Sunrise to Sunset: Analyzing the End-to-end Life Cycle and Effectiveness of Phishing Attacks at Scale


Adam Oest and Penghui Zhang, Arizona State University; Brad Wardman, Eric Nunes, and Jakub Burgis, PayPal; Ali Zand and Kurt Thomas, Google; Adam Doupé, Arizona State University; Gail-Joon Ahn, Arizona State University, Samsung Research

Distinguished Paper Award Winner and Second Prize winner of the 2020 Internet Defense Prize


Despite an extensive anti-phishing ecosystem, phishing attacks continue to capitalize on gaps in detection to reach a significant volume of daily victims. In this paper, we isolate and identify these detection gaps by measuring the end-to-end life cycle of large-scale phishing attacks. We develop a unique framework—Golden Hour—that allows us to passively measure victim traffic to phishing pages while proactively protecting tens of thousands of accounts in the process. Over a one year period, our network monitor recorded 4.8 million victims who visited phishing pages, excluding crawler traffic. We use these events and related data sources to dissect phishing campaigns: from the time they first come online, to email distribution, to visitor traffic, to ecosystem detection, and finally to account compromise. We find the average campaign from start to the last victim takes just 21 hours. At least 7.42% of visitors supply their credentials and ultimately experience a compromise and subsequent fraudulent transaction. Furthermore, a small collection of highly successful campaigns are responsible for 89.13% of victims. Based on our findings, we outline potential opportunities to respond to these sophisticated attacks.

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@inproceedings {251520,
author = {Adam Oest and Penghui Zhang and Brad Wardman and Eric Nunes and Jakub Burgis and Ali Zand and Kurt Thomas and Adam Doup{\'e} and Gail-Joon Ahn},
title = {Sunrise to Sunset: Analyzing the End-to-end Life Cycle and Effectiveness of Phishing Attacks at Scale},
booktitle = {29th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 20)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-17-5},
pages = {361--377},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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