Everything You Need to Know About Phishing

Alert Don't Take the bait

Did you know: 96% of phishing attacks use emails as baits!

 

What is Phishing?

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack where cyber criminals trick users to give away their personal information. These cyber criminals use this attack to steal data like login credentials, financial details, confidential information, and much more. 

It is infamous as one of the top cyber attack vectors for distributing malware. Cyber threat actors impersonate legitimate entities to dupe victims into clicking open emails that are used as baits. Victims fall for the bait and are tricked to click on malicious links or email attachments. 

The malicious attachments lead to the installation of malware that locks the system and turns into a ransomware attack. Whereas, malicious links redirect victims to a fraud web page that asks for sensitive information, which is further exploited by cyber criminals.

 

Phishing Example (Image Source: Stanford University)
Phishing Example (Image Source: Stanford University)

 

The History:

The first phishing attempt was conducted back in the 90s. Phishers would conduct attacks by stealing passwords of users. They used algorithms to create randomized credit card numbers. Later, this phishing practice was brought to an end by the AOL (America Online) in 1995. 

After this, phishers came up with another common but successful duping set of phishing techniques. They used AOL’s instant messenger and email system. They impersonated AOL employees to send messages to users regarding account verification for billing information.

This technique turned more sophisticated, ultimately leading AOL officials to enforce warnings in their emails and instant messages to their clients. The organization requested them to avoid providing their sensitive information to such phishing messages or emails.

 

What are Phishing Techniques?

Cyber criminals use various types of phishing techniques ranging from highly sophisticated to simple methods. These techniques are highly deceiving and can bypass endpoint security and secure email gateways.    

The most common but ever-evolving phishing techniques are:

Pharming

Pharming is a malicious practice of altering IP addresses to redirect targeted users to forged websites. These fake websites target users to submit their sensitive information like login usernames and passwords. The submitted information is later accessed by hackers for a data breach or other malicious use. Today pharming and phishing are serious cyber threats to every organization.

 

Spear Phishing

A formulated professional phishing attack by cyber criminals, Spear phishing is a classic phishing campaign where emails are sent in bulk to targeted individuals. Hackers do in-depth research on their targets before launching a campaign on specific individuals or organizations. The purpose of this is to send legitimate-looking emails to get valuable information out of victims. 

 

Example of Spear Phishing
Example of Spear Phishing Email (Source: University of Delaware)

 

Smishing

SMS-phishing or smishing involves cyber scammers sending text messages to targets users while making themselves appear to be from reputable or authentic sources. These text messages contain malicious links that redirect message receivers to phishing landing pages. In some cases, these messages directly urge receivers to reply with sensitive information. 

 

Vishing

Vishing is a voice phishing method wherein the scammer, calls users in an attempt to gain their personal information. These phishers use the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) servers to sound like someone from credible organizations. 

Vishing is currently one of the most leveraged forms of social engineering attacks in the cyber world. Vishers majorly impersonate banks or government agencies to lure users into giving away their sensitive details over the phone call.

 

Website Counterfeiting

Hackers design and develop forged websites that are look-alikes of legitimate ones. Their malicious purpose behind the website counterfeiting is to divert users from the legitimate website to the forged one. 

These hackers defraud victim by obtaining their personal information or by luring them into downloading malware to launch ransomware attacks.

 

Website Counterfeiting Example
Website Counterfeiting Example

 

Domain Spoofing

Phishers have evolved their techniques by using highly sophisticated tricks to mislead targeted users. They use spoofed domain names to make the malicious email look as if coming from legitimate sources. 

The most infamous examples of such email-based attacks are CEO fraud and Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks. Phisher sends the victim an email that looks like to be from a higher authority in the organization. It lures the email receiver to wire transfer funds or some confidential information.

 

Ransomware

The most dangerous attack technique wherein the victim is denied access to the system or files unless the ransom is paid to the cyber criminal. In this technique, targeted users are tricked into clicking on a malicious email attachment or link or on a malware-laden pop-up. As soon as any user clicks on one of these, the system gets corrupted by ransomware.

 

How to Prevent Phishing Attacks with Security Awareness?

How to Prevent Phishing Attacks

What are the best ways to prevent phishing attacks?

How to report phishing? 

Can phishing security awareness reduce phishing attacks? 

These are some of the most commonly asked questions by security professionals across the globe.

 

Today, most of the organizations across the world are either running their businesses remotely or have adopted the new normal of the post-pandemic. However, cyber criminals are taking this as a newfound opportunity to launch phishing campaigns on every industry vertical.

 

Therefore, it is essential to implement cyber security solutions and practice security measures in the organization to mitigate emerging phishing attacks. Here are some of the best practices to follow:

 

  1. Educate employees with the best in class phishing security awareness training. Every employee should be aware of the evolving phishing techniques, ways to recognize them and how to combat them.
  2. CISOs must implement email domain security standards such as DMARC, SPF and DKIM in their organizations. It prevents outbound emails from email domain spoofing and other email-based cyber attacks.
  3. Use an SSL Certificate to secure your website traffic and prevent information from being leaked. 
  4. Secure your brand online from website forgery with stringent online brand monitoring. Institute an anti-phishing and fraud monitoring tool to live track fraudulent activities online against the organization’s websites, mobile apps, and domains.
  5. Install all the latest security patches to remove vulnerabilities and mitigate the risk of cyber threats.
  6. Use a VPN to work in a secure network environment and avoid using public networks for any sensitive data transaction.
  7. Do not reuse old passwords and avoid using the same passwords for other accounts.
  8. Beware of pop-ups, unsolicited emails, unsecured websites and never respond to unexpected emails with sensitive information. 

 

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