Spear phishing attacks continue to increase in popularity among cybercriminals, and businesses must take steps to protect against them or risk seeing sensitive information stolen, according to a Tuesday report from Barracuda.

These highly personalized email attacks involve a hacker researching their target and creating a message often designed to impersonate a trusted colleague or business to steal sensitive information, which is then used to commit crimes like fraud and identity theft, the report noted.

Spear phishing attacks are particularly dangerous because they are designed to get around traditional email security like spam filters, the report found. They typically do not include malicious links or attachments, but instead use spoofing techniques and zero-day links that, combined with social engineering tactics, are unlikely to be blocked.

Of the 360,000 spear phishing email attacks examined by the report over a three-month period, the most common type of attack by far was brand impersonation (83%). Brand impersonation attacks attempt to impersonate a well-known company to gain a target’s credentials and take over their account. These attacks have also been used to steal personally identifiable information like credit card and Social Security numbers. Microsoft and Apple are the most commonly impersonated brands used in these attacks, the report found.

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