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161% surge in mobile phishing pushes energy industry to its limits

Following Colonial Pipeline, crooks get a taste for energy companies

Mobile phishing attacks on the energy industry have increased by a whopping 161% in the wake of the attack on the Colonial Pipeline company that caused a fuel shortage in parts of the US.

Mobile phishing is one of the easiest ways for an attacker to steal credentials and compromise an organization’s infrastructure, according to security researchers at Lookout. The researchers also found that the energy industry encounters mobile app threats at twice the rate of other industries at nearly 8%.

A report published alongside the blog post found 17.2% of all mobile cyber attacks globally target energy organizations, making the industry the biggest target of hacktivists, cyber criminals, and nation-state-sponsored attackers.

Phishing exposure rates in North America more than doubled over the past year, with a 134% increase. Organizations experienced an average of attack rate of 13.2% — or one of every nine employees — below the average of their regional peers. 

The data was based on telemetry from more than 200 million devices, 150 million apps, and Lookout Secure Web Gateway (SWG) detections.

The report found the attack surface of energy organizations is ever-increasing due to complex supply chain relationships and digital transformation initiatives, where organizations are shifting workloads to mobile devices and cloud applications. 

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It added that such initiatives enable employees, partners, and third-party vendors to remain connected from anywhere. However, this ecosystem exposes energy organizations to significant cyber risks, where a single vulnerability could expose an entire supply chain, as seen with the SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange attacks of 2020 and 2021.

Stephen Banda, senior manager of security solutions at Lookout and the report’s author, said 95% of threats come from risky apps and app vulnerabilities. Risky apps are those that ask for unnecessary permissions and have poor data handling practices. Vulnerabilities are flaws in apps attackers can exploit to compromise a device.

“Many security teams may glance over mobile apps as they believe the mobile ecosystem is secure. The reality is that any app in your mobile fleet can have significant security and compliance ramifications, whether it’s the permissions they request, the SDKs they use or the vulnerabilities they carry,” he said.

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