PhishTime: Continuous longitudinal measurement of the effectiveness of anti-phishing blacklists

Adam Oest, Yeganeh Safaei, Penghui Zhang, Brad Wardman, Kevin Tyers, Yan Shoshitaishvili, Adam Doupé, Gail Joon Ahn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

35 Scopus citations


Due to their ubiquity in modern web browsers, anti-phishing blacklists are a key defense against large-scale phishing attacks. However, sophistication in phishing websites-such as evasion techniques that seek to defeat these blacklists-continues to grow. Yet, the effectiveness of blacklists against evasive websites is difficult to measure, and there have been no methodical efforts to make and track such measurements, at the ecosystem level, over time. We propose a framework for continuously identifying unmitigated phishing websites in the wild, replicating key aspects of their configuration in a controlled setting, and generating longitudinal experiments to measure the ecosystem's protection. In six experiment deployments over nine months, we systematically launch and report 2,862 new (innocuous) phishing websites to evaluate the performance (speed and coverage) and consistency of blacklists, with the goal of improving them. We show that methodical long-term empirical measurements are an effective strategy for proactively detecting weaknesses in the anti-phishing ecosystem. Through our experiments, we identify and disclose several such weaknesses, including a class of behavior-based JavaScript evasion that blacklists were unable to detect. We find that enhanced protections on mobile devices and the expansion of evidence-based reporting protocols are critical ecosystem improvements that could better protect users against modern phishing attacks, which routinely seek to evade detection infrastructure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 29th USENIX Security Symposium
PublisherUSENIX Association
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781939133175
StatePublished - 2020
Event29th USENIX Security Symposium - Virtual, Online
Duration: Aug 12 2020Aug 14 2020

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 29th USENIX Security Symposium


Conference29th USENIX Security Symposium
CityVirtual, Online

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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