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Spear Phishing: A new attack you may not know about

Spear Phishing: A new attack you may not know about

Cyberattacks have multiple forms and purposes. There’s no doubt that Phishing is one of the most common of them because of the way it’s done and its targets. Basically, any of us have the possibility of being a potential phishing victim.

However, there are different types of Phishing attacks, and Spear Phishing is one of the most relevant ones because of its impact and also expansion.

But, what is Spear Phishing? This targeted email spoofing attack is designed to get unauthorized access to private information from a specified person. People with malicious intent, money thefts, and military agents, are more likely than random hackers to launch a spear phishing attack.

Phishing was listed as the most common cyberattack in 2021, making up 38.2% of all cybercrimes reported to the FBI that year.

Spear phishing emails might seem like emails from a legitimate company or organization. Typically, a generic phishing website will look to originate from an adequate, widely-used service like Google or PayPal. Spear phishing, on the other hand, often involves an employee or acquaintance of the target inside the authority as the email's sender.

Many spear phishing emails are carefully prepared to utilize harmful social engineering tactics, making them tough to fight against with only technical means.

Phishing vs Spear Phishing vs Whaling

Spear phishing and whaling are two of many subsets of the broader category of phishing assaults, which includes almost any attempt to utilize email or other electronic messages to fool individuals. However, it’s important to differentiate between phishing, spear phishing and whaling in order to get a better understanding of these types of attacks.

Automated, mass-distributed emails with generic content are the most common sort of phishing attack. They are worded to be somewhat enticing (the attachment may be titled "salary report," or the link might go to a bogus lottery-winning site). Still, no effort is made to personalize the message for the recipient. The word "phishing" comes from the word "fishing" (the "ph" is part of the history of humorous hacker spelling). The concept is similar to fishing in that an attacker casts out a baited hook (the phishing email) in the hopes that any potential victim would swim by and take the bait.

As the name implies, spear phishing aims to target a particular victim. Specific information about the attacker is included in a spear phishing email to persuade the reader to take the desired action. It begins with the target's name and may progress to add professional and personal details that attackers have obtained via other means.

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You may also come across the term "whaling," which refers to spear phishing targeting enormous fish. Whaling refers to spear phishing to trick high-profile individuals, such as politicians, business leaders, or celebrities, into giving over their personal information. When conducting spear phishing, it is not uncommon to concentrate on less apparent targets who do crucial tasks, such as an IT or finance employee granting access to users or approving bills.

How does a Spear Phishing attack work?

As the success of a spear phishing attack hinges on the recipients' trust in the attackers' messages, one of the most critical aspects of the technique is how the attackers get the personal information they need to create them.

An attacker might use some techniques to do this. Typical phishing or a hole in the email infrastructure are two examples of how an email or messaging system might be compromised differently. Nonetheless, it is just the beginning.

In some cases, a person’s email falling under the hacker’s targetted firms list gets hacked. The attacker stays there on the network for accessing the active chats. As soon as the email is read, the attacker uses tactics to hack the data.

Suppose an attacker is unsuccessful in breaching the communications system. In that case, they may resort to open source intelligence (OSINT) by reading through the target company's internal or external communications to learn more about them. When people update their LinkedIn profiles to show their connection with, let’s say, Kaufman Rossin, they get CEO-generated email (with an email address as anything at gmail. com)—asking for donations for example.

Of course, the attacker of this email isn't the CEO; instead, it's a malicious actor seeking to fool a new hire. The author claims that these bots are monitoring LinkedIn through scripts, and sending content to people in the hope that someone falls victim to it.

Attackers will exploit whatever information they can glean about you online to their advantage. For example, we can see what happened to a security-aware customer who almost fell for a spear phishing attack. He explains that it was a phishing attack; the victims believed they received an email from their insurer with news about their vehicle insurance claim, so they followed the link. "It turned out this person had just been in a vehicle accident. They posted images of the damage and a remark saying that their insurance company (whom they specifically identified) responded quickly to their claim. This allowed the attacker to learn which insurance company the victim used, which helped them tailor their spear phishing attack."

Tips to prevent being a victim of Spear Phishing

It’s extremely important to be aware of the actions we can do to avoid being potential spear phishing victims. Follow the tips down below and avoid your data being stolen.

Take caution with the amount of private information you provide online: Check out your social media pages. How much of your data is where attackers may get their hands on it? Avoid posting anything that might be used against you by a scammer, or at the absolute least, establish your privacy controls so that only a select few can see your content.

Use complex passwords, and don't reuse passwords (or a simple variant) for all your online accounts. If you reuse passwords or use different permutations of the same password, an attacker who gains access to one of your passwords will be able to access all of your accounts. Passwords containing random phrases, numbers, and characters are the most secure, but each of your passwords should be distinct.

Update your software often; when prompted to do so, update as soon as possible after receiving a notification from the program's developer. Updates to security software, usually included in software distributions, may help protect you from frequent threats. Install all available automatic software updates.

If a company, like your bank, emails you a link, don’t click on it; instead, open your browser and manually enter the bank's URL. Simply hovering the mouse over a link will reveal its final location. Malicious links are more likely to be clicked on if the URL does not match the anchor text or the destination indicated in the email. Spear attackers often use anchor text that seems to be a valid URL to hide their authentic link destinations.

You should use common sense while opening emails; for example, if a "friend" asks you for sensitive information like your password, you should first ensure that the sender's email address is one you've seen them use. No legitimate company would ever contact you and ask for your login credentials. Whether you get an email that seems to be from a friend or company, but you aren't sure if it's legitimate, the best course of action is to call or visit their physical website to verify.

Make sure your company has a data protection plan in place: data loss due to spear-phishing attacks may be avoided with a data protection program that includes user education on best data security practices and the deployment of a data protection solution. Installation of data loss prevention software is recommended for businesses of a specific size to avoid losing or unauthorized information if an employee falls for a phishing scam.

Want to know more about phishing? Access our full guide and learn more.

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