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Phishing Campaigns Thrive as Evasive Tactics Outsmart Conventional Detection

by CIOAXIS Bureau

A 25% increase in the use of phishing kits has been recorded in 2022, according to Group-IB.

The key phishing trends observed are the increasing use of access control and advanced detection evasion techniques. The rise in evasive tactics, such as antibot techniques and randomization, poses a significant challenge for conventional detection systems and extends the lifespan of phishing campaigns.

3,677 unique phishing kits in 2022 have been identified, 25% more than in 2021. A phishing kit is a set of tools that enables cybercriminals to create and operate several phishing pages at once. These are useful tools for threat actors, as they allow them to effortlessly build and maintain the infrastructure needed to carry out large-scale phishing campaigns, move from one host to another in case of blocking, and collect stolen data.

Phishing kits methods to handle stolen data
Phishing websites are designed to harvest personal data and require a specific method to collect and store it. The bulk of stolen data is still handled via email. In total, just under half of the phishing kits from 2022 relied on email to handle stolen information with Gmail being the most preferred email service used for data collection among phishing kit creators (45%).

A continuing trend is the sustained popularity of Telegram for stolen data collection. The number of phishing kits that use Telegram to collect stolen data almost doubled in 2022 compared to the preceding year.

In 2021, 5.6% of phishing kits used Telegram to handle stolen data. One year later, the share of Telegram increased to 9.4%. The messenger’s flexibility and convenience allow cybercriminals to process and manage compromised information almost in real-time.

Many phishing kits employed more than one method to handle stolen data. For example, in 2022, approximately 1,500 phishing kits contained the functionality for transferring stolen data either via Telegram, email or by writing the data to a file locally on the server, which indicates their growing sophistication.

Detection evasion techniques
Alongside the increased use of Telegram, phishing attacks are becoming more complex as cybercriminals focus on enhancing evasion capabilities to avoid detection and takedown.

The evasion techniques identified in phishing kits over 2021-2022 are split into two categories: trivial access control mechanisms and more advanced detection evasion methods.

Within the first category, hypertext access (.htaccess) became the most popular technique in 2022 – 20% of detected phishing kits employed this tactic. The configuration file allows a website operator to restrict access to specific directories based on the visitor’s IP address.

The second most popular access control strategy in 2022 was robots.txt (seen in 12% of kits) — another configuration file that prevents bots and search engine crawlers from accessing the website.

Overall, the use of simple access control mechanisms increased by 92% to 1,824 in 2022 compared to the preceding year, when 951 phishing kits used some sort of selective restriction.

To hinder the work of cybersecurity specialists and off-the-shelf cybersecurity solutions, more phishing kits are packed with advanced detection evasion techniques. Basic mechanisms include the blacklisting of cybersecurity vendors’ IPs and hostnames.

Anti-bot technologies
More sophisticated tactics involve the use of anti-bot technologies, randomization of directories, etc. Such tactics were used by 2,060 phishing kits in 2022, 26 % more than a year earlier.

Notably, in 2022, Group-IB researchers observed a 40% increase in the use of anti-bot technologies designed to prevent automated cybersecurity scanners from identifying phishing content.

One of the phishers’ main goals is to extend the life of their websites. Hence, the most commonly used detection evasion technique was dynamic directories. Phishing operators create random website folders that are only accessible by the recipient of a personalized phishing URL and cannot be accessed without the initial link.

This technique allows phishers to evade detection and blacklisting as the phishing content will not reveal itself. Dynamic directories were utilized by 22% of phishing kits detected in 2022.

Another popular tactic (observed in 11% of phishing kits in 2022) is the use of fake 404 pages displayed to visitors if their device parameters, geolocation, and referer do not match the victim’s profile.

“Automation enables phishers to create and manage hundreds of websites every day,” said Dmitry Volkov, CEO of Group-IB.

“Extracting and monitoring for phishing kits is an essential part of protecting against phishing attacks. It can help identify and block phishing before it causes massive damage. Additionally, analysis of phishing kits is invaluable from an intelligence-gathering perspective as it provides valuable insights into the TTPs of adversaries. In many cases, it can also help to identify phishing kit developers which is useful for prosecution of threat actors,” Volkov concluded.

– Help Net Security

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