Malicious HTML Attachment Volumes Surge

According to Barracuda, the proportion of HTML attachments considered malicious has more than doubled, from 21% last May to nearly 46% in March 2023.

The security vendor warned that while Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is commonly used for email newsletters, marketing materials and other types of content, it’s also a popular phishing tool , credential theft and other messaging threats.

“If a recipient opens the HTML file, various redirects using JavaScript libraries hosted elsewhere will take them to a phishing site or other malicious content controlled by the attackers. Users are then prompted to enter their credentials to access to the information or download a file that may contain malware,” explained Barracuda CTO Fleming Shi.

“However, in some cases seen by Barracuda researchers, the HTML file itself contains sophisticated malware that has the full malicious payload embedded, including powerful, executable scripts. This attack technique is being used more widely than involving externally hosted JavaScript files.”

Learn more about HTML threats: Phishers use blank images to disguise malicious attachments.

Shi stated that HTML threats are becoming more widespread not because of a limited number of mass campaigns, but because of individual attacks.

“As of March 7, a total of 672,145 malicious HTML artifacts were detected, comprising 181,176 different elements. This means that around a quarter (27%) of the detected files were unique and the rest were repeated or mass deployments of ‘these files,’ he said.

“However, on March 23, almost nine out of ten (85%) of the total 475,938 malicious HTML artifacts were unique, meaning that almost all attacks were different.”

This increase in activity means HTML attachments remain the most common malicious file type in email threats this year, Barracuda said.

“Getting security right is as important now as it’s ever been. That means having effective AI-powered email protection that can evaluate the content and context of an email beyond scanning links and attachments” , Shi argued.

“Other important elements include implementing robust multi-factor authentication or, ideally, zero-trust access controls; having automated tools to respond to and remediate the impact of any attack; and training people to detect and report suspicious messages “.

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