SQA hit with 3.5 million malicious email attacks

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) suffered a surge of almost 3.5 million in December 2021 amidst a rise of Covid related email scams which spawned during Omicron, according to official figures.

The data, retrieved via the Freedom of Information Act and analysed by the Parliament Street think tank, observed the number of malicious emails blocked by the Scottish Qualifications Authority each month from November 2021 to January 24th, 2022, including a breakdown of the types of attack blocked.

In December, the SQA blocked an astonishing 3,436,744 email attacks, up from 252,317 blocked attacks from November 2021. In January 2022, the number of attacks reduced significantly down to 80,727.

Spam attacks were the most commonly blocked threat by the SQA, with 3,748,046 over the reporting period, accounting for over 99 per cent of threats faced. Over the three months, there were 20,829 phishing attacks blocked, and 913 malware attacks.

The SQA blocked a staggering 3,429,683 spam threats during December, the threat type which rose the highest during the reporting period.

The surge of spam attacks in December coincided with an increase in covid-related scams as a result of Omicron, as well as holiday related scams in the run up to Christmas.

Email security expert Chris Ross, SVP Sales International for Barracuda Networks, said, “Educational bodies, such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority, handle vast amounts of sensitive and confidential data, making them a lucrative target for cyber attacks. This has especially been the case since the transition to more remote based learning, catalysed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, our own research indicated a 521% surge in Covid test-related phishing attacks since December, which shows that cyber criminals will use every available opportunity to trick credulous victims into leaking details, such as sensitive information or login credentials, to sophisticated spear-phishing attacks.

Ross continued, “Training staff on the threat of phishing attacks is crucial to raising awareness and equipping them with the tools to identify and prevent threats if they do break through. On a technical level, utilising artificial intelligence solutions in email protection can help to recognise attacks designed to navigate around spam filters and other basic gateways, stopping threats before they can cause serious data breaches.”

Meanwhile cyber specialist Tim Sadler, CEO and Co-Founder, Tessian, said, “Threat actors were quick to capitalise on the Omicron variant in their phishing campaigns, using the new variant as a lure and preying on levels of uncertainty to trick people into complying with their malicious requests. Targeting employees during December was yet another opportunistic tactic, as cybercriminals were likely hoping their targets would be more distracted than usual during the busy holiday season.

“Given the sheer scale of email threats today, it’s so important that organisations have security solutions in place to protect their employees from email attacks and help them determine the spam emails from the dangerous email attacks that could compromise their security. Sophisticated phishing attacks can fool even the most ‘tech-savvy’ users, and it just takes one distracted employee to fall for a scam. Equip them with the tools and knowledge they need to help minimise the risk,” added Sadler.

Endpoint security specialist Edward Blake, Area Vice President EMEA, Absolute Software, said, “Email attacks continue to present a serious threat to organisations, especially with catalysts, such as Omicron, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, constantly presenting new opportunities for malicious actors. Large organisations, along with their staff and customers, are prime targets for mass cyber threats, requiring them to assess and improve their existing security measures in order to avoid serious data breaches.

“Effective cyber protection requires an all-encompassing approach to securing devices, networks and applications. Implementing Zero Trust protocols, alongside self-healing endpoint cyber security, is essential for businesses to holistically protect their systems and devices, and in turn preventing cyber criminals from being able to gain a foothold in an organisations IT system,” Blake concluded.

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