Have You Become The Target Of A Spear Phishing Attack?

spear phishing attack

The Difference Between Phishing and Spear Phishing

Many of us have one time or another been tricked to click on an email that appeared legitimate. This email might be as innocent as that from a sleazy spammer or as dangerous as one that can compromise your entire network. Spear phishing is different from the general phishing attacks which are easier to execute. Spear phishing is an attempt to trick specific individuals into sharing confidential information. It is usually organized by highly sophisticated cybercriminals, business competitors, or even government agencies. Moreover, the reward is generally financial assets, product prototypes, trade plans, credit card numbers and other sensitive information. Therefore, spear phishing is a more personalized attack whereas a phishing attack email is sent out to a larger group of people all at the same time.

How Does Spear Phishing Work?

Since a spear phishing campaign is a more specific type of attack, it’s common to wonder, how does spear phishing work? Here’s an example of how a spear phisher would plan their attack. An attacker generally will conduct a detailed study of their potential victims skimming as much personal information as they can from public sources such as social media accounts and forums, and private sources such as being friends with the victim on social platforms. The more information they get such as an email address, etc., the better their chances of success. Through research, an attacker would determine if the target has the correct access to execute their desired action or has the right credentials and connections. Based on their findings, they can choose to move forward with the phishing or strike a targeted attack on another employee.

Common Targets

Employees in an organization who have special privileges or serve as a link to powerful decision makers are the most common victims of these phishing attempt attacks. This includes employees in large enterprises, government agencies, and non-governmental groups such as activists. These days, if you are in any position that gives you some restricted access to business resources or other employers, you are a target of spear phishing.

Their next line of action is to send an email that is personalized to look more trustworthy and get the desired clicks.

Spear phishing emails can be executed in many forms including:

  1.   Sending an email containing a website link to the victim to harvest credentials.
  2.   Directly requesting for login credentials. Trying to obtain account details such as usernames and passwords through email.
  3.   Attaching viruses to email with the aim of hijacking a system.
  4.   Sending an email with an embedded virus so that the system is compromised upon opening.

If a spear phishing attack is successful, stolen sensitive data is then used by the attackers to access restricted system resources, attack other users on the network using your established trust and steal valuable information.

How To Spot a Spear Phishing Email?

The following emails are a prime suspect for spear phishing attacks:

  1.   Emails containing a request for your sensitive information such as personal or financial information.
  2.   Emails with an attachment, asking you to run a particular “fix” for a problem are likely to be phishing emails.
  3.   Any email asking you to pay or authorize a transaction under immense pressure should also be suspected.

How To Protect Yourself and Your Company

Spear phishing attacks are usually harder to detect compared to regular phishing attacks. But there are some steps you can take to protect your business from it.

Education and Awareness Training: Educating your employees about the dangers of spear phishing, methods to detect them, and the means to prevent them is the primary means of protecting your business. Having employees with the updated knowledge about email security will greatly reduce the risk of your business network being compromised. As part of the training, users should be taught on good email practices such as:

    1.   Placing a call to superiors to confirm strange email instructions.
    2.   Verifying payment details and bank accounts before authorizing payments.
    3.   Verify a link. Employees should know not to click on a link that looks suspicious. An employee can manually type the known correct link in the address bar for further research.
    4.   Never clicking or responding to any emails requesting for personal information.
    5. Never give out personal information such as social security numbers.
    6.   Immediately reporting suspicious emails.

Email Filtering and Encryption: Email applications should be configured to screen out spam emails and stop emails from unknown or spoofed sources from getting to your inbox. Anti-spam software should be deployed on multiple levels to identify compromised mail server. Your organization should consider installing email encryption technology that allows only employees to sign emails with secret cryptographic keys which make impersonation very difficult.

Updating OS and Installing Patch: Patches for operating systems are released in response to identified threats, your business must set up an automated updating process. Also, you should install the regular OS updates.

Updating security software: Security software keeps your system safe from attacks, so they should be regularly updated to take care of latest security threats.

Being discreet: Giving out too much information to the public about your specific roles and access level in your organization can make you an easy target. If it isn’t mandatory to give out specific information about your organization, don’t! Stay close to your companies privacy policy.

Cybercriminals who engage in spear phishing attacks are more tech-savvy than petty ones, but they can be stopped through awareness training, constantly looking out for threats and the installation of protection software. At SDTEK, our team members can provide your company with the necessary support to stay safe and protected from these specific targeted attacks. Give us a call or click here if you have any questions or concerns about the safety of your companies email.

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