Phishing and Credential Stuffing Attacks Remain Top Threat to Financial Services Organizations and Customers: Akamai

Latest State of the Internet / Security Report Observes 3.5 Billion Phishing and Malicious Login Attempts Targeting the Financial Services Sector

CIOL Bureau
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Newly released data from Akamai’s 2019 State of the Internet / Security Financial Services Attack Economy Report has found that 50% of all unique organizations impacted by observed phishing domains were from the financial services sector. The data shows that, in addition to unique phishing attempts, adversaries also leveraged credential stuffing attacks to the tune of 3.5 billion attempts during an 18-month period, putting the personal data and banking information of financial services customers at risk.


The report indicates that between December 2, 2018 and May 4, 2019, nearly 200,000 (197,524 to be exact) phishing domains were discovered, and of those domains, 66% targeted consumers directly. When taking the phishing domains targeting consumers only into consideration, 50% of those targeted companies in the financial services industry.

“We’ve seen a steady rise in credential stuffing attacks over the past year, fed in part by a growth in phishing attacks against consumers,” said Martin McKeay, Security Researcher at Akamai and Editorial Director of the State of the Internet / Security Report. “Criminals supplement existing stolen credential data through phishing, and then one way they make money is by hijacking accounts or reselling the lists they create. We’re seeing a whole economy developing to target financial services organizations and their consumers.”

Once criminals have succeeded in their schemes, they need to process their ill-gotten data and funds. As Akamai's report highlights, one method of dealing with this situation centers on ‘bank drops’ – packages of data that can be used to fraudulently open accounts at a given financial institution. Bank drops will typically include a person's stolen identity – often called 'fullz' by criminals online, including name, address, date of birth, Social Security details, driver's license information, and credit score. Secure access to the fraudulent accounts comes via remote desktop servers, which are matched to the geographic location of the bank and the 'fullz'.


Financial institutions continue to investigate the ways in which criminals are opening these drop accounts, and are working diligently to stay ahead of the curve. What most businesses don’t realize, however, is that criminals are recycling old attack methods.

Akamai’s findings revealed that 94% of observed attacks against the financial services sector came from one of four methods: SQL Injection (SQLi), Local File Inclusion (LFI), Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), and OGNL Java Injection (which accounted for more than 8 million attempts during this reporting period). OGNL Java Injection, made famous due to the Apache Struts vulnerability, continues to be used by attackers years after patches have been issued.

In the financial services industry, criminals have also started launching DDoS attacks as a distraction to conduct credential stuffing attacks or to exploit a web-based vulnerability. Over the course of 18 months, Akamai uncovered more than 800 DDoS attacks against the financial services industry alone.


“Attackers are targeting financial services organizations at their weak points: the consumer, web applications and availability, because that’s what works,” said McKeay. “Businesses are becoming better at detecting and defending against these attacks, but point defenses are bound to fail. It requires being able to detect, analyze, and defend against an intelligent criminal who’s using multiple different types of tools for a business to protect its customers. For more than twenty years, Akamai has been leveraging its unique visibility into the full spectrum of attacks to help protect customers from these types of ever-evolving nefarious activities.”

The criminal economy thrives, in part, because they target the financial services industry. By targeting banks for example, criminals attempt to steal sensitive data, and then turn around and use that same data to open fake accounts and lines of credit. It's a continuous cycle of crime. There is a deep level of irony in the fact that criminals are targeting the very industry they need to survive. While financial institutions are becoming better at detecting these attacks, adversaries continue to find success with old tricks, and that’s a problem.

The Akamai 2019 State of the Internet / Security Report is available for download here. For additional information where the security community can access, engage with, and learn from Akamai’s threat researchers and the insight that the Akamai Intelligent Edge Platform affords into the evolving threat landscape, visit Akamai’s Threat Research Hub.