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Microsoft, Facebook and PayPal most impersonated brands during phishing attacks

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Microsoft, Facebook and PayPal are amongst the most impersonated brands during phishing attacks in 2020, according to a new report from Vade Secure.

Its annual Phishers’ Favorites report for 2020 reveals that Microsoft has maintained its position as the brand most often found in phishing emails, followed by Facebook and PayPal.

During the year of lockdown and remote working, cloud services overtook financial services to become the most impersonated industry, whilst cynical hackers exploited the Covid-19 pandemic and issued large numbers of fake emails promising false cures or non-existent personal protective equipment.

Vade Secure protects more than one billion mailboxes around the world, allowing it to gain an unprecedented insight into the threats facing businesses. Its filter engine detects and analyses tens of thousands of unique phishing URLs every quarter. These phishing URLs refer to the number of URLs and not the volume of phishing emails received, because hackers will often send hundreds or thousands of phishing emails containing the same URL.

“Organisations need to be aware that phishers and other threat actors are always looking out for new ways to target them,” says Adrien Gendre, chief product and services officer at Vade Secure.

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“Phishing is just one tactic used by hackers and the ever-changing popularity of well-known brands shows how cybercriminals’ tactics are constantly evolving.

“The Phishers’ Favorites report highlights the importance of a proactive and comprehensive email security posture. Businesses should protect themselves and their clients from dynamic phishing attacks with a combination of training, technology, and vigilance.”

Key findings:

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Microsoft is still the phishers’ favorite

Microsoft 365’s user base grew to 258 million in 2020, experiencing higher than expected growth driven by the Covid-19 pandemic. Microsoft has consistently remained at the top of Vade Secure’s Phishers’ Favorites quarterly reports, holding the #1 spot for four quarters.

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The rise of Facebook and WhatsApp

Interest in Facebook has been on the rise since 2018 when Vade Secure first started tracking unique Facebook URLs. Q2 saw the biggest surge for Facebook phishing in 2020, with 4,373 unique URLs detected, for a total of 14,876 for the year.

WhatsApp made its first appearance on the Phishers’ Favorites list in Q1 2019, with a small number of phishing URLs. This changed drastically in Q4 2019, when Vade Secure detected 5,029 unique WhatsApp phishing URLs for the quarter. A spike in the number of WhatsApp spoof emails coincided with the pandemic, when social media brands became more popular among phishers.

Cloud services becomes most impersonated industry

In an abrupt change in Q2, and as businesses shifted to remote working, cloud services overtook financial services as the most impersonated industry. Microsoft, Netflix, Adobe, Apple, and Dropbox represented the most impersonated cloud services companies in the top 20. Both Google and Adobe saw growth in phishing URLs, moving up two and three spots respectively.

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E-commerce phishing boom

In another major shift from 2019, e-commerce overtook social media as the third most impersonated industry. Like cloud services, e-commerce reached new heights in 2020 as shoppers went online in far greater numbers. eBay, for instance, didn’t make the top 20 list in 2019, but jumped 28 spots to #5 in 2020. 

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Email security pandemic

When Covid-19 forced businesses to shift to teleworking, cybercriminals unleashed a massive wave of pandemic-themed phishing and spam emails. Capitalising on users’ fears and anxieties, hackers sent fake emails offering facemasks and PPE as well as phishing messages that impersonated the NHS and World Health Organization.

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Updating Special Ad Audiences for housing, employment, and credit advertisers

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On June 21, 2022 we announced an important settlement with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that will change the way we deliver housing ads to people residing in the US. Specifically, we are building into our ads system a method designed to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad.

As part of this agreement, we will also be sunsetting Special Ad Audiences, a tool that lets advertisers expand their audiences for ad sets related to housing. We are choosing to sunset this for employment and credit ads as well. In 2019, in addition to eliminating certain targeting options for housing, employment and credit ads, we introduced Special Ad Audiences as an alternative to Lookalike Audiences. But the field of fairness in machine learning is a dynamic and evolving one, and Special Ad Audiences was an early way to address concerns. Now, our focus will move to new approaches to improve fairness, including the method previously announced.

What’s happening: We’re removing the ability to create Special Ad Audiences via Ads Manager beginning on August 25, 2022.

Beginning October 12th, 2022, we will pause any remaining ad sets that contain Special Ad Audiences. These ad sets may be restarted once advertisers have removed any and all Special Ad Audiences from those ad sets. We are providing a two month window between preventing new Special Ad Audiences and pausing existing Special Ad Audiences to enable advertisers the time to adjust budgets and strategies as needed.

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For more details, please visit our Newsroom post.

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Impact to Advertisers using Marketing API on September 13, 2022

For advertisers and partners using the API listed below, the blocking of new Special Ad Audience creation will present a breaking change on all versions. Beginning August 15, 2022, developers can start to implement the code changes, and will have until September 13, 2022, when the non-versioning change occurs and prior values are deprecated. Refer below to the list of impacted endpoints related to this deprecation:

For reading audience:

  • endpoint gr:get:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field operation_status

For adset creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/adsets
  • field subtype

For adset editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdCampaign
  • field subtype

For custom audience creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field subtype

For custom audience editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:CustomAudience

Please refer to the developer documentation for further details to support code implementation.

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Introducing an Update to the Data Protection Assessment

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Over the coming year, some apps with access to certain types of user data on our platforms will be required to complete the annual Data Protection Assessment. We have made a number of improvements to this process since our launch last year, when we introduced our first iteration of the assessment.

The updated Data Protection Assessment will include a new developer experience that is enhanced through streamlined communications, direct support, and clear status updates. Today, we’re sharing what you can expect from these new updates and how you can best prepare for completing this important privacy requirement if your app is within scope.

If your app is in scope for the Data Protection Assessment, and you’re an app admin, you’ll receive an email and a message in your app’s Alert Inbox when it’s time to complete the annual assessment. You and your team of experts will then have 60 calendar days to complete the assessment. We’ve built a new platform that enhances the user experience of completing the Data Protection Assessment. These updates to the platform are based on learnings over the past year from our partnership with the developer community. When completing the assessment, you can expect:

  • Streamlined communication: All communications and required actions will be through the My Apps page. You’ll be notified of pending communications requiring your response via your Alerts Inbox, email, and notifications in the My Apps page.

    Note: Other programs may still communicate with you through the App Contact Email.

  • Available support: Ability to engage with Meta teams via the Support tool to seek clarification on the questions within the Data Protection Assessment prior to submission and help with any requests for more info, or to resolve violations.

    Note: To access this feature, you will need to add the app and app admins to your Business Manager. Please refer to those links for step-by-step guides.

  • Clear status updates: Easy to understand status and timeline indicators throughout the process in the App Dashboard, App Settings, and My Apps page.
  • Straightforward reviewer follow-ups: Streamlined experience for any follow-ups from our reviewers, all via developers.facebook.com.

We’ve included a brief video that provides a walkthrough of the experience you’ll have with the Data Protection Assessment:

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The Data Protection Assessment elevates the importance of data security and helps gain the trust of the billions of people who use our products and services around the world. That’s why we are committed to providing a seamless experience for our partners as you complete this important privacy requirement.

Here is what you can do now to prepare for the assessment:

  1. Make sure you are reachable: Update your developer or business account contact email and notification settings.
  2. Review the questions in the Data Protection Assessment and engage with your teams on how best to answer these questions. You may have to enlist the help of your legal and information security points of contact to answer some parts of the assessment.
  3. Review Meta Platform Terms and our Developer Policies.

We know that when people choose to share their data, we’re able to work with the developer community to safely deliver rich and relevant experiences that create value for people and businesses. It’s a privilege we share when people grant us access to their data, and it’s imperative that we protect that data in order to maintain and build upon their trust. This is why the Data Protection Assessment focuses on data use, data sharing and data security.

Data privacy is challenging and complex, and we’re dedicated to continuously improving the processes to safeguard user privacy on our platform. Thank you for partnering with us as we continue to build a safer, more sustainable platform.

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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