A record 2 million phishing sites reported in 2020, highest in a decade

Edward G. | January 13, 2021

The year 2020 was a rollercoaster ride. With people shifting to remote work due to the pandemic, cybercriminals saw this as an opportunity and became more active than ever.

According to an Atlas VPN investigation, Google detected a record-high number of phishing websites last year, reaching more than 2.11 million.

“These websites pretend to be legitimate so that they can trick users into typing in their usernames and passwords or sharing other private information. Web pages that impersonate legitimate bank websites or online stores are common examples of phishing sites.”, explains Google’s Transparency Report.

In 2020, phishing sites jumped to 2.11 million, constituting a 25% growth over 2019, when the tech giant discovered 1.69 million malicious domains.

Overall, the trend appears to be quite obvious, especially looking at data from 2015, when phishing websites' growth started to accelerate.

Moving back to 2010, Google detected an average of 317 dangerous sites per day. Last year, the number jumped to 5789 websites per day, representing a 1726% surge in a decade.

Looking at the last decade year-by-year, the volume of phishing portals grew by 43% on average. In short, cybercriminals have been ramping up their efforts for the better part of the decade.

Dissecting phishing sites in 2020

Last year, many headlines were dominated by the ever-increasing number of data breaches, privacy concerns, and other cybersecurity issues. Here, we will look at the year 2020 in detail to determine when threat actors were the most active.

Data indicates that fraudsters were the most active around the middle of February as well as the start of May 2020. On those dates, Google tracked down over 56,000 new malicious sites per week.

The second half of 2020 was a bit more stable, with phishing site discoveries hovering around 44 thousand per week. All in all, Google detected an average of over 40 thousand phishing sites every week in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic definitely created more attack vectors for scammers. Panic leads to irrational thinking, and people forget basic security steps online. Users then download malicious files or try to purchase in-demand items from unsafe websites, in result becoming victims of a scam.

On the other hand, data unveils the fact that the volume of phishing sites was growing even before people shifted towards remote work.

Tips to avoid phishing sites

  • Pay attention to Google Ads — fraudsters can use Google Ads to appear at the top of Google searches. This is not a common occurrence but worth knowing nonetheless. You can verify if the website is genuine by the following tips.
  • Check the URL (address of the website) carefully — if the URL has errors or unusual symbols, then a red flag should go up. Fraudsters might use alphabets that have similar- looking letters that represent the authentic website letters.
  • Check if the website has an SSL certificate. To do so, make sure the portal address starts with HTTPS, not with HTTP. A site should also have a green padlock symbol before the web address. This means that the website has an SSL certificate, and the connection is encrypted. Never enter sensitive information on a website that does not have this basic security feature. Yet, even if the website is secure, it does not mean that it is not set up by fraudsters, so proceed with caution.
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes — alarm bells should ring if you notice spelling and grammar errors. Scammers rarely hire professional writers to check their copy-cat website’s content for errors. If you do find a spelling error, investigate the website in detail. You can also use URL checkers to see if the website has been flagged already. You can find many such tools by searching “Check URL safety” in Google.
John C.

Edward G.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.

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phishing