Spear phishing is an email spoofing attack targeted towards an individual or an organization to steal sensitive information such as your financial information or account details. Cybercriminals can also use it to install malware on the target computer. Unlike a regular phishing attack, spear phishing emails appear to have come from friends or legitimate organizations like PayPal, Google, etc.
An email arrives from a trustworthy source, and it will lead to some fraudulent website asking you to release some confidential information or download a piece of software. According to Network World, 95 percent of enterprise security breaches are a result of spear phishing attacks. Even the big organizations fall victim to these kinds of attacks. CNN spear phish hack is an example of how everyone is susceptible to these threats.
Phishing attacks have been around from a very long time. Since cybercriminals make massive profits out of these scams, there’s a good reason that these kinds of attacks will continue to happen. Luckily, there are ways to avoid falling prey to these scams. Sites like phishprotection.com provide anti-phishing solutions to businesses and organizations. If you are a little careful on the internet, these attacks can be prevented.
Here are a few ways you can avoid falling victim to spear phishing scams.
Encrypt Sensitive Data
Encryption is a great way to protect yourself from falling victim to these scams. It makes sure that only the authorized personnel has access to your data. Encrypt your on-device data with Full Disk Encryption. Alternatively, you can buy encrypted drives to protect your data. While using the internet, consider signing up for VPN for encrypting internet traffic. You can also encrypt your data on the cloud using tools like boxcryptor. That way, your data remains protected even if your account is hijacked.
Implement DMARC Authentication
In this digital age, nothing is impossible. Suppose you get an email from firstname.lastname@example.org, don’t just assume that it is trustworthy just because you received it from the company’s address. Cybercriminals can spoof the FROM field of an email. Spear phishing emails look authentic and lead to a successful phishing attack. Implementing DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) can help prevent these attacks from happening.
This technology relies on the established SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified mail) standards for email authentication. It analyzes the email against its database, and if no record matches for the sender email, it rejects the email. The report is submitted to the security admin. All the major email providers like Google, Yahoo, AOL uses DMARC authentication to make sure that fake and spoofed emails do not reach the users.
This is a great technology but is not foolproof. In May 2017, hackers were able to cause a successful phishing attack on Google where Google doc links were sent to Gmail users. Although Google stopped the attack within an hour, the damage was still done. The company took special measures and strengthens its security to prevent another google spear phish attack.
That doesn’t mean DMARC can’t protect you. It is still effective. Consider it one of many steps you should take to protect yourself from cyber attacks.
Take Advantage of AI
Implement an AI system that blocks spear phishing attack attempts like brand impersonation, business email compromise, etc. Machine learning can be used to analyze data and find out the patterns out of it. Using complex AI algorithms, machine learning can be used to find out patterns and spot anomalies that may result in an attack. Machine learning, when combined with powerful anomaly detection algorithms, can help limit the outspread of spear phishing attacks.
Enabling multi-factor authentication is another great way to prevent spear phishing attacks. It adds an extra layer of security to your data. Many businesses are implementing this technology. Sites like Google are already giving two-step verification to its users. So, even if the hackers have some information on you, they will still need to bypass another level of security. MFA requires at least two pieces of identification. It could be a randomly generated token, OTP on your number, or extra login. Implement it wherever possible. You will have an extra layer of security.
Businesses and enterprises pay a hefty sum to the copywriters to create emails with proper grammar, great content, and headline. It is highly unlikely that you will receive an email from them with poor grammar, punctuations, and errors. If you receive such an email with broken English, chances are it is sent by some inexperienced scammer. You will receive a link in the email which will lead you to a bogus website asking for sensitive information. Be careful and wise to not give them any of your information.
Keep Your System Up To Date
Keeping your system up-to-date is very important. Make sure that you’re running on the latest version of the operating system. If you’re running on Windows, Microsoft is always worried about user security. They are always updating for security patches so that your security is not compromised. Security patches are necessary because they can detect the latest phishing techniques and can protect you from falling victim to those attacks. So, make sure that your system is up-to-date, and install security patches whenever possible.
Verify The Site’s SSL Credentials
When you visit a website, make sure it starts with “https”. SSL ensures that the data will be sent over the internet in an encrypted form. Never fill out your passwords or other confidential information on a site that doesn’t have a valid SSL certificate. It can be very effective and can help you prevent spear phishing attacks. Often times, people do not bother to check out SSL certificates while they are filling their information on a form. That’s why they fall victim to these scams.
Be very careful about the links you visit, and also stay informed about the latest spear phishing techniques. You can stop spear phishing if you’re careful enough.