Interestingly, after years of hammering on financial services companies' brands, phishers appear to have moved their focus away from the market, at least slightly. The research company said that phishing attacks against financial services providers decreased by 20 percent during Q4 2007 and fell by 10 percent for the entire year.
In addition to changing the companies that they're targeting, phishers have also continued to refine both their technological and social engineering techniques, according to the report. The use of schemes aimed at people posting to social networking sites is one manifestation of the new methods for roping users in, MarkMonitor said, with attackers using the information posted on such forums to play on the level of familiarity fostered among users of the sites and launch more targeted phishing campaigns.
On the technical end, phishers have begun launching a greater numbers of attacks that integrate VoIP components in an effort to trick people into calling phone numbers to share their personal data as well as a larger variety of scams delivered via text message to handhelds.
"We're seeing a lot of interesting marketing techniques from the phishers, which shows how business savvy many of them have become; on the back end it's clear that people are moving cash around by recruiting mules and the like, it's all very professional," Felman said. "And there is a lot of really whacky stuff going on with the techniques we see with hard core blended abuse that combines voice capabilities, phishing, and malware."
Despite all the dour news, MarkMonitor said there are some signs of light around brand protection online.
Aggressive legal action carried out by some of the companies whose brands have been repeatedly tarnished by the activity as well as increasing scrutiny of new domain registrations by ICANN have helped improve some aspects of the issue, said Felman.
Prosecution on the part of financial services companies may have also helped contribute to the lower overall volume of attacks in that sector, the expert maintains.
"To fight this activity, companies need to marshal their resources, their legal and marketing teams, and operational research, to hammer at brand-jackers until they move on to more fertile fields and undefended brands," Felman said. "People are finally admitting this is a big problem that hits at their bottom line; it's very interesting to see the difference between firms who approach the problem passively and those who are more aggressive; you can do a lot to help yourself."