Email Companies Easily Fall Prey to Phishing

The University of Plymouth discovered that email providers leave their users susceptible to phishing attempts and that they should be doing more to prevent these occurrences from happening. The assessment was done by the University’s Center for Security, Communication, and Network Research, and involved testing the strength of phishing filters employed by a cross-section of email provider companies.

The Methodology of the Attack

Researchers sent two distinct sets of messages to victim accounts, both of which used email content that was culled directly from the archives of phishing attacks that users had previously reported. The first contained plain text (no hyperlinks) and the other had live links embedded into the body of the email. The victim accounts were examined to see if the sent emails managed to get past the phishing filters of the providers. In the vast majority of cases, the emails managed to make it into the victim email’s inbox. The victim email account received 75% of the emails with the hyperlinks removed and 64% of the scam mails with live hyperlinks without the filter stepping in to prevent access.

Poor Filtering Techniques to Blame

Professor Steven Furnell, leader of CSCAN, mentions that the filtering done most likely didn’t use language content to guide the filtering process. He also stated that, since users tend to fall prey to this sort of content, the lack of protection from email filters was a worrying development. While companies can attempt to educate users about the dangers of phishing, they must also have a framework set up to stop the perpetration of these emails into clean user inboxes.

Phishing is a method of obtaining user information by false means. Usually, in a phishing scam, a user is directed to what seems like a legitimate business site which asks for user information for verification purposes. The information entered is then sent to a malicious user which can then employ it to his or her own means. Phishing remains a severe threat to deal with, and poor filtering from email providers only exacerbate the existing problem.