Email is the gateway if you want to get inside a company. Since it offers the door to an organization, spear phishing is one of the most powerful arsenals in the hands of cyberterrorists who want to wreak financial and reputational havoc.
The only thing that stands between a spear-phishing attack and a potential breach is how the email recipient responds to it.
If the email recipient doesn’t spot the spear-phishing email and ends up engaging with it, then it opens a Pandora’s box that requires immediate remediation steps.
Cybercriminals are adept at manipulating people. In this article, we are going to look at spear-phishing and what helps protect businesses from spear phishing.
Cyble says that a successful spear-phishing attack can cost $1.6 million on average. If you are confident that you can protect your organization against spear-phishing attacks, then you need to think again.
It is a phishing method that targets specific individuals or groups within an organization. While the main objective is to steal data for malicious purposes, cybercriminals are also known to install malware on the victim’s computer.
Here’s a rundown of how it works: You get an email from a source you trust. Unfortunately, clicking on it leads you to a vortex of malware. They use clever strategies to get the victims’ attention.
The main reason behind spear phishing’s high success rate is authenticity. It is as unfortunate as it sounds.
Cybercriminals collect legitimate information about the victims through several sources: social networking sites, forums, and by collecting details. Using all the information, they create a personalized message that will draw in the victims.
The criminals send a highly enticing email and ask the victim to directly respond to their email. The message could include a malicious link or have an attachment that installs malware on the device.
When they click on the link or the attachment, the victim is tricked into sharing private and confidential information such as user credentials or financial information.
Being aware of the different types of spear-phishing attacks is important because it makes recipients more wary.
Below are the three common spear-phishing techniques employed by cyber attackers:
According to Proofpoint, in 2021, 83% of businesses will have had a successful email-based phishing attack where they tricked people into clicking on a bad link, downloading malicious software, giving out their passwords, or making a wire transfer.
This makes it all the more important to identify a spear-phishing email when you see one.
Below are some of the characteristics common to spear-phishing emails:
1. Even though the sender’s email address looks as if it is from a trusted source, closer observation will lead you to simple grammatical or typographical errors. You might find an alphanumeric character for another one that has a close resemblance to.
2. Further looking into the email’s source, you can look for SPF and DKIM records. If they pass, that shows it comes from the intended recipient.
3. Spear phishing emails evoke a sense of urgency. They mark it as urgent, especially when the task they persuade you to perform is against the company’s policies.
4. The language that you see in the body of the email will not look professional. A seasoned professional can easily figure it out.
5. The jargon used in the email will be incorrect.
6. The tone of the message will be completely different from how the user usually communicates.
The highly targeted nature of spear phishing makes it difficult to detect them. Even a well-trained observer can be distracted and commit errors.
It is critical to include user training with technical solutions so that you end up preventing spear-phishing emails in your company’s inboxes.
Thankfully, there are several spear phishing solutions to protect your business from it.
Keep checking for the latest security updates for your OS. No matter which OS you run, Windows, Apple, Linux, or AIX, all of these have security patches.
They keep releasing new ones to predict new phishing attacks. Ensure that you keep your internal and customer-facing systems up to date.
Protecting sensitive information from the wrong hands starts with file encryption. The files you send to your systems, cloud environments, remote locations, etc., should be decrypted so that it will not matter even if they go to the wrong hands.
Here are a few things in your organization that you should encrypt:
It’s best to use a service that manages file transfers because they encrypt your files with safe encryption methods.
They also ensure that you stay updated with the encryption standards, which keep changing over time, thereby making your data transfers safer.
Employees can’t use corporate access passwords on fake websites if they have a fool-proof password management system in place.
You can tell your employees to provide a false password when they are accessing a link that came in an email.
Phishing websites will accept fake passwords, but a legitimate website will never do that. It will help them identify phishing sites using this method.
Use a detailed analytics tool that will assess the company’s inbound email history for the past year. Analytics software will go through the email content, identify suspicious emails, and assess the user’s behavior with these emails. A deeper look at historical email data will help towards improving security.
You can reduce the likelihood of employees falling for spear-phishing emails by training them to handle emails carefully.
Strategies on how to recognize phishing emails should be part of the training. They should learn how to look for suspicious domains, links in phishing emails, words in the message, and how to report them when they get such phishing emails.
The employees should be taught what they should do if they come across a spear-phishing email. You can even purchase training materials from vendors or outsource this task.
Most audit firms these days offer social engineering audits that measure how internal employees behave with critical IT assets.
Since spear phishing is a serious phenomenon, it makes sense to allocate a certain budget for a social engineering audit throughout the organization.
Outside audits will not be biased, and they will have a genuine intent to find any issues in the infrastructure or suspicious employee behavior so that any vulnerabilities can be removed.
There are machine learning tools that analyze the structured communication patterns in an organization. It will be able to spot anomalies that have the signs of a potential spear-phishing attack.
You can find solutions that detect and block spear phishing attacks, including Business Email Compromise (BEC) and brand impersonation.
Even the safest-looking email might not actually be one. Unfortunately, cybercriminals can also spoof the email sender’s address and send emails posing as a company representative. The success rate of phishing emails is high because of how genuine those emails look.
The DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) technology employs the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) to analyze the emails against your existing database.
When the email doesn’t match the record for the sender, the DMARC rejects it and sends a report to the security admin.
DMARC is the only email authentication protocol that ensures spoofed emails do not reach inboxes.
Some of the top companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL use DMARC to stop spear phishing. Here’s a disclaimer, DMARC shouldn’t be the ‘only’ tool to protect yourself against spear phishing.
Businesses across the globe have warmed up to using MFA for user authentication. Google even recommends turning on MFA if you want to secure it even more.
MFA requires more than one piece of authentication. The extra authentication could be a password and a number generated randomly on a login token.
Doing this makes it incredibly difficult for hackers to gain access to your systems.
Cybercriminals usually get their way because they are extremely sophisticated at manipulating people.
The only way to stay one step ahead of them is by being mindful of the emails that you open and the resources that you use to protect yourself. By following the strategies that we have mentioned in this article, you can keep your organization and customers safe.
Spear phishing protection is something that businesses should give a lot of attention to and put a lot of effort into.
|Worried about the Spear-phishing attacks?|
Talk to our cybersecurity experts.
Circa Las Vegas
Thurs. Aug 5th
Cybersecurity Reunion Pool Party at BlackHat 2021