Google: Gmail users from US most targeted by phishing attacks

Google has revealed earlier this week that Gmail users from the United States are the most popular target for email-based phishing and malware attacks.

These findings are part of a joint study with Stanford University researchers that analyzed anonymized data on more than 1.2 billion malware and phishing emails.

After inspecting phishing and malware campaigns blocked by Gmail within five months, Google found that 42% of all targets were from the US, with the next two most targeted users being from the UK (10% of all attacks) and Japan (5% of attacks).

The researchers also discovered that botnets and attackers behind malware and phishing email attacks are relying on “fast-churning campaigns” where the same template will hit an average of no more than 1,000 potential victims.

Such campaigns don’t commonly last more than three days but they were found the be behind over 100 million malicious emails targeting Gmail users from all over the globe.

Higher risks of targeting for some

“We find that attack campaigns are typically short-lived and at first glance indiscriminately target users on a global scale,” the joint study abstract reads.

“However, by modeling the distribution of targeted users, we find that a person’s demographics, location, email usage patterns, and security posture all significantly influence the likelihood of attack.”

Some of the factors correlating with a higher risk of being targeted by phishing attacks highlighted by Google include:

  • Having your email or other personal details exposed in a third-party data breach increased the odds of being targeted by phishing or malware by 5X.
  • Where you live also affects risk. In Australia, users faced 2X the odds of attack compared to the United States, despite the United States being the most popular target by volume (not per capita).
  • With respect to demographics, the odds of experiencing an attack was 1.64X higher for 55- to 64-year-olds, compared to 18- to 24-year-olds.
  • Mobile-only users experienced lower odds of attack: 0.80X compared to multi-device users. This may stem from socioeconomic factors related to device ownership and attackers targeting wealthier groups.

Google phishing defenses on by default

While Google-recommended defenses for advanced phishing and malware protection are enabled by default, G Suite admins can also enable the security sandbox in G Suite Enterprise and G Suite Enterprise for Education environments.

Users can take a number of additional measures that should help further mitigate phishing threats, with Google recommending to:

  • Complete a Security Checkup to improve account security
  • Avoid downloading files that you don’t recognize; instead, use Gmail’s built-in document preview
  • Consider enrolling in Google’s Advanced Protection Program (APP)
  • Avoid and report phishing emails

Google also said that Gmail’s ML models are sufficiently advanced to block more than 99.9% of all spam, phishing, and malware sent to its users.

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