Phishing attacks have evolved into sophisticated methods of social engineering, making them one of the oldest and most enduring cyber threats. While many people associate phishing with spam emails or malicious links, modern attacks have expanded to include other vectors like open-source websites, fake apps and malvertising.
To effectively mitigate phishing attacks, user awareness training is key. This involves training employees to identify fake emails, malicious links and suspicious websites with greater effectiveness. Given that employees serve as the primary line of defence in cybersecurity, strengthening their ability to detect and respond to phishing attempts becomes crucial, especially since emails and attachments can sometimes bypass firewalls.
Phishing through other attack vectors
Phishing attempts can take various forms, encompassing phone calls, text messages, malicious code and counterfeit applications. Scammers target employees across the spectrum, from small businesses to large corporations. Furthermore, virtually anyone with an internet connection and an email account can fall victim to these scams, considering their widespread accessibility.
1) Malvertising – Malvertising refers to a type of malicious advertising that leverages legitimate ads on websites and apps to distribute harmful code. This attack vector involves embedding malicious code within seemingly harmless advertisements. When users interact with these ads, their browsers become vulnerable to malware or ransomware infections.
Cybercriminals favour malvertising because it enables them to target large audiences simultaneously. There are various methods employed to deliver these malicious ads, including:
- Injecting malicious code into websites that display ads through third-party services like Google AdSense.
- Concealing harmful scripts within banner images.
- Utilising exploit kits (EKs) to distribute malware by disguising it as fake Flash updates or Java applications.
2) Open-source coding – Open-source coding is a valuable resource that fosters collaborative software development. By encouraging the discovery of vulnerabilities in programs, open-source code helps create a safer digital environment.
As it is accessible to anyone, there is a possibility for malicious actors to exploit this openness. They may take advantage of the opportunity to introduce backdoors into systems or target vulnerabilities in widely used programs.
3) Fake apps – In today’s digital landscape, the use of apps on smartphones and computers is ubiquitous. While the majority of apps available are trustworthy, it’s important to remain vigilant as some are designed by cybercriminals. These malicious apps may appear genuine on the surface but once installed, they can compromise the security of your data. For instance, a recent study unveiled vulnerabilities in a popular cryptocurrency wallet app.
Fortunately, prominent app stores like Apple, Android and Google actively monitor and remove fake apps to safeguard users. When downloading apps, it’s advisable to rely on reputable app stores rather than random websites. Additionally, take the time to read user reviews and carefully review any attached policies associated with the app. This prudent approach can help ensure the safety and reliability of the apps you choose to install.
4) Phone calls and text messages – A malicious individual will adopt a false identity of someone in a position of authority, such as a department head within your organisation or a representative from a government agency. They may contact you via phone call or text message, urgently requesting a payment, electronic funds transfer or the completion of a critical task.
Given the perceived authority of the person contacting you, individuals are often inclined to comply with the instructions to avoid potential repercussions or additional penalties. These types of phishing attacks are particularly audacious as they directly engage with the target, making them highly effective in their approach.
The appeal of simplicity to hackers
Hackers often prefer to take the path of least resistance, targeting the most common and straightforward methods of attack. If your software is up to date and properly patched, they will typically move on to more vulnerable targets.
It’s crucial to stay vigilant and monitor how your resources are being utilised and it’s important to recognise that phishing attacks extend beyond email. User awareness training plays a vital role in educating all employees, including IT managers, department heads and even CEOs, as nobody is immune to sophisticated social engineering tactics.
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