In recent years, phishing attacks have become one of the most common cyber challenges most individuals and organizations face. Hackers use email, social media, phone calls, and any form of communication they can to steal valuable data.
Despite being the oldest scams online, phishing continues to increase and advance.
For instance, the U.S. is the top hosting country for phishing, with 77% of attacks. Poland, the U.K., Canada, and France combined for hosting just over 10% of attacks in September.
Companies from the United States are the most frequently targeted. Companies such as eBay, Wells Fargo, PayPal, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan Chase are the principal targets of cyberattacks. Financial institutions are privileged targets for cybercriminal gangs and state-sponsored attacks.
McAfee publishes similar data in the “McAfee Threats Report: Third Quarter 2012.” The financial sector is the most impacted by phishing activities, followed by “Online Auction.”
This should be a good time to learn how to mitigate phishing attacks.
Examples of high profile organizations that suffered phishing attacks and how they mitigate the attacks
The phishing attacks took place over two days and targeted two small groups of low-profile employees. Attackers successfully got at least one employee to retrieve it from their junk mail folder and open the Excel file titled “2011 Recruitment plan.xls.”
Eventually, attackers gained access to critical systems. A NetWitness early detection system discovered the anomaly, alerting incident response teams while the attack was in progress.
But not before attackers could make off with details about the company’s SecurID two-factor authentication products.
On September 27th, Hackers attacked Facebook. The giant social media was breached when hackers exploited three bugs that put at least 50 million users’ data at risk. In comparison, private access logins were not tampered with, personal information like your name and hometown, from your profile page.
It turns out that the vulnerabilities were first introduced back in July. This allowed hackers to access tokens to many accounts, but Facebook didn’t notice it until September.
Users are unsure if hackers also gained access to accounts linked to Facebook, like Instagram. It’s unclear why the hackers decided to exploit these vulnerabilities instead of disclosing them for a considerable bug payment.
Mt Gox Bitcoin Exchange
So-called cryptocurrency Bitcoin bills itself as a payment system that cannot be blocked frozen, or censored. However, that does not mean it is immune to the unwanted attention of cybercriminals.
Bitcoin operates a series of exchanges, which are websites where people can swap ordinary currency into Bitcoin. In February 2014, the Mt Gox exchange, at the time the biggest in the world, just suddenly ceased trading.
It turned out that the exchange had been bankrupted by the theft of some $460 million worth of Bitcoin currency, probably over a period of several years.
Following an investigation, it was discovered that hackers had broken into the Mt Gox customer database. They stole the usernames and passwords of 60,000 people and using them to get into the system to steal currency.
Global Bank Spear Phishing
Spear phishing attacks plant malware on a system using spam email in the same way an ordinary phishing attack does. The difference is, spear-phishing attacks go to much greater lengths to make their email seem genuine and harmless by imitating recognized, trusted sources.
In 2013, a wave of spear-phishing attacks targeting some of the world’s biggest banks and financial institutions was estimated to have stolen up to $1 billion. After two years, the attack was eventually detected and was traced to organized crime syndicates operating from Russia.
The malware used in the attack allowed the hackers to impersonate bank staff to transfer funds. They sat in IT systems for months on end, sending sensitive data to the criminals. It was so sophisticated it even allowed the gang to watch what was going on in the bank offices via webcams.
UNC Health Care
There were 1,300 letters sent to prenatal clients on March 20, 2017. At the University of North Carolina Health Care System, everyone had received care about a future data breach that might have impacted them.
UNC Health Care disclosed that at prenatal appointments between 2014 and 2017, females who finished home pregnancy-risk screening forms at the Women’s Clinic in N.C. Women’s Hospital and UNC Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Rex may have erroneously transferred their private data to health agencies in the local county.
Breached data included complete names, addresses, races, ethnicities, numbers of social security, and a range of data related to health.
Departments of county health are subject to federal and state legislation on privacy and must safeguard all data they have obtained. They were also asked to purge electronic data about non-Medicaid patients electronically.
On December 10th, 2017, there was a customer privacy leak. Many eBay customers’ personal information, including usernames, first and last names, and purchase history, were made available via Google’s Shopping platform.
The breach was due to “an improper feed signal” between the two companies. According to an eBay spokesperson, the companies are trying to find the root cause. The leaked purchase histories revealed susceptible products, such as HIV home test kits, pregnancy tests, and drug testing kits.
Within a couple of days, the user’s real names were masked with dashes. This is just another example of one of the many ways that your personal information can become compromised through no fault of your own.
On May 3rd, 2017, Gmail users were targeted in a sophisticated phishing scam. The fraudsters were seeking to gain access to accounts through a third-party app. The emails were made to look like they were from a user’s trusted contact. They notified the individual that they wanted to share a Google Doc with them.
Once clicked, the link led to Google’s real security page. Then the person was prompted to allow a fake Google Docs app to manage his or her email account. Google put a stop to the scam in about one hour, and the company says they estimate about 1 million users may have been affected.
What are some of the Phishing techniques?
- Phone phishing: As of now, there’s no software solution to this particular threat, so you have to be skeptical. If you receive a call from an organization that wants personal information, call them back at a publicly listed number rather than the one provided for you in the voicemail. Phone phishing also tends to give itself away by being vague. Usually, it won’t claim to be from your credit card company or bank specifically, but something more general.
- Link manipulation: is a widely used technique for phishing scams. It is done by directing a user through fraud to click a link to a fake website. Generally, many users are now aware that they do not need to click on links that may seem suspicious at first look. Avoiding click baits has become an effective way to mitigate phishing attacks. Hence, hackers are now using manipulative ways to get users to click.
- Social media: The rise of social networks has given phishing new life. After all, social networks are all about sharing. It’s not at all unusual for a friend to post a link to a nifty article. So users are less likely to be skeptical and more likely to click on a phishing link.
- Website forgery: is another phishing technique. It works by making a malicious website impersonating an authentic one. This way, the visitors give up their sensitive information like account details, passwords, credit card numbers, etc.
- Pop-up messages: This is one of the easiest techniques to conduct successful phishing scams. They allow hackers to steal login details by sending users pop-up messages and eventually leading them to forged websites through these pop-ups. A variant of phishing attacks, also known as “in-session phishing,” works by displaying a pop-up window during an online banking session and appears to be a message from the bank.
- Content Injection-based Phishing: Content-injection social network phishing refers to inserting malicious content in social networks. The malicious content can often be in the form of bogus posts. For instance, tweets, posts in the Facebook feed or LinkedIn feed were published by users whose accounts were affected by rogue apps. In many cases, the victims cannot see the bogus posts posted by the malware apps on their behalf. The fake posts, for example, may contain a photo of the account owner and the text: “I am in the hospital. If you would like to help me, please sign up by clicking on the following link”. When the victim clicks on the link, he/she will be requested to provide his/her personal data. In turn, it may be used by phishers for committing identity theft and other scams.
How to mitigate phishing attacks
Here are some on how to mitigate phishing attacks, with recommendations to help protect users from falling victim to phishing scams.
- Users should always be cautious of individuals or organizations that ask for personal information. Most companies will not ask for sensitive data from their customers. If in doubt, users should verify with the company itself to avoid any potential issues.
- Users should always take a close look at the sender’s display name when checking an email’s legitimacy. Most companies use a single domain for their URLs and emails, so a message that originates from a different domain is a red flag.
- As a general rule, users should not click links or download files even if they come from seemingly “trustworthy” sources.
- Check for mismatched URLs. While an embedded URL might seem perfectly valid, hovering above it might show a different web address. Users should avoid clicking links in emails unless they are confident that it is a legitimate link.
- Users should always be on the lookout for any grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Legitimate companies will often employ proofreaders and editors who ensure that the materials they send out are error-free.
- Users should not be frightened or intimidated by messages that have an alarmist tone. They should double-check with the company if they are uncertain about the status of their accounts.
- Phishing emails are designed to be sent to many people, so they need to be as impersonal as possible. Users should check whether the message contains a generic subject and greeting, as this can be a sign of a phishing attempt.
- Although not every end-user has access to advanced anti-phishing software, they can still use their email clients’ built-in protection to filter messages. One example is setting the email client to block all images unless approved.
- Legitimate companies will never send confirmation emails unless there are specific reasons for doing so. Most companies will avoid sending unsolicited messages unless it’s for company updates, newsletters, or advertising purposes.
- Users should always take the context of an email or message into account. For example, most online accounts do away with viewable member numbers. Users should be wary if they receive emails containing a “member number” for services that generally don’t use them.
- It is vital to take note of the wrong information in the text of the message. Any mention of operating systems and software that consumers do not typically use can often be indicators of a phishing attempt.
- If it seems suspicious, it probably is. Users should always err on the side of caution when sending out personally identifiable information through messages and emails.
Phishing isn’t going away. It is up to you to learn how to mitigate phishing attacks. Note that no company is too small, nor are there any insulators based on industry or geography.
Ensure that your organization has a clearly defined strategy, including training, prevention, detection, and response. Through this type of awareness and planning, we can be aware of how to mitigate phishing attacks.
Hence, it will mature our defenses against phishing attacks and slash the effectiveness of future campaigns.
Global DNS report
Verizon data breach investigation report
McAfee Threats Report