WHAT IS PHISHING ATTACK?
Phishing is the fraudulent use of electronic communications to deceive and take advantage of users. Phishing attacks attempt to gain sensitive, confidential information such as usernames, passwords, credit card information, network credentials, and more. By posing as a legitimate individual or institution via phone or email, cyber attackers use social engineering to manipulate victims into performing specific actions—like clicking on a malicious link or attachment—or willfully divulging confidential information.
Phishing attacks can be seen as the most common security challenges that both individuals and companies face in keeping their information secure. Whether it’s getting access to passwords, credit cards, or other sensitive information, hackers are using email, social media, phone calls, and any form of communication they can to steal valuable data. Businesses, of course, are a particularly worthwhile target.
Both individuals and organizations are at risk; almost any kind of personal or organizational data can be valuable, whether it be to commit fraud or access an organization’s network. In addition, some phishing scams can target organizational data in order to support espionage efforts or state-backed spying on opposition groups.
TYPES OF PHISHING ATTACKS
1. Email phishing
Most phishing attacks are sent by email. The crook will register a fake domain that mimics a genuine organisation and sends thousands out thousands of generic requests.
The fake domain often involves character substitution, like using ‘r’ and ‘n’ next to each other to create ‘rn’ instead of ‘m’.
Alternatively, they might use the organisation’s name in the local part of the email address (such as firstname.lastname@example.org) in the hopes that the sender’s name will simply appear as ‘PayPal’ in the recipient’s inbox.
There are many ways to spot a phishing email, but as a general rule, you should always check the email address of a message that asks you to click a link or download a attachment.
2. Spear phishing
There are two other, more sophisticated, types of phishing involving email. The first, spear phishing, describes malicious emails sent to a specific person. Criminals who do this will already have some or all of the following information about the victim:
- Their name;
- Place of employment;
- Job title;
- Email address; and
- Specific information about their job role.
The first attack sent emails containing malicious attachments to more than 1,000 email addresses. Its success led to another campaign that tricked members of the committee into sharing their passwords.
Whaling attacks are even more targeted, taking aim at senior executives. Although the end goal of whaling is the same as any other kind of phishing attack, the technique tends to be a lot subtler.
Tricks such as fake links and malicious URLs aren’t useful in this instance, as criminals are attempting to imitate senior staff.
Scams involving bogus tax returns are an increasingly common variety of whaling. Tax forms are highly valued by criminals as they contain a host of useful information: names, addresses, Social Security numbers and bank account information.
4. Smishing and vishing
With both smishing and vishing, telephones replace emails as the method of communication. Smishing involves criminals sending text messages (the content of which is much the same as with email phishing), and vishing involves a telephone conversation.
A common vishing scam involves a criminal posing as a fraud investigator (either from the card company or the bank) telling the victim that their account has been breached.
The criminal will then ask the victim to provide payment card details to verify their identity or to transfer money into a ‘secure’ account – by which they mean the criminal’s account.
5. Angler phishing
A relatively new attack vector, social media offers a number of ways for criminals to trick people. Fake URLs; cloned websites, posts, and tweets; and instant messaging (which is essentially the same as smishing) can all be used to persuade people to divulge sensitive information or download malware.
Alternatively, criminals can use the data that people willingly post on social media to create highly targeted attacks.
In 2016, thousands of facebook users received messages that they,v been mentioned in a post. The message had been initiated by criminals and unleashed a two-stage attack. The first stage downloaded a Trojan containing a malicious Chrome browser extension on to the user’s computer.
When the user next logged in to Facebook using the compromised browser, the criminal was able to hijack the user’s account. They were able to change privacy settings, steal data and spread the infection through the victim’s Facebook friends.
Your employees are your last line of defence
Organisations can mitigate the risk of phishing with technological means, such as spam filters, but these have consistently proven to be unreliable.
Malicious emails will still get through regularly, and when that happens, the only thing preventing your organisation from a breach is your employees’ ability to detect their fraudulent nature and respond appropriately.
Our phishing awareness course helps employees do just that, as well as explaining what happens when people fall victim and how they can mitigate the threat of an attack.
7 Ways to Spot Phishing Email
Socially engineered phishing emails often evade detection by email filters due to their sophistication. They have the right Sender Policy Frameworks and SMTP controls to pass the filter ́s front-end tests, and are rarely sent in bulk from blacklisted IP addresses to avoid being blocked by Realtime Blackhole Lists. Because they are often individually crafted, they can even evade detection from advanced email filters with Greylisting capabilities.
However, phishing emails often have common characteristics; they are frequently constructed to trigger emotions such as curiosity, sympathy, fear and greed. If a workforce is advised of these characteristics – and told what action to take when a threat is suspected – the time invested in training a workforce in how to spot a phishing email can thwart attacks and network infiltration by the attacker.
1. Emails Demanding Urgent Action
Emails threatening a negative consequence, or a loss of opportunity unless urgent action is taken, are often phishing emails. Attackers often use this approach to rush recipients into action before they have had the opportunity to study the email for potential flaws or inconsistencies.
2. Emails with Bad Grammar and Spelling Mistakes
Another way to spot phishing is bad grammar and spelling mistakes. Many companies apply spell-checking tools to outgoing emails by default to ensure their emails are grammatically correct. Those who use browser-based email clients apply autocorrect or highlight features on web browsers.
3. Emails with an Unfamiliar Greeting or Salutation
Emails exchanged between work colleagues usually have an informal salutation. Those that start “Dear,” or contain phrases not normally used in informal conversation, are from sources unfamiliar with the style of office interaction used in your business and should arouse suspicion.
4. Inconsistencies in Email Addresses, Links & Domain Names
Another way how to spot phishing is by finding inconsistencies in email addresses, links and domain names. Does the email originate from an organization corresponded with often? If so, check the sender’s address against previous emails from the same organization. Look to see if a link is legitimate by hovering the mouse pointer over the link to see what pops up. If an email allegedly originates from (say) Google, but the domain name reads something else, report the email as a phishing attack.
5. Suspicious Attachments
Most work-related file sharing now takes place via collaboration tools such as SharePoint, OneDrive or Dropbox. Therefore internal emails with attachments should always be treated suspiciously – especially if they have an unfamiliar extension or one commonly associated with malware (.zip, .exe, .scr, etc.).
6. Emails Requesting Login Credentials, Payment Information or Sensitive Data
Emails originating from an unexpected or unfamiliar sender that request login credentials, payment information or other sensitive data should always be treated with caution. Spear phishers can forge login pages to look similar to the real thing and send an email containing a link that directs the recipient to the fake page. Whenever a recipient is redirected to a login page, or told a payment is due, they should refrain from inputting information unless they are 100% certain the email is legitimate.
7. Too Good to Be True Emails
Too good to be true emails are those which incentivize the recipient to click on a link or open an attachment by claiming there will be a reward of some nature. If the sender of the email is unfamiliar or the recipient did not initiate the contact, the likelihood is this is a phishing email.
“If You See Something, Say Something” – How to Stop Phishing Emails
Conditioning employees in how to spot and report suspicious emails – even when opened – should be a workforce-wide exercise. The chances are that if one of your workforces is the subject of a phishing attack, other employees will be as well. “If you see something, say something” should be a permanent rule in the workplace, and it is essential that employees have a supportive process for reporting emails they have identified or opened.
The reporting of potential phishing attacks and opened suspicious emails enables security personnel to secure the network in good time – mitigating the risk that a threat will spread to other areas of the network and minimizing disruption. It is also a good practice to identify which employees spot actual phishing emails in order to prioritize action when multiple reports of a phishing attack are received.
Here are a few steps a company can take to protect itself against phishing:
Phishing prevention refers to a comprehensive set of tools and techniques that can help identify and neutralize phishing attacks in advance.
This includes extensive user education that is designed to spread phishing awareness, installing specialized tools and programs and introducing a number of other phishing security measures that are aimed at proactive phishing protection while providing mitigation techniques for attacks that do manage to breach security.
- Educate your employees and conduct training sessions with mock phishing scenarios.
- Deploy a SPAM filter that detects viruses, blank senders, etc.
- Keep all systems current with the latest security patches and updates.
- Install an antivirus solution, schedule signature updates, and monitor the antivirus status on all equipment.
- Develop a security policy that includes but isn’t limited to password expiration and complexity.
- Deploy a web filter to block malicious websites.
- Encrypt all sensitive company information.
- Convert HTML email into text only email messages or disable HTML email messages.
- Require encryption for employees that are telecommuting.
There are multiple steps a company can take to protect against phishing. They must keep a pulse on the current phishing strategies and confirm their security policies and solutions can eliminate threats as they evolve. It is equally as important to make sure that their employees understand the types of attacks they may face, the risks, and how to address them. Informed employees and properly secured systems are key when protecting your company from phishing attacks.
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