Phishing lures with X-rated themes have spiked over the past year, according to researchers at GreatHorn. The researchers explain that these emails are effective at getting people to click, and will also make victims reluctant to report the attack once they realize they’ve been scammed.

“Between May 2020 and April 2021, the number of such attacks increased 974%,” the researchers write. “These attacks reach across a broad spectrum of industries and appear to target based on male-sounding usernames in company email addresses.”

The researchers note that in addition to stealing information, the attackers can also return to blackmail victims.

“Attackers use phishing attacks as an initial vector to gather information about the target,” GreatHorn says. “Because of the x-rated content, attackers set up victims with compromising material to be used for blackmail. In these attacks, cybercriminals are tracking the identity of victims who click on their sites by using a technique called an email pass-through. The same technology enables legitimate email senders to auto-populate an unsubscribe field with a user email address. Once a user clicks on a link in the email, their email address is automatically passed to the linked site. In these attacks, the cybercriminal leverages the information they gleaned in order to set up a second stage. Individuals who clicked on links to compromising material could be targeted in the second attack to extort the individual.”

GreatHorn shares a representative example in which a phishing email claimed to come from a woman staying in the same hotel as the recipient.

“The link at the top of this email points to a destination page which is classified as Malicious by Google Safe Browsing,” the researchers write. “Clicking on (https://sites[.]google[.]com/view/interestedyou would bring you to a site with photos. There, a further link points to hungrygrizzly[.]com, which has the appearance of a dating site. It is likely a fake site designed to hook users into providing payment information. User data gleaned in this way will be transmitted to cybercriminals, who will use it for various malicious purposes, such as money withdrawal, blackmailing, or committing further frauds.”

New-school security awareness training can give your employees a healthy sense of suspicion so they can avoid falling for phishing attacks. (And seriously, people–control yourselves online.)