January, February and March 2022.

Social media networks have now overtaken shipping, retail and technology as the category most likely to be targeted by criminal groups. So far this year, LinkedIn has been related to more than half (52%) of all phishing-related attacks globally, marking the first time the social media network has reached the top of rankings. It represents a dramatic 44% uplift from the previous quarter, when LinkedIn was in fifth position and related to only 8% of phishing attempts. LinkedIn has now overtaken DHL as the most targeted brand, which has now fallen to second position and accounted for 14% of all phishing attempts during the quarter.

Our latest report highlights an emerging trend toward threat actors leveraging social networks, now the number one targeted category ahead of shipping companies and technology giants such as Google, Microsoft and Apple. As well as LinkedIn being the most targeted brand by a considerable margin, WhatsApp maintained its position in the top ten, accounting for almost 1 in 20 phishing-related attacks worldwide. The report highlights a particular example where LinkedIn users are contacted via an official-looking email in an attempt to lure them to click on a malicious link. Once there, users would be again prompted to log-in via a fake portal where their credentials would be harvested.

Shipping is now the second most targeted category, with threat actors continuing to take advantage of the general rise in e-commerce by targeting consumers and shipping companies directly. DHL is second to LinkedIn, accounting for 14% of phishing attempts; FedEx has moved from seventh position to fifth, now accounting for 6% of all phishing attempts; and Maersk and AliExpress have entered the top ten list for the first time.  Our report highlights one particular phishing strategy that used Maersk-branded emails to encourage the download of spoof transport documents, infecting workstations with malware.

In a brand phishing attack, criminals try to imitate the official website of a well-known brand by using a similar domain name or URL and web-page design to the genuine site. The link to the fake website can be sent to targeted individuals by email or text message, a user can be redirected during web browsing, or it may be triggered from a fraudulent mobile application. The fake website often contains a form intended to steal users’ credentials, payment details or other personal information.

Top phishing brands in Q1 2022

Below are the top brands ranked by their overall appearance in brand phishing attempts:

  1. LinkedIn (relating to 52% of all phishing attacks globally)
  2. DHL (14%)
  3. Google (7%)
  4. Microsoft (6%)
  5. FedEx (6%)
  6. WhatsApp (4%)
  7. Amazon (2%)
  8. Maersk (1%)
  9. AliExpress (0.8%)
  10. Apple (0.8%)

Maersk Phishing Email – Malware Example

During the first quarter of 2022, we observed a malicious phishing email that used Maersk’s branding and was trying to download the Agent Tesla RAT (Remote Access Trojan) to the user’s machine. The email (see Figure 1) which was sent from a webmail address and spoofed to appear as if it was sent from “Maersk Notification ([email protected][.]com)”, contained the subject, “Maersk : Verify Copy for Bill of Lading XXXXXXXXX ready for verification.”. The content asked to download an excel file “Transport-Document”, that would cause the system to be infected with Agent Tesla.

LinkedIn Phishing Email – Account Theft Example

In this phishing email, we see an attempt to steal a user’s LinkedIn account information. The email (see Figure 1) which was sent from the email address “LinkedIn ([email protected][.]com[.]mx)”, contained the subject “M&R Trading Co.,Ltd 合作采购订单#XXXXXXXX”. The attacker was trying to lure the victim to click on a malicious link, which redirects the user to a fraudulent LinkedIn login page (see Figure 2). In the malicious link ([.]com/linkedIn[.]com/login[.]php), the user needed to enter their username and their password.

As always, we encourage users to be cautious when divulging personal data and credentials to business applications or websites, and to think twice before opening email attachments or links, especially emails that claim to be from companies such as LinkedIn or DHL, as they are currently the most likely to be impersonated.