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Infographic: The Story Of A Phish

How are you educating users about the dangers of spear phishing. Let’s chat about it on the comments.

Rohyt Belani

May 13, 2014

2 Min Read

Spear phishing has gained wide acceptance across the security industry as the majority source of cyber-attacks. How do adversaries develop spear phishing emails? Attackers target specific organizations that offer information of strategic or economic value. Once a target organization has been identified, attackers will use social media and publicly available information to research employees of that organization to target with a spear phishing email.

Spear phishing typically targets lower and mid-level employees -- like Troy in the infograhic we developed at PhishMe, a security awareness training company -- instead of high-level executives or IT operators. The massive amount of information available on social networks gives attackers plenty of fodder to craft highly personalized emails, as is illustrated in Troy's story.

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Spear phishing campaigns like this one can be used to execute drive-by attacks with a malicious link, drop malware on to the network with an email attachment, or gather login credentials through old-fashioned social engineering. Attackers can exploit zero-day vulnerabilities to bypass anti-virus measures and drop malware on to the target network, but they may also avoid malware altogether.

These emails will attempt to exploit emotions (such as greed, fear, or curiosity), spoof reputable organizations (like a recipient's bank), or reference current events to appeal to recipients. The sheer volume of emails being sent every day often allows spear phishing emails to slip past spam filters and into employee inboxes.

Like Troy, most recipients will open and read a spear phishing email within hours -- if not minutes -- of receiving it, allowing attackers to gain a foothold quickly in the target network and begin their operations. With cybercrime costing organizations an average increasing from $8.9 million to $11.6 million from 2012 to 2013, organizations can expect adversaries to continue carrying out cyber-attacks by targeting users through spear phishing.

How are you educating users about the dangers of spear phishing. Let's chat about it on the comments.

About the Author(s)

Rohyt Belani

Chief Threat Scientist

Gary Warner is one of PhishMe's elite cybercrime researchers, where his current research areas are malware analysis, social networks of cyber criminals, hate groups, and terrorists. Involved in cybersecurity since 1989, he began his career helping large organizations connect securely to the internet. He has worked as an IT director for a publicly-traded utility, and has served as a task force officer for the FBI Cybercrimes Task Force. With regards to critical infrastructure protection, he founded the Birmingham InfraGard chapter, and has served on the national boards of the FBI's InfraGard program and DHS's Energy ISAC.

Since 2007, Warner has been teaching and researching at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in an interdisciplinary program that applies computer science solutions to justice science problems. His research has been supported by the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and many corporate partners. He has been awarded the Microsoft MVP Award in Enterprise Security five times, received the IC3.gov/NCFTA Partnership Award and has been recognized by former FBI Director Robert Mueller for Exceptional Service in the Public Interest. His early research in spam and phishing intelligence led to the creation of Malcovery Security, acquired by PhishMe in 2015.

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