The goal of email phishing attacks is obtain personal or sensitive information from a victim such as credit card, passwords or username data, for malicious purposes. That is to say trick a victim into performing an unwitting action aimed at stealing sensitive information from them. This form of attack is generally conducted by means of spoofed emails or instant messaging communications which try to deceive their target as to the nature of the sender and purpose of the email they’ve received. An example of which would be an email claiming to be from a bank asking for credential re-validation in the hope of stealing them by means of a cloned website.

Some examples of email Phishing attacks.

Spear phishing

Phishing attempts directed at specific individuals or companies have been termed spear phishing. Attackers may gather personal information about their target to increase their probability of success. This technique is by far the most successful on the internet today, accounting for 91% of attacks. [Wikipedia]

Clone phishing

Clone phishing is a type of phishing attack whereby a legitimate, and previously delivered, email containing an attachment or link has had its content and recipient address(es) taken and used to create an almost identical or cloned email. The attachment or link within the email is replaced with a malicious version and then sent from an email address spoofed to appear to come from the original sender. It may claim to be a resend of the original or an updated version to the original. This technique could be used to pivot (indirectly) from a previously infected machine and gain a foothold on another machine, by exploiting the social trust associated with the inferred connection due to both parties receiving the original email. [Wikipedia]

Whaling

Several phishing attacks have been directed specifically at senior executives and other high-profile targets within businesses, and the term whaling has been coined for these kinds of attacks  In the case of whaling, the masquerading web page/email will take a more serious executive-level form. The content will be crafted to target an upper manager and the person’s role in the company. The content of a whaling attack email is often written as a legal subpoena, customer complaint, or executive issue. Whaling scam emails are designed to masquerade as a critical business email, sent from a legitimate business authority. The content is meant to be tailored for upper management, and usually involves some kind of falsified company-wide concern. Whaling phishers have also forged official-looking FBI subpoena emails, and claimed that the manager needs to click a link and install special software to view the subpoena. [Wikipedia]

Staying ahead of the game from an end user perspective

  1. Take a very close look at the sender’s email address.

Phishing email will generally use an address that looks genuine but isn’t (e.g. accounts@paypals.com) or try to disguise the email’s real sender with what looks like a genuine address but isn’t using HTML trickery (see below).

  1. Is the email addressed to you personally?

Companies with whom you have valid accounts will always address you formally by means of your name and surname. Formulations such as ‘Dear Customer’ is a strong indication the sender doesn’t know you personally and should perhaps be avoided.

  1. What web address is the email trying to lure you to?

Somewhere within a phishing email, often surrounded by links to completely genuine addresses, will be one or more links to the means by which the attacker is to steal from you. In many cases a web site that looks genuine enough, however there are a number of ways of confirming it’s validity.

  1. Hover your cursor over any link you receive in an email before you click it if you’re unsure because it will reveal the real destination sometimes hidden behind deceptive HTML. Also look at the address very closely. The deceit may be obvious or well hidden in a subtle typo (e.g. accouts@app1e.com).

a. Be wary of URL redirection services such as bit.ly which hide the ultimate destination of a link.

b. Be wearing of very long URLs. If in doubt do a Google search for the root domain.

c. Does the email contain poor grammar and spelling mistakes?

d. Many times the quality of a phishing email isn’t up to the general standard of a company’s official communications. Look for spelling mistakes, barbarisms, grammatical errors and odd characters in they email as a sign that something may be wrong.

 

Mitigating the impact of Phishing attacks against an organization

  1. Implement robust email and web access filtering.

  2. User education.

  3. Deploy an antivirus endpoint protection solution.

  4. Deploy Phishing attack aware endpoint protection software.

 

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