According to the article in Dark Reading, Study: Phishing Messages Elude Filters, Frequently Hit Untrained Users, many people are still being tripped up by phishing emails.
The article summarizes the findings of a survey that was conducted at the Black Hat USA security conference held in July 2012. Of the 250 conference attendees that were polled, 69% said that phishing messages get past spam filters and into users’ inboxes on a weekly basis. Over 25% indicated that top executives and other highly privileged employees have been successful targets of phishing attacks.
Many phishing messages aren’t difficult to spot, but if you don’t know what you are looking for you can easily get hooked.
Stated simply phishing messages are fraudulent attempts to obtain your personal information through email or social media messaging. Armed with your credit card numbers, bank account data or social media account information, the bad guys can steal money from you and snare your online contacts in their phishing nets.
Your anti-malware software or special capabilities in your browser can inform you when you navigate to potentially malicious websites or block malware from being downloaded. Recent versions of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer all have some anti-malware capabilities. Likewise many email clients, like Mozilla Thunderbird and Microsoft Outlook, can detect and filter spam and other “junk” email that come from senders who you don’t know, did not originally contact, or that look like phishing attacks.
Nevertheless bad stuff still gets through these automated filters and on occasion email that is harmless is flagged as dangerous. Filtering software cannot protect you in all cases. In practice, it is difficult to differentiate benign and malicious emails, so it pays to be able to recognize phishing attempts when you see them.
Here’s my list of what to look for in phishing messages and what you should do, or not do, when you get them. Some of these suggestions are based on information presented in the article The State of Phishing Attacks by Jason Hong, associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and How to Recognize Phishing Email Messages, Links or Phone Calls at Microsoft’s Security and Safety Center Website.
Phishing attacks are evolving to become even more sophisticated and deceptive. In their blog Blackhole Exploit Kit Transforms Phishing, Trend Micro product manager Sandra Cheng and senior director Jon Oliver point out that phishing messages they are collecting in 2012 look exactly like legitimate emails from real companies. Here is an example of the kind of message they are seeing:
The authenticity of this message is nearly impossible to ascertain by just looking at it, since it does not have any of the obvious phish content I mentioned before. Many of these phishing messages contain links that lead unsuspecting users to websites where malware is installed that enable cybercriminals to take control of the victims’ computers. In most cases the only difference between this new type of phishing email and the legitimate variety are the links they contain.
One way to handle messages like this is to avoid clicking on any of the links in them and instead going to directly to the websites of the companies from where the emails appear to have come. Once there you can verify if you have any of the pending issues that are claimed in the fake emails.
If you want to get additional information about phishing, I suggest visting the PhishTank, a clearing house for information and data about phishing on the Internet. Their website features a lookup service where you search a URL you suspect might be a phishing site in their database. If you don’t find it you can submit the URL to the PhishTank for evaluation. As you find phishing URLs you can help others avoid them by contributing to the PhishTank database. The PhishTank also has a nice FAQ page that can answer many of your questions regarding phishing.
Don’t become the phishing catch of the day. Protect yourself against phishing attacks by staying informed and vigilant.
Article by Vic Hargrave