Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Geo Focus: Asia , Geo-Specific

Phishing Attacks Rise Sharply in Southeast Asia

Kaspersky Detects Over 43M Email-Based Phishing Attacks Across Region in 2022
Phishing Attacks Rise Sharply in Southeast Asia
Downtown Hanoi, Vietnam (Image: Shutterstock)

Email-based phishing attacks in Southeast Asia rose sharply in 2022, marking a growing trend in social engineering attacks with hackers using new techniques to fool victims, according to a recent Kaspersky Labs report. Countries across the region are trying to respond to this growing threat.

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The cybersecurity company said it foiled over 43 million email-based phishing attacks against Southeast Asian entities last year, about 40% of which were aimed at Vietnamese businesses and consumers. The company said most of the attacks targeted Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Phishing is the single largest vector for a range of cybercrimes, including account takeover, malware and ransomware infiltration, intellectual property theft, nation-state espionage, disinformation, and software supply chain compromise.

Verizon's Data Breach Investigations Report 2023 revealed that 36% of all data breaches worldwide over the past year involved phishing attacks. In the Asia-Pacific region, social engineering, system intrusion, and web application attacks together accounted for 93% of breaches.

Vietnam's Authority of Information Security said in November that phishing attacks accounted for 35% of cyberattacks targeting the country during the first 11 months of 2022. The Authority also noticed a sudden increase in online fraud incidents, including brand impersonation, loan applications, online jobs and winning scams.

Singapore's Cyber Security Agency said that phishing attempts targeting local businesses and consumers more than doubled in 2022 to 8,500 cases, up from 3,100 cases handled by SingCERT in 2021. CSA said threat actors are now using URL-shortening tools such as Bitly to mask their intent and spoofing banks and financial organizations in 80% of phishing attempts at organizations.

"The threat actors were likely mass-targeting victims utilizing the 'spray and pray' tactic, which capitalizes on anxieties and concerns over developments in China’s banking sector. A sharp spike in reported phishing attempts involving China-based banks was observed, coinciding with China's rural bank scandal in June 2022. These attempts represented nearly 50% of all banking-related phishing attempts within 2022," CSA said.

Meeting the Phishing Challenge

The Association of Southeast Asian nations recently took steps to ensure greater information-sharing and cybersecurity research activities to combat rising cybercrime incidents. ASEAN countries on July 18 dedicated the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Cybersecurity and Information Center of Excellence, which was established in 2021 but now has a permanent home in Singapore's Changi naval base.

ACICE said its primary objective is to combat cybersecurity threats to Asian defense establishments, and it aims to "enhance multilateral cooperation among ASEAN defence establishments against cyberattacks, disinformation and misinformation for the region’s collective peace and security."

The cybersecurity association in June expressed concern over how threat actors could use AI tools such as ChatGPT to create highly convincing emails without the key indicators of phishing attacks. Defense team also can use the power of generative AI to respond to the threat on an equal footing with the cybercriminals.

"AI can simulate environments by recreating realistic scenarios that can stress-test and evaluate security systems and responses," ACICE said. "For example, generative AI can create learning materials on phishing emails or other attacks that train employees to recognize and avoid similar attacks."

Targeted Phishing Growing

Kaspersky observed threat actors spoofing the domains of social networks, online games, global internet portals, banks and financial services firms in 2022 to win the trust of targeted organizations and consumers.

The company believes threat actors have refined their phishing emails and are getting adept at pursuing high-value businesses and consumers and engaging in conversations with them before launching the actual phishing attack. Most of those attacks are targeting online credentials, financial data and sensitive personal information.

"Recently, we've seen an increase in targeted phishing attacks where scammers don't immediately move on to the phishing attack itself, but only after several introductory emails where there is active correspondence with the victim," said Adrian Hia, managing director for Asia-Pacific at Kaspersky.

"Our experts predict that this trend is likely to continue," Hia said. "New tricks are also likely to emerge in the corporate sector in 2023, with attacks generating significant profits for attackers."

About the Author

Jayant Chakravarti

Jayant Chakravarti

Senior Editor, APAC

Chakravarti covers cybersecurity developments in the Asia-Pacific region. He has been writing about technology since 2014, including for Ziff Davis.

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