Google Research

Who is targeted by email-based phishing and malware? Measuring factors that differentiate risk

Proceedings of the Internet Measurement Conference (2020)

Abstract

As technologies to defend against phishing and malware often impose an additional financial and usability cost on users (such as security keys), a question remains as to who should adopt these heightened protections. We measure over 1.2 billion email-based phishing and malware attacks against Gmail users to understand what factors place a person at heightened risk of attack. We find that attack campaigns are typically short-lived and at first glance indiscriminately target users on a global scale. However, by modeling the distribution of targeted users, we find that a person's demographics, location, email usage patterns, and security posture all significantly influence the likelihood of attack. Our findings represent a first step towards empirically identifying the most at-risk users.

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