Phishing and Spear Phishing

In case you have no idea what phishing is, Wikipedia defines it as ”the act of attempting to acquire information (and sometimes, indirectly, money) such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.”

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, defines ‘spear phishing’ as:

“Spear phishing is when a criminal sends you an email that sounds and looks like it’s from a company you have an existing relationship with,” Stephens said. “For example, a spear-phishing message might address you by name.

Alternatively Spear phishing is an attack predicated on targeting a specific person, or group of people with a malicious email that encourages them to open an attachment.

Phishers tend to send an email pretending to be someone or some business you recognize and, as the definition above states, get you to reveal private data. Usually, if you’re reasonably suspicious, these attempts are easy to spot and avoid being taken in but often we click on the email out of natural curiosity.

Recently I received a direct message on Twitter from a follower:

Hey this person is making up dreadful posts that are about you http://xxxx????

The idea that someone would be making up “terrible posts” about me seemed far-fetched but that someone would inform me in this way was even more of a give-away. But not so for the link which takes you to a Web site, via a couple of redirections and looks exactly like the Twitter login page with the message “Your session has timed out, please re-login.”

If you just came from Twitter by clicking on the link in the direct message you might well think that such a thing was normal and provide your login credentials which would be, given that the site is in China and obviously fraudulent, a very bad idea.

The link resolves to (I recommend you DO NOT visit this link, there may be other exploits involved) and while the root of the site,, is identified by Chrome as a phishing site and a warning immediately displayed, the full link is not identified!

What happens to the information that is collected in this manner is certainly not being used for your benefit. Your personal information could be used for many reasons and one of them could be to ensnare more victims.

The more sophisticated and alluring these phishing attacks become the more people will get tricked. Remember that whilst the current messages are poorly written they are effective. To quote the Sergeant from Hills Street Blues “be careful out there”.


Protecting Yourself From Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks — online trolling for personal information in order to raid your financial accounts — are soaring. According to cyber-security experts at RSA, phishing attacks jumped 37 percent last year and have proven to be exceptionally costly, with the average attack resulting in $4,500 in stolen funds.

There are still 5 simple ways to catch a phishing attempt before it catches you (Source Kathy Kristof) . Specifically:

Don’t click. If your bank or credit card company sends a warning message saying that your account has been compromised and you need to click through an emailed link to “verify your account information,” don’t. Banks and credit card companies don’t communicate that way. Neither does the IRS. If there’s a problem with a bank or credit card account, they’ll call you.

Go direct. If you get one of these emails and are worried that there may be a real problem with your account, open up a new browser window, go directly to your bank site and sign in there. Chances are, you’ll see something along the lines of: “(Your bank) DOES NOT send emails instructing you to click on a link to enter your personal information.” When you sign on without trouble and there’s no other message from your bank saying that your account is compromised, you know that it’s not. Delete the email that caused you to worry, but remember it — and the fact that it was a scam — for next time.

 Don’t try to “win” anything. Phishing is done with more than emails. Contests are big: “Win a free iPad!” or “Get a $500 Target Gift Card!” The come-ons are all over the web. All you have to do supposedly to get this awesome swag is click on a link that is likely to take you to a toxic site. Increasingly, these toxic sites embed a virus into your computer that allows the crook to capture your every keystroke. That means it gets all your passwords and user IDs for your bank and brokerage accounts. You know you’re really not going to get something for nothing, right? So don’t pretend you will. When you see the word “free,” think “danger.” Don’t go there.

Don’t panic. The other brilliant scam that can pull you into the vortex of a toxic site is the pop-up warning: “Your computer has been compromised! Click here to download a security fix!” When you click, you open the gates of your computer to all sorts of nasty viruses. If you don’t panic, you won’t click and you won’t regret it later.

Get security. If you don’t have security software on your computer, now is the time to invest in it. Good services like SentryBay will set you back about $30 a year for 3 licences. If you compare that to the $4,500 you could lose in a phishing attack, it’s a bargain.