Cybercriminals continually look for more innovative and effective ways to deliver spam and launch phishing attacks. By developing new methods of attack and improving old ones, they’re able to create more sophisticated and therefore more successful methods of targeting unsuspecting victims. That’s one reason why both spam and phishing attacks rose during the second quarter of 2019 compared with the same quarter last year, according to a report by Kaspersky.

SEE: Phishing attacks: A guide for IT pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

During the most recent quarter, the average percentage of spam in global mail traffic hit 57.6%, up 1.67 percentage points from the previous year’s quarter. The largest share of spam was seen in May at 58.7%. Worldwide, China was the biggest source of spam at 23.7%, followed by the US at 13.8%, Russia at 4.8%, and Brazil at 4.6%. For the quarter, Kaspersky detected a total of 43.9 million malicious email attachments.

With so much spam designed to deliver phishing emails, the number of phishing attacks also naturally rose, but even more dramatically. For the second quarter, the amount of phishing attacks detected and blocked by Kaspersky rose by 21% from the same quarter last year, reaching 129.9 million. Phishing emails targeted 12.3% of all Kaspersky users.

Greece was hit by the greatest number of phishing attacks at 26.2%, followed by Venezuela, Brazil, Australia, and Portugal. In terms of industries and organizations, banks received the greatest percentage of phishing emails at 30.7%, followed by payment systems at 20.1%, global Internet portals at 18%, and social networks at 9%.

As usual, spammers and cybercriminals used seasonal events and topics in the news to catch the attention and interest of potential victims. With tax refunds reaching many people during the second quarter, spammers focused on this subject. As just two examples, spammers used fake tax services in the UK to coax victims to follow links to fill out online forms, while emails claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency gave the recipient just 24 hours to respond otherwise no tax refund would be sent to them.


As another example, some emails analyzed by Kaspersky contained malicious file attachments disguised as a copy of a tax return form. In actuality, the form when launched would either download more malicious programs onto the victims’ systems or provided a backdoor that gave criminals remote access to the infected computer. If the system was infected, the criminals would be able to monitor keystrokes, steal passwords from browsers and Windows accounts, and record video from the machine’s webcam.

Spammers exploited other seasonal topics beyond tax refunds. With the 2019 UEFA Europa League Final in Baku, global sporting events was another subject ripe for spam. With the movie release of Avengers: Endgame and the final season of Game of Thrones, spammers tempted victims with news of popular TV shows and movies. And with the summer holidays coming up, phishing emails about vacation and travel sites were also popular.

“Seasonal spam and phishing can be extremely effective, since the emergence of such a letter in a mailbox is sometimes wished and expected, unlike most unique-offer type scams,” Kaspersky security researcher Maria Vergelis said in a press release. “Moreover, with phishing attacks, the tricked victim might not even realize that they were subjected to a cyberattack and had exposed their credentials or email until it is too late and they suffer from the consequences.”

To protect yourself and your organization against spam and phishing emails, Kaspersky offers several pieces of advice, most of which we should already know and practice. But these recommendations are still always worth repeating:

  • Always check the link address and sender’s email before clicking on any suspicious emails.
  • Check if the link address can be seen in the email and is the same as the actual hyperlink. This can be checked by hovering your mouse over the link.
  • Do not download and open email attachments that come from unfamiliar email addresses before scanning them with a security solution. If the email seems legitimate, it is best to check it by accessing the website of the organization that supposedly sent it.
  • Never share your sensitive data, such as logins and passwords, bank card data etc., with a third party. Official companies will never ask for data like this via email.
  • Use a reliable security solution with behavior-based anti-phishing technologies to detect and block both spam and phishing attacks and initiation of malicious files.

Also see
How to become a cybersecurity pro: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Mastermind con man behind Catch Me If You Can talks cybersecurity (TechRepublic download)
Windows 10 security: A guide for business leaders (TechRepublic Premium)
Online security 101: Tips for protecting your privacy from hackers and spies (ZDNet)
The best password managers of 2019 (CNET)
Cybersecurity and cyberwar: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)