The Anatomy of a Phishing Attack

Phishing attacks are getting common in today’s dynamic cyberspace. Over time, the pattern of these attacks has evolved to be more destructive. The occurrence of phishing attacks can be attributed to a variety of reasons such as ransomware or stealing important data of the target person or organization.

The post-pandemic era, when people started working remotely in an unsecured security environment, has given hackers and attackers a smooth passage to lure more victims into their trap.

What is a Phishing Attack?

Phishing insists that you take certain actions that provide fraudulent access to your personal data or other sources of protected information. These attacks are initiated using duplicitous emails which appear to be from a known or reputed source. Such emails may create a sense of urgency and require some type of action from the target person, such as clicking an embedded link, opening an attachment, or replying to the email an providing confidential information.

Once the target positively interacts by clicking the link or opening an attachment, hackers may now have the access required to obtain the target’s confidential information or access other protected systems and/or data.

Types of Phishing Attacks

There are three common types of phishing attacks:

  • General Phishing – hackers shoot emails to as many recipients as possible. This is considered one of the easiest phishing attacks as minimum knowledge of the target is required. Here, the victim can be anyone.
  • Spear Phishing – is meant for specific individuals and organizations. This approach requires detailed information about the target. Big profits are harvested by the hackers in spear phishing.
  • Whaling – is a carefully planned approach, where hackers aim at high-value targets such as top executives and owners of big businesses. As the targets most likely have access to large stores of protected information and/or critical systems, hackers are looking for a large payday from these types of attacks.

Steps of a Phishing Attack

Phishing can be both simple and sophisticated in its approach. It is not limited to simply sending emails and waiting for a target to interact. Hackers will initiate phishing attacks in several steps.

Step 1: Decide the Goal

Attackers decide their motive, for instance: obtaining control of critical business information/data.

Step 2: Identifying Targets

After deciding the motive, hackers will then identify their target. It may be a specific individual or they may initiate a mass attack looking for uninformed individuals to respond.

Step 3: Setting Up the Trap

Once targets are chosen, a setup is created to lure them in. Prominent brand identity and sophisticated content may be used to create Websites, Branded Login Consoles, Legitimate Looking Email Accounts, and Landing Pages. Trusted names make the victim believe that the phishing attackers are in fact from legitimate organizations or individuals. Believing in the legitimacy of the correspondence makes someone drop their guard and they ignore possibilities of foul play.

Step 4: Initiate the Attack

After setting up the trap, the phisher sends mass emails carrying brand names and links to the fake web pages. Individual phishing attacks are processed in the same way but to a smaller group or even a single individual (*See Whaling).

Step 5: Anchor Targets

Provisional on the setup, the method of anchoring or hooking targets can vary. Victims may either feed the information into the fake web page or directly respond to the email or message sent to them. Clicking an attachment or link may download malware onto the targets system.

Step 6: Expand and Monetize

Once victims act with the attachment/link or respond to the email, the phishers may take control of their credentials. With the gained permissions or assistance of malware, phishers can accelerate the breach and proceed with their motive.

How Do We Stay Safe from Phishing Attacks?

The digital age has provided so many innovations in technology that we are more connected as a society than ever before. Each of us consistently use email, texting, phone calls, etc. as part of our everyday life, both professionally and personally. These various forms of communication are all very vulnerable to phishing attacks. The key to staying safe from phishing attacks is staying vigilant and educating yourself on ways to avoid them.

Here are some ways that can help you stay safe from these attacks.

  1. Stay Informed

Phishing techniques are continuously evolving, and it is so important to stay updated about them. Understand the anatomy of a phishing attack and what to look for. NEVER click an embedded link or attachment unless you are sure of the source. Stay informed with the news about recent phishing scams, the earlier you find out about these techniques the better you become at avoiding these attacks. Emphasizing security awareness training for all in an organization is highly recommended.

  1. Click Carefully

“Think before you click”, keeping these four words in mind can save anyone from falling prey to phishing scams. Avoid clicking links or opening attachments that appear in emails and chats from unknown or suspicious sources.

  1. Keep Your Browser Updated

Doing simple things such as keeping your browser updated can help you avoid phishing and other cyber-attacks. With every update, security patches of the browser get stronger, thus, minimizing the chances of cyber-criminals exploiting you.

  1. Install Anti-Phishing Toolbar & Antivirus

A high-quality anti-phishing toolbar and strong antivirus are effective in avoiding phishing scams. If you are surfing through something suspicious the anti-phishing toolbar will warn you, similarly, the antivirus will scan all the files coming to your system, therefore, saving your system from getting infected.

At Etech Global Services, cyber security for all is our top priority. Our team members are frequently provided with security awareness training that is consistently evolving to maintain effectiveness against the ever-increasing threat of malicious actors. Get in touch with us to learn more about how we keep our team members and clients safe from cyber-attacks.

By |2022-09-15T01:33:48-06:00September 15, 2022|

Author

Ronnie Mize is the Chief Security Officer of Information Technology for Etech Technical Services. Ronnie has been in the technology sector for 20 years and has held technology leadership roles with Microtech America, The Berry Company (a subsidiary of Bellsouth) and Etech. His entrepreneurial background includes extensive experience in technology development and deployment as well as implementation of business processes and defined methodology.

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