SecurityThreats

What Is Phishing?

Phishing is a fraudulent practice of transmitting via emails, text messages, or telephone while purporting to an authentic institution to reveal personal information such as passwords or credit card details or coaxing them into sharing money.

It is a cybercrime that uses a collection of deceptive methods like forgery and lies. Phishing is a social engineering technique used by attackers to manipulate human psychology. Phishing emails work with social engineering to sway users to act with an absent mind.

Cybercriminals popularly use phishing as it’s easier to bluff anyone to click on a malicious link that looks safe and from a reputable source.

Phishing is an easier way to get through the target than other methods of breaking through a computer’s defenses.

History of Phishing (1990-Present)

Recently, the remote way of work has caused phishing attacks to increase multiple times. It first appeared in the 1990s when the attackers pretended to be AOL administrators and tried to breach to obtain login details for free internet.

In the 1990s

A group named the Warez community mainly had pirates and hackers who stole users’ credentials and created false credit card numbers to access an AOL account. It was an unknown scam and could be carried out easily.

During the 2000s

In the early 2000s, when there was no phishing awareness, scammers took advantage and targeted online payment gateways like PayPal. Phishing emails were sent to the users, requesting them to update their account details and taking away their credentials instead.

Towards the end of 2008, cryptocurrency introduced hackers with a new way to gain. They coordinated with each other and raved their victims to loot cash from them.

Currently

Even today, phishing is regarded as a prevalent issue that organizations face around the world. Modern ransomware attacks are used for bigger financial goals. Money is one of many things lost; the recovery costs and security expenses amount to a large sum that organizations need to pay to make up for losses.

The victims are now targeted through social media platforms, where the phishing messages are more convincing, and the naïve users are easy prey. Access to sensitive information allows hackers to create personalized phishing content that looks too familiar and is difficult for users to detect.

Since 2020, phishing scams have been carried out through phone calls or SMS. The hackers victimize small-scale businesses that take less effort due to unsecured systems. INTERPOL reported a 600% increase in phishing events in March 2020 than February 2020, as the hackers exploited the panic caused by Covid-19.

How Does A Phishing Attack Work?

The attack is initiated by the threat actor transmitting malicious content, posing as a trustworthy person. The sender is coerced to act, often asked to do it urgently. Those who fall prey to the scam may be tricked into providing sensitive details. Detailed information on how phishing attack works is given below.

The Sender

The attackers imitate a trustable source that the recipient knows of, like an employer, a family member, a business partner, or a known brand offering a giveaway. The phishing messages are primarily enacted by large organizations such as PayPal, Microsoft, banks, or government agencies.

The Message

The attackers, disguised as a reliable source, request the recipient to click a link, download a file, reveal sensitive info, or send money. Once the victim opens the message, a frightening message comes up, like threatening account suspension or loss of job or money. The user is asked to take instant action or face the consequences.

The Objective

Once the victim accesses the link, it takes them to a fake website that is a copied version of a legitimate website. They are asked to use their login credentials to log in. If they comply, the credentials go to the scammers, who embezzle their bank accounts and steal personal information that is sometimes sold on the black market.

How To Diagnose A Phishing Attack

Phishing messages are tactfully created, making them hard to distinguish from the real message—the organization’s logos and format trick users into looking legit. There are a few clues that can distinguish a phishing attempt.

The message usually uses subdomains and slightly altered URLs. The alteration could be a minor spelling change. The email address used by the actor is a public email address like Gmail instead of the one generated by the corporation.

The message is unstructured, with spelling and grammatical errors. They provoke a sense of urgency and attempt to frighten the recipient. The message might ask to verify personal details like passwords or bank credentials.

Entering a link often leads to phishing websites while the malware is automatically downloaded into the system.

Types Of Phishing Attacks

Cybercriminals are creating different kinds of attacks to gain success. Some well-known kinds of phishing attacks are discussed below.

Spear Phishing Attack

These kinds of attacks are aimed at targeted individuals or corporations. A victim’s personal information is used to make the message appear genuine. Spear phishing emails may refer to co-workers or senior authorities at the victim’s workplace along with the name, location, and other private details.

Whaling Phishing Attacks

Whaling phishing attacks target the senior executives of the company. The focus is to steal large sums of money. The hackers conduct an intensive research about the victim for the message to look authentic, enhancing the chances of successfully hitting the target.

The whaling attack targets the employee who authorizes payment. The message is often created to be sent as an order from the head to transfer a large sum to a vendor, which in reality, would be transferred to the hackers.

Pharming

In Pharming, the DNS catch poisoning is used to avert users from the real website to a devious one. The users are tricked into attempting to log in to a false website with their login credentials. The details are stolen and misused, costing the victims.

Clone Phishing

The attacks by clone phishing are contained inside legitimate emails delivered in the past containing a link or an attachment. Attackers clone or make a copy of the email and patch links or attachments with malignant ones. The victims are deceived into taking action on malicious links or attachments.

This method is often used by hackers who have obtained control of the target’s system. The scammers copy sensitive data and use it to send emails within the organizations from a reliable sender to those on the victim’s list.

Voice Phishing

This kind of phishing is practiced over voice-based media. This may include voice over IP (VoIP) or plain old telephone service (POTS). A typical scam makes use of speech synthesis software for generating voicemails.

They notify the victims of uncertain activity in their bank accounts or credit card. The caller will demand the victim to acknowledge their identity, hence taking their details.

SMS Phishing

SMS phishing uses text messages to persuade victims to share their account details or install malware.

Preventing Phishing Attacks

Experts recommend enfolding security controls to help hinder phishing messages. Email filters help fight phishing attacks, but human intervention is vital to identify false positives.

Several ways an organization can defend against phishing attacks are discussed below.

Train The staff

Sometimes simple clues can identify a phishing message. Spreading awareness among the staff to look for the signs will prevent the attacks.

The messages usually exude a sense of urgency. They urgently ask for sensitive info, including passwords, and are embedded with links or attachments. Picking out these clues to identify will help against phishing.

Avoid Random Links

Access any webpage by entering the domain on the browser directly instead of clicking the embedded link, as this may be a source of phishing.

Apply Anti-Phishing Email Security

Artificial intelligence will automatically scan incoming emails for threats and questionable content. The program will isolate those emails and restrict the phishing messages from reaching the inbox.

Keep Changing Passwords

The organizations such as banks persuade users to change their passwords regularly every 30-45 days, decreasing the hacker’s chances of accessing the account. Unchanged passwords are more prone to attacks.

Update The Software And Firmware

The developers send updates to rectify security and bug issues. Install these updates to keep the system and infrastructure secure from vulnerabilities.

Firewalls

Installing a firewall helps control the data flowing in and out of the system. Phishing may unknowingly install malware that can copy private data and send it to the scammer. This can be blocked by a firewall and is reviewed later.

Avoid Popups

Popups are the most common source of phishing malware into the system. The X button on the popup window is usually replaced with a link to malicious sites. The users are tricked into clicking the button to close the window.

This action instead opens the site and downloads malware into the system. Installing a popup blocker stops them, but the hackers can still get through a weak end.

Cautiously Share Credit Card Details

Never enter your credit card details without ensuring the website is authentic. Such websites might attract you by offering gifts or unbelievable deals with money back. These are red flags that can be easily recognized as phishing attempts.

Targets Of Phishing Attacks

Generally, phishing can be aimed at anyone, but there are a few phishing attacks that are targeted at particular people. Some scammers will email everyone with general information, expecting some to take the bait.

It can be as simple as asking you to log into your Facebook or Amazon account to avail of an offer or check something. Once the user clicks on the link, it will take them to a spoofed website and take the information to log in to the account.

To achieve their goals, threat attackers will use special phishing methods. They use spear phishing methods to gain access to networks or data. After thorough research, the target is sent an email designed to look like someone familiar has sent it.

The higher executives, like the CEO of the company, are often targeted—Whale phishing attacks very high-profile people, such as wealthy individuals or celebrities. To sound most authentic and from a reliable source, phishing scams are impersonated to come from trusted senders.

The recipients are often bluffed by looking at the emails coming from such sources. A few standard brands that scammers mostly like to impersonate include PayPal, Chase, FedEx, DHL, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.

The sole purpose of attackers is to steal money or access information to use them in different ways. The topmost targeted industries include online stores, logistic companies, financial and government institutes, IT companies, and payment systems.

What To Do In Case Of A Phishing Attack

Once the scammers have the information, there is a high chance that the info will be circulated and misused by other attackers. Victims might receive new phishing emails, vishing or smishing messages, and phone calls.

You must remain aware of any dubious message asking for personal information or bank details. Now, government websites can help watch credit scores and reduce the risks.

Your computer could have installed the malware if you clicked on the link or opened the attachment. Using updated antivirus software, spot and delete the malware. Always make sure that the antivirus software has installed the latest patches.

Remote Work And Phishing Attacks

Since the global pandemic, the working style of most organizations has altered to a great extent. The meetings are held virtually anywhere, and the work is shared on cloud platforms.

Remote work has become the standard way of working; thus, both individual and corporate devices are present in the workplace. Hackers have exploited these changes to the maximum.

Over the years, users no longer have email security granted by the enterprise, putting the inbox at risk of attacks. The attackers are coming up with new phishing tactics to harm the system.

This calls for companies to spread awareness about phishing to keep their company and data secure. During the pandemic, there was a large number of people who were misrepresented through emails.

Why Is Phishing A Problem?

Scammers send phishing emails due to their simplicity, convenience, and cost. It almost doesn’t cost anything to send an email, and thus, the scammers can get all the information they desire without cost and tiny effort. Victims of phishing may get identity theft, malware infection, or stealing personal or work information.

Cybercriminals make use of private information such as email, location, phone numbers, confidential medical information, and financial data by selling them or misusing them in the black market.

Why Is Phishing So Common?

Phishing is the simplest kind of attack. Hacking, ransomware attacks, and other online threats require advanced skills and knowledge, whereas phishing uses social engineering methods instead of technology to exploit the system.

Phishing Kits

The attackers use the combosquatting method to make a fake webpage that imitates the original. The brand logo and aesthetics are carefully copied so users cannot distinguish the original from the fake site. Even the domain is named very much similar to the real name.

These websites are blocked easily, so cyber criminals create many of them. Since creating them again and again from scratch is a time taking task and requires skills, they use phishing kits to generate them in less time. These kits carry scripts and ready-to-use templates to generate the websites in no time in large quantities. These are simple to use, and even beginners can figure them out quickly.

The cybercriminals use the originally hacked webpages to host sites or free web-hosting providers for webpages generated by the phishing kits. Cybercriminals collect the victim’s credentials in a short time as these pages are blocked quickly. The purpose of phishing kits is to discard detection.

Statistics Of Phishing

The latest report by Checkpoint Research revealed that most of the large and stable brands were targeted. Email phishing was the most common form reported while web phishing ranked second. The famous companies used for phishing are Apple and Microsoft DHL. Microsoft account information was tried to be stolen by a hacker in August 2022.

Using Phishing Simulators To Combat Attacks

Using phishing simulation for employee training successfully gives a phishing attack experience to the staff during their training. The simulators have a combination of attack and social engineering methods, as the attackers use the mix for a strong attack. It imitates real phishing scenarios and employee reactions are tracked and monitored.

The analysis driven during practice points out the areas where training is needed to make the staff efficient in fighting against the attacks in a better manner. Using simulators like Anti-Phishing Training Suite can reportedly decrease the attacks by 90%.

Examples Of Phishing

It’s important to understand how phishing attacks are made. To understand them, looking at a few examples will help.

Invoice Scam

One of the attacker’s favorite ways to phish is through an invoice. The scam involves sending a false invoice that instills urgency and fear in the victim’s mind. The victim is coaxed to transfer payments for services or items they have never ordered.

False Email Upgrade

The victims receive an email threatening that the account will expire unless a certain payment is made immediately. The email is carefully designed to look like it has come from the IT department of your company or trusted email services like Google or Microsoft.

The content of the email is usually straightforward. The link will take you to a secure “HTTP” website. By hovering over the given link, the suspicious link will be shown.

Fee Scam

An unknown person from another country asking for bank details as a favor to recover trapped money is another common and hilarious way of scam. It promises a large sum if you provide your credential. It sounds too good to be true, and it is.

Google Docs Scam

In this phishing technique, the sender poses to be someone you know. The sophisticatedly designed email prompts you to open a link to see the document, leading to a copied version of Gmail’s login page. Selecting the account and giving access to it by entering your details means the hacker successfully carried out a phishing scam.

PayPal Scam

PayPal’s millions of customers make it one of the most fruitful tools for cybercriminals. Cybercriminals benefit from the high volume of transactions via this platform linked to their bank account and credit card directly.

Created tactfully with the PayPal logo and a convincing write-up, the customers are easily trapped. They urgently react to the email, asking to click on the link to fix the problem in the account. The fine print makes the email look like it’s from PayPal.

Final Remarks

The growing cases of phishing and the systems’ vulnerability to getting attacked make it essential that organizations and individuals take measures to prevent it. They need to grow awareness around themselves to break down attempts by hackers. Regularly changing passwords and installing firewalls with updated patches will also help in staying safe from phishing attacks

Derik Belair

As President and CEO, Derik leads the vision, strategy and growth of Augmentt. Prior to founding Augmentt, Derik was the Vice President at SolarWinds, leading the digital marketing strategy for SolarWinds’ Cloud division. Derik has been working in the channel for over 20 years, starting his career as a channel sales rep at Corel Corp. and eventually becoming the first employee at N-able Technologies in April of 2000.

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