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Some links are not truly what they seem, as hackers make great efforts to develop convincing websites that are malicious in the background. Some even perform spoofing of larger corporations such as Microsoft.
Spoofing legitimate websites is done by bad actors so that they can convince end-users to enter their login credentials. This method of stealing login information and other data is known as URL phishing. URL phishing is a way of launching credential harvesting attacks.
If the attack is launched successfully, URL phishing can lead to the theft of passwords, card information, usernames, and other personal information. The most successful attacks are those that can convince a user to input their bank account or email login details. If the proper defense is missing, end users can easily become targets.
Today, we shall look at URL phishing basics and best practices that can help prevent you from falling prey. Let’s get started!
It is the practice of luring end users fraudulently to a fake/malicious website. This website steals confidential information or coaxes the user into downloading malicious software.
Like other spear phishing scams, URL phishing tricks users into taking serious actions. Fake websites are used to build trust and coax users into retyping personal details, entering card information for account validation, resetting a password, or downloading software updates which are malware in disguise.
Let us now look at 3 basic techniques used by a malicious actor to launch URL phishing attacks:
The user is channeled to a legitimate website page once they enter their login credentials or download malicious software. This trick is used to prevent a user from getting suspicious.
This is probably the most common URL phishing technique where malicious links are mixed up with legitimate links. Placing legitimate links in phishing emails allows such messages to bypass cyber security detection easily.
Detection software checks legitimate links and assumes an email is safe. An example is a link that leads to a true government website and a ‘secure your account’ button that directs the user to an illegitimate one.
Cybercriminals also use brand logos, slogans, etc., to disguise malware completely.
Cybercriminals also widely use images containing text to prevent malware detection from basic detection filters. These filters scan text which is why an email with no written text is often marked as safe. This way, emails containing malware reach an end-user inbox easily.
Urgent messages and those with a tone that requires strict, immediate action are used to disguise phony or fake URLs. This causes the target to panic and takes immediate action, leading to data compromise. They often click the fake URL before realizing that the message and link look sketchy.
URL phishing awareness trains users to pause and examine the message and its contents before taking action. Let us look at the steps you can take to identify a fraudulent email or malicious links below:
Always look closely at the website’s URL and sender’s email address, even if a message looks legit. Most phishing attacks rely on the spoofing of renowned websites and addresses. Even though messages may look real at first glance, closer examination often reveals differences. These could be as simple as a swap of .net for .com. Cybercriminals also pick URLs with similar spellings or look-alike characters, such as zero instead of O.
Whenever you receive a text message or email that redirects you to a business or service you already work with, it is a good idea to log in to your account directly to confirm the message source. Not clicking on the link and directly logging into your account will allow you to see whether there is an actual issue with your account.
The service or business you work with will notify you through an onscreen message or a notification. Alternatively, you can contact customer support directly to confirm this as well. If your existing account seems fine, you probably received a phishing message.
Fraudsters also use angler phishing attacks on social media platforms to misuse legit customer service messages. Therefore, it is a good idea to make sure where your customer support messages come from before you cough up information.
Never click on a link to find out or learn more if you do not recognize the website in a message. You should perform a quick search by typing the website name along with the word scam or the subject line with the word scam to see if any results show up. Since fraudsters attack many users at once, a phishing email has probably already hit quite a few people before you. A search helps make it clear whether an email you received is a phishing scam or not.
Based on your browser, hovering your cursor or right-clicking your mouse on the link allows you to obtain more information regarding a website address. You can find out whether the site has a valid security certificate. A lock icon plus HTTPS indicates a legitimate site.
However, it is still important to be careful, as email messages often hide phishing site addresses by using a button instead of a typed-out link. Hover your mouse over the button and study the website URL to decide whether you should click. You can also search for the website and go to it directly to see whether you received a malicious link.
Most phishing websites are bogus when you study them closely. Website spoofing of a renowned brand means that when you visit additional pages beyond the home page, you are likely to notice immediate differences.
Many cybercriminal groups that launch these attacks are often located outside the United States. Therefore, poor English is a good way to identify fraud.
Always double-check a website is using a proper payment processor such as Stripe or PayPal to prevent malicious software from stealing your information. Double-checking the URL is still a good idea, even if the processor is well-known. Hover your mouse cursor over a link to see its true origins. If you are even slightly suspicious, do not click on the link.
Training and awareness is the best way to protect against URL phishing sites. 80% of companies have started providing security awareness training to workers. This helps keep company systems and corporate networks safe against phishing attempts and email threats. The use of security tools like the ones below helps fully ward off URL phishing attacks:
Automated scanning offered by URL filtering tools helps block emails that contain fraudulent URLs. Blocklists and threat intelligence feeds help filter out and block email phishing messages.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) tools check email traffic in real-time. This allows the software to block phony emails with fake websites or URL links. This software can also spot abnormal traffic patterns and catch URL phishing messages before they can reach the inbox.
URL phishing links are often not reported as most security companies gather their own data and are not very keen on sharing it. The first step you should take when you detect a fake website URL is to report it to your IT department immediately. The department will take immediate steps for remediation and will block the link.
The United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has partnered with the Anti-Phishing Working Group to create a list of fake website addresses and phishing emails. The eCX (APWG’s eCrime Exchange) offers a data-sharing platform and threat data repository. You, too, can report phishing URL links to APWG by dropping an email at: [email protected]
New and updated web browsers offer their defense tools for users. These include warnings for sketchy websites and alerts to let users know before they click on a spoofed phishing website. These defenses, however, are based on reports made by other users. Therefore, it is necessary to report any attack or phishing URL to protect yourself and others.
Immediate action, awareness, and timely reporting are the best ways to protect yourself and others against URL phishing attacks. However, by reading our guide above, you need to ensure you know how to identify phishing URLs. Good Luck!
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