Phishing is a type of cyberattack that is committed with the use of different techniques. They include malware, social engineering and spamming. The main target and phishing means is generally the personal information – like credentials, full name, phone number and personal email address. The outcomes of phishing are used widely – from selling the obtained information to the third party to using this info for further cyberattacks.
How Does Phishing Work?
Phishing attack relies on people’s inattentiveness or recklessness. Most of the cases when people fall victim to phishing are related to the fact that they ignored a strange appearance of the site and the security alarm of their browser or antivirus. So, what is phishing attack and what are the main methods1?
Since the majority types of phishing attacks happen online, the main place of robbery is the Internet, exactly – the websites. Crooks try to get the information they want in any possible way, and they are getting more and more ingenious with the rise of the potential price of their target.
Not all phishing attacks aim at credentials. If we talk about phishing aimed at corporations, it is likely the part of a bigger cyberattack. And oftentimes, such a phishing example baits the user to open the attached file or the website.
**These steps lead to malware installation, or injection of the downloader – precursor for further malware. This or other way, phishing hacker is done through confusing the victim with fake statements and disguise.
There are 6 main types of phishing. In fact, they are actual for almost any online scam. Remember them to understand when someone tries to fool you.
- You are not expecting the message. Phishing attack may start from different points, but most often it is an email message or one in social networks. If you don’t expect the message from a stranger, or seeing some shocking content – check twice before following it.
- The sender does not look familiar to you. For sure, not each stranger who texts you in any form tries to involve you into a phishing. However, they must be the object of concern. If there is some shocking statement, or a very generous offer – it is better to refuse and block the sender.
- Dubious website address. If the link you followed opens a site that looks like something well-known – for example, Facebook or Twitter, but has the URL like “mysite.od317cball.com.in” – you are definitely looking at the phishing page and it is trap phishing. Crooks can counterfeit the login page, attempting to lure your login info. However, they never can get the original URL*.
- Strange message text. Typos, wrong order of words, punctuation mistakes, overly poor English level – all these things show that the sender is not pretty qualified. If it simultaneously tries to mimic the support of a well-known company – for example, Microsoft or Amazon – it is definitely a scam attempt.
- Too generous offer for just nothing. Some of the least dangerous phishing, which, however, is still unwanted, offers you to take part in a giveaway after a short survey. In that survey you must specify certain personal information, which then will be used by crooks for profit. You may even receive some prizes – but their value will definitely be lower than the price of your data.
In fact, there is a possibility that cybercriminals may counterfeit the website URL. For that, they must have full control over the network router you use for Internet access.
Such phishing attack example may be classified as man-in-the-middle: being amidst the data flow from your device to the Web, they counterfeit the packages the server sends to you and substitute them with ones that contain a site copy.
!!Therefore, you will see the site copy which is handled by crooks with an “original” URL. There will be the only difference – the web browser will not be able to establish a secure connection (with HTTPS certificate), and you’ll see the red lock icon at the left side of the URL bar. That is the only sign of such a tricky fraud. Fortunately, it is almost absent due to the high complexity.
NOTE: URL: Phishing is the name of the detection that you can observe while browsing the web. This name is used by Avast, Avira and AVG antiviruses to describe potentially dangerous sites2.
Short review of Phishing attack
Basic Types of Phishing
There are over a dozen different types of internet phishing. Almost all online scam nowadays may be considered phishing – just because these days the key point of interest is the information. Hence, fraudsters have to be very inventive to keep going – otherwise, they have nothing to do in the modern cybercrime world.
For sure, phishing is less effective than attacks with advanced persistent threats or other malware that may bring the crooks tons of valuable information. But having a huge rollover of more basic info – such as bank card info, email address, location and so on – may bring a lot of money as well. Let’s have a look at the phishing types that are recognized by the majority of the cybersecurity community.
1) Email Phishing Attack
Classic thing that is considered one of the most widespread ones these days. Contains a link or an attachment with malicious contents. The link may lead you to the counterfeited site (online banking page, social network, etc), or to the downloading of something you don’t really want to see on your computer. The attachment in phishing emails usually contain a malicious script that initiates the malware downloading.
This form of phishing became so widespread due to the price-to-profit ratio. Sure, the next type – spear phishing – is much more efficient, but costs much more. Possibly, the latter may have a much bigger price/profit, but it is still more expensive. Phishing campaigns are effective when massive, and not each cybercrime gang can afford spending hundreds of dollars on each victim.
How To Prevent Email Phishing:
Yet it is so easy to commit, it is quite hard to avoid it. Crooks may use email databases they got somewhere, or spam the mailboxes randomly, hoping that somebody will eat the lure. Of course, the decrease in the “quality” of the used emails makes the exact phishing much less efficient. The only thing I can advice you about avoiding the email phishing is the steps to make it useless.
- Don’t open the attachments. Never open the attached files, as well as enable any add-ons (macros in MS Office, in particular) until you are sure that it is something you are really waiting for.
- Don’t touch the links. Contrary to the attached file, links may spread zero-click malware – one that may be injected just after opening the compromised website.
- Create a separate email for using it at dubious places. The best way to minimize the possible spam flow to your main email is to reroute it on the second one. Use this account in places you don’t trust, or not sure about. Having less spam is already the way to minimize the possibility of malware injection.
2) Spear Phishing Attack Meaning
So, what is spear phishing attack? More precise form of phishing is sometimes called “targeted phishing”. Victim receives a message in the social network, or on the email that looks like one it waits for. It may be a delivery notification, or the information about the ticket it purchased the day before. The “main content” of the spear phishing is attached email or a link to the external website. That is quite similar to what we see in a classic email phishing. However, targeting the companies usually means using much more sophisticated text – just to make the victim believe that the message is legit.
Besides the messages on the email, spear phishing attack may take place in social networks. Some of the companies actively communicate with customers through Facebook or Twitter. These networks are perfect for crooks to spread the targeted malware payload. Disguising it as a bug report or a request about the wholesale supplies is quite easy, and the effects will surely be worth spending money and time. Preventing spear phishing attack is quite complicated, but still possible if you follow all rules.
- Always keep in mind what you expect to receive on the work email. Crooks may suppose what exactly are your contragents, but never able to say for sure until they have insider information. Seeing excessive or misleading information means that someone is wrong, and that is the reason to check it all twice.
- Don’t share the information about your company’s activity. Since spear phishing is often used against companies, it is obvious that crooks will try to find the basic information for that fraud during OSINT events. Spreading the information in social networks or elsewhere is literally collaborating with cybercriminals.
- Instruct the employees to check the sender’s email address diligently before interacting with it. Still, cybercriminals are not able to create a 100% counterfeit of official email addresses. Reviewing who sent the message will stop the fraud at the very beginning.
3) Whaling Phishing Attack
The specimen of spear phishing, it aims at luring some specific information under the disguise of a notable person. Your boss, the founder of your company, mayor of the city you are living in – they may choose among different celebrities. However, their target is almost always the same – to trick you to follow the link. This phishing generally aims at your personal info rather than at malware installation (but variations are still there!). The link in the document may lead you to the fake online banking site, or the page where you will be offered to specify some sensitive information.
How To Prevent Whaling Phishing:
Avoiding this kind of phishing generally relies on common sense. Why will a certain celebrity contact you personally, especially with the ask to transfer a money sum? The answer is obvious – that couldn’t happen in normal circumstances, and someone rather tries to scam you. If scammers try to mimic your boss, or someone from your company using the email address you have never seen before – ask him/her personally if they send a message to you.
4) Barrel Phishing Definition
A pretty inventive case of phishing that aims at malware installation. It consists of two messages that arrive within ~10 minutes. First, you receive a message that looks like a security recommendation, sent from the software vendor.
This message says that there is a security flaw you must fix as soon as possible, and below there is a patch installation you need to run. However, the first message does not contain this file. It goes in the second one – together with the apologies about failing to attach the file to a previous message.
Such maneuvers are needed to scatter your attention. When you see the sequential narration – you usually trust it. Even though software vendors never send the express-patches on the email, or at least notify about the ongoing mailing. The attachment may be an executable file – the malicious code will run exactly after you launch that app. And you will not even raise the suspicion – the message looks legit, doesn’t it?
Steps To Prevent Barrel Phishing:
Assuming that barrel phishing is an exotic form of a spear phishing, things you have to do are pretty much the same. Be aware of all untrustworthy messages and check the senders’ address. However, there are also several things that are specific to this type of phishing.
- Update your software manually. You will not be exposed to any kind of such pseudo-updates when you have already installed the latest version.
- Check for the actual news on the software you use. When there is really an exploit that may cause a significant danger – the vendor will likely publish a note about it on the official website. If you are not confident – it is better to contact the tech support and ask about the latest actual version and latest vulnerability patches released.
5) Angler Phishing Attack
A pretty new type of phishing, that aims at social networks. Crooks disguise themselves as tech support employees that help customers with their compliances. They mimic the support of banks, restaurants, large grocery stores, et cetera. When crooks see a compliance or hatemail addressed to the company, they ask you to contact them in DM. There, you will receive an offer to explain the problem and specify some basic info – name, surname, city, contact email and so on.
This information already gives a lot to the crooks. They may sell it or use this info for further spamming campaigns. The databases that consist of this information cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. However, that fraud may sometimes obtain a more dangerous form.
Tips To Prevent Phishing Angler:
If the pseudo-support is lurking under the guise of bank support, it may lure different banking details – card number, expiration date and CVV/2 code, for example. That data set is enough to get all the money from your bank account in just one transaction. Another dangerous action you may meet is the offer to follow the link. This action will likely throw you to the malicious website – with malware downloading, ads, or any other unwanted things.
- Check the username. Until the crooks manage to hijack the support account, they will use the account with similar, but not the same name. Staying diligent will make your life easier – and not just in cyberspace.
- Never follow the links from strangers. Tech support will not likely send you links of any sort, so seeing one, especially to the site that is not related to the establishment.
- Don’t tell the personal details to the people you are not sure about. Tech support can barely explain why they need your phone number or date of birth. And they exactly never need it – until we are talking about the fraud.
6) Social Media Phishing
This is the common name of any phishing that takes place in social networks. The enormous mass of people that use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit makes these networks an extremely prospective field for phishing. Social media phishing supposes luring people into following the links, which lead to malicious sites.
Crooks may redirect you to doorway sites, to malware downloading, or to the page that will try to lure your credentials. The text before these links may contain some shocking information – about the death of the celebrity, new disease or other thing that can attract attention.
Avoiding Social Media Phishing:
Since social media phishing is not targeted and generally committed by non-qualified crooks, it is quite easy to avoid this fraud. Strange texts, abundance of capital letters, absence of any reaction to your reply from the sender – all these things definitely point at the fact that it must not be trusted.
- Don’t follow the links sent to you by strangers. An already mentioned axiom that will never stop being effective.
- Check the news by yourself. If the information behind the link looks plausible, it is better to check it manually, by googling.
7) Website Phishing Attack
Website phishing is a site counterfeiting technique I talked about earlier. That action is to make the site maximally similar to the original – to make the user trust it. Among popular sites to counterfeit there are online banking pages, social networks, payment system sites and so on. The site may show different blanks to fill with login information, credentials from online banking, bank card information. However, the effects will likely always be the same – the message like “something went wrong, please try again later”.
How To Avoid Phishing Websites:
They almost always appear after your action. Clicking the link in the social media, or in the email – it may be any other form of phishing. Fortunately, when you see the site, you still have a chance to go back.
- Check the URL bar. Cybercriminals may create a full-fledged copy of the website, but they will never repeat the website address. It may look like “faseboook.com” or “tvviter.com”, but you will likely see something like “mysite13.xoisqcu.in”.
- Pay attention to who is texting you. Sure, you must not exclude that even someone familiar with you may get its account hijacked, but still – links from strangers must not be trusted.
- Check the connection type. If you are not sure about the address of the website you see, but cannot remember the correct variant, just check the HTTPS certificate. You can do this by clicking the lock icon at the left side of the URL bar. Absence of the HTTPS likely means that this site is not trustworthy, and likely a counterfeit of the original page.
8) Voicemail Phishing Attack
Voicemail phishing, or vishing, is the fraudulent use of voicemail messages to lure you for the callback. They usually mimic well-known retailers or online marketplaces. Robot-voiced message asks you to specify some delivery information by a certain phone number. This number, however, does not belong to the pretended retailer. Person on the other end of the line may ask for any of your personal details – even though it cannot be useful to proceed with the order.
Avoiding the Voicemail Phishing:
In contrast to the email spam which has phishing contents in it, voicemail phishing can be resolved by simply pressing the Reject call button. If you are not waiting for the delivery – just ignore the call. Even if it is a gift ordered to you by your significant other, the delivery firm will contact you in the other way – email or SMS.
- Check the phone number the voicemail offers you to call. Most of the numbers used by support are published on the official website, in the Contacts tab. If the offered number is not among them – ignore it.
- Think twice before sharing personal information by phone. It is an antiquated way of communicating, which is more expensive than email forms or sites. A real support will likely call you only if something is wrong with the order – and not to ask for detailed information about your person.
9) Credential Phishing Attack
The subtype of website phishing, which supposes the use of a site with a fake login form. That website, exactly, has only 2 pages – the one you see when you open it and the “something-went-wrong” page you will see after typing whatever in the login form. This fraud is quite effective when you don’t use the designated social network pretty often. With time, you are getting logged out from the websites, so the ask to log in will not look dubious.
How To Avoid Credential Phishing:
- Always make sure where you are going to type your credentials. Check the site URL – crooks will never use an original address, but a poor looking counterfeit instead.
- Change your passwords regularly. While it will not prevent the exact phishing, that action will definitely be useful in preventing the use of leaked credentials.
10) SMS-phishing (Smishing) Attack
Smishing is an approach of a fraud that goes preliminary to the website phishing. Threat actors send you an SMS that contains the link to a counterfeited website. Since it takes place on mobile devices, the cases of malware installations are pretty rare – they mostly aim at your credentials and personal information.
Avoiding The Smishing:
It is pretty easy to recognize the fraud. Cellular operators never give the crooks’ number the naming of a well-known campaign. However, crooks still may successfully mimic the delivery boys or small shops that do not purchase the naming for their number.
- Don’t follow the links in dubious SMS. This advice is likely obvious, but it is better to repeat it once again
- Publish less information about the ongoing deliveries, orders and so on. Publishing this information equals voluntarily giving the crooks the chance to scam you. Open-source intelligence matters!
11) Clone Phishing Attack
Clone phishing is a pretty sly method that is based on complete copying of the email sent by a certain company. For such a disguise, crooks try to get one, change the links and attachments to malicious counterparts, and then just send it to you. The mechanism of malware injection/credentials stealing is the same as in all other methods.
How To Avoid The Clone Phishing:
It is quite hard to figure out what kind of message you are looking at. However, there is a single key that never fails – the email address. Crooks can make it similar to the original sender’s address, but it is still impossible to copy it completely. Compare it diligently to uncover the fraud even before checking the attachments.
12) Wi-Fi phishing Attack
This tactic is pretty rare, and not as effective as earlier. However, it is still possible to lure something valuable. Wi-Fi phishing is the creation of a Wi-Fi access point that is named similarly to one offered by something well-known. For example, create a _Dominos_ access point in the Domino’s Pizza – the original is named the same – Dominos – and there is a big chance that someone will connect to your network instead of the original. Controlling the access point means the ability to sniff all unencrypted packages sent through it.
However, this method became much less profitable than it was in the ‘00s because of the spread of HTTPS connection spreading. HTTPS means that all packages are encrypted at the stage of sending to/from the site. Hence, you will not be able to read those packages until you get a decryption key – which is accessible only to the server and the client. Sure, there are several sophisticated approaches that allow you to counterfeit whole sites and even save the URL of the official address, but it is way much easier to try some other phishing methods.
What Happens When You Go To URL Phishing?
Following the URL that is inside of the phishing message may have different consequences. Most of the cases, you will see the counterfeit of a popular social network that offers you to log in. Some cases are about the counterfeited pages of the payment system – this time, their target is your bank card information.
The most rare cases are ones where the website you receive a link to contains the exploit kit. Opening it means zero-click malware injection – and you have nothing to do with it. While other situations are reversible, this one can possibly be stopped only by rapid closing the site.
However, the bad situations with exploits are very easy to prevent. Browser vulnerabilities that allow such a situation to happen are pretty rare, and usually patched as fast as possible. Hence, keeping your web browser up to date is enough to stay safe. Online security has never been so easy!
Steps On Protection Against Phishing
In fact, most of the approaches to protect yourself against phishing attempts bear on your own. Exactly, like in the majority of malware cases. Just keep in mind that you must be diligent, and never allow yourself any reckless actions – until you value your credentials and your money, or course. Nonetheless, there is a chain of steps you can follow to increase your chances of staying safe.
- Check the sender. Seeing the message from Amazon, Walmart or Lowes, ensure that it was sent by those companies. They will never use an email address like “email@example.com.
- Check the URL of the site that opened by the link. Sure, that advice is actual only for the links that you meet in not-so-trustworthy places. However, reviewing it may help you to prevent money loss or account hijacking.
- Never follow the links posted on the sites you don’t trust. Such advice is especially useful if you often guest on different online forums. Those places are rarely moderated diligently enough to prevent phishing attempts.
- Never ignore the security notifications in your web browser. Yes, sometimes they can trigger on the site you trust (for example, when its security certificate has expired), but when you see the security alarm on the site you open for the first time – it is better to stay on the alarm.
- As the continuation to the previous paragraph – use security software with Internet Security features. Such a function allows the anti-malware software to serve as an additional network shield. And when both web browser and anti-malware program alarms you about the danger – it is better to follow their guidelines.
- Filter the information you publish. Threat actors who plan and commit the spear phishing and its specimens preparing the attack basing on what you expect to receive on your email/in your DM. The less information you will give to open-source intelligence actors – the less realistic the phishing emails you receive will look like.
- Keep an eye on your personal information. Besides the OSINT methods described above, fraudsters may get precise information to prepare the attack by just buying it. Darknet is full of such offers, and until the last few weeks, there were also places to buy it in the Upper Web.