The latest figures from the anti-phishing working group (APWG) offer cold comfort for anyone concerned about phishing. Although the number of attacks seems to have reached a plateau, phishing e-mails appear to be getting more sophisticated.

In March, the total number of unique phishing e-mails reported to the organisation was 13,353, a mere two percent increase on the figure for February. Although the volume of phishing e-mails has increased dramatically in the space of the last year – mostly in the month of December - the number has shown a marked levelling off in February and March and could now have peaked for the time being.

In place of volume, however, there appears to be an increase in the breadth and sophistication of at attacks being undertaken. During March, the number of unique phishing sites increased 6.9 percent to 2,870, while the number of brands being hijacked went up to 78 from 64 in the previous month.

As in previous months, most of the scamming was directed at customers of a few select brands, with eight percent making up 80 percent of all activity.

Importantly, the APWG has started analysing different types of phishing attack, and is now able to provide some sketchy figures that chart the rise of Trojan-based key-logging. Between November and December of 2004, when it started tracking them, the number of new key-loggers was running at 1-2 new variants per week, hosted on between 10-15 new websites per week. By February and March, this had risen to eight to ten key-loggers per week from around 100 websites.

These attacks are initiated in a number of ways. As well as the conventional e-mail routine which invites e-mail users to click on a link to a Trojan-infected site, scammers are now using instant messaging to issue invites. Vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer are said to be one means by which phishers can run code on a remote PC without permission.

Users who speak Portuguese seem to be a particular target, which may have something to do with the fact that an higher than expected proportion of phishing sites are now said to be based in Brazil.