No, not fish markets …—but blooming and booming ‘phish’ markets peddling hackerware and ready-to-use scamming tools underground …

The number of sellers and ads peddling phishing kit on underground forums has doubled in 2019 compared to the previous year.

The growing demand for phishing kits is also reflected in its price that skyrocketed last year by 149% and exceeded US$300 per item. And what are the phishing kit creators’ favorite target brands? Amazon, Google, Office 365 and Paypal.

These facts and figures were released by Group-IB, a Singapore-based cybersecurity company, whose threat hunting intelligence team constantly monitors nefarious cybercriminal activities.

Get a hook, line and reel for phishing

Phishing kits are the new bestsellers of the underground market, and are archive files with a set of scripts that ensure the work of a phishing website. Such toolsets enable attackers with modest programming skills to carry out massive malicious campaigns, which is the reason why they represent a point of interest for cybersecurity researchers.

The detection of a phishing kit not only helps to discover hundreds or even thousands of phishing pages, but can also serve as a starting point of an investigation to identify the toolkit’s creator and bring them to justice.

According to Group-IB, the number of phishing kit sellers active on underground forums increased by over 120% in 2019 year-on-year. Relatively, the number of online ads posted on such web resources show the same growth rate.

In 2019, the average price of a phishing kit more than doubled compared to the year before and totaled US$304, with the prices generally ranging between US$20 and US$880. By comparison, in 2018, the prices for a phishing kit varied between US$10 and US$824, while the average price stood at US$122.

According to the experts, the prices of phishing kits depend on their complexity—the quality and the number of phishing pages, as well as the existence of side services like “technical support” on behalf of their creator.

What was remarkable: some of the phishing kits were offered free of charge, which was explained not by human generosity but likely by backdoors contained in them, which enabled their creators to access all the gathered data.

Detect and neutralize?

Group-IB has managed to collect a huge database of phishing kits, which enables the company to eradicate the problem of phishing for a specific brand. The database is being enriched on an ongoing basis: as soon as Group-IB Threat Intelligence system detects a phishing page, it also scans a relevant server for phishing kits. Over 16,200 unique phishing kits were detected by Group-IB Threat Intelligence system in 2019.

Meanwhile, the process of phishing kit detection is becoming more and more challenging, with the statistics for the previous year showing a frustrating trend: hackers grew more cautious in their malicious activities since only 113,460 out of 2.7 million phishing pages detected contained a phishing kit. Cyber crooks normally remove them or resort to various means to hide them and avoid being detected by cybersecurity researchers.

Casting nets

To collect data, phishing kits normally have a designated email address, to which the illegally harvested info should be sent. One more trend attesting to the phishing kits’ expanding place on the underground market is the number of unique email addresses detected in them—the figure saw an 8% growth last year. The increase of unique email addresses in phishing kits might reflect the rising number of their operators.

To attract more buyers, the developers of phishing kits usually preprogram them to target well-known brands with large audiences. The brands most commonly found in phishing kits in 2019 were Amazon, Google, Instagram, Office 365, and PayPal. Top 3 “online markets” for trafficking in phishing kits last year were Exploit, OGUsers, and Crimenetwork.

Said Group-IB CTO and Head of Threat Hunting Intelligence Dmitry Volkov: “Phishing kit creators are the driving force of this criminal marketplace—one individual might be behind the creation of hundreds of phishing pages and, even worse, behind the compromise of the personal information of thousands of people. Therefore, the fight against phishing kit creators should be at the core of the struggle to eradicate phishing.”

In its practice, Group-IB had a number of investigations that resulted in the deanonymization of phishing kit creators. By sharing such info with relevant law enforcers and ensuring the apprehension of cybercrooks, Group-IB seeks to prevent the further spread of this systemic ‘disease’ and to fight not against its symptoms (i.e., phishing pages), but against its causative agent—phishing kit makers.