On Tuesday, Intrepidus Group, a New York-based security services company, plans to release PhishMe, a Web-driven phishing service for social penetration testing.
Like a more polished version of the template-driven phishing kits available online to would-be attackers, PhishMe allows you to "emulate real phishing attacks against your employees in minutes," the PhishMe Web site explains. The goal is to identify the most gullible message recipients so that they can be made to understand the error of their ways.
"We have seen the DIY phishing kits," said Rohyt Belani, managing partner at Intrepidus Group. "They're created more as scripts for phishers." PhishMe, he said, is more refined and intended for "white hats" only, a restriction enforced through contractual and technical limitations.
Targeted phishing attacks, known as spear phishing, usually take the form of e-mail messages that instruct the recipient to take some action, such as clicking on a Web link in the message and entering personal information at the destination Web site.
Often, spear phishing messages appear to come from a trusted contact or contain known personal information as a way to appear trustworthy. Complying with such a request, however convincing it may appear, generally leads to information theft and subsequent fraud.
Belani said he's heard of phishing tests that generated resentment among victims. But in such cases, he said, the problem was the absence of any educational follow-through. When there is education, he said, there's never any backlash.
PhishMe tries to educate duped employees by redirecting them to internal corporate training materials or presenting a built-in educational message or comic strip.
Belani said the only customer he could disclose is The Seattle Times Co.
"E-mail is critical to our business, but also a risk to the security of our network and information," said John Soltys, information security manager at The Seattle Times Co., in a statement. "Technical controls like firewalls and spam filters help, but only by making our employees part of our defenses can we be successful. By targeting our users in the same way attackers do and delivering an education message when the attack is successful we raise their awareness level and mitigate the risk. PhishMe's service simplified the administration of tests and provided more value than the in-house tests we've run in the past."
PhishMe ranges from about $4,800 for a single run at a small company to about $48,000 per year for large enterprises, Belani said.
In a June report, iDefense Labs said that targeted social engineering attacks surged in April and May. The company said it detected 66 distinct spear phishing and whaling attacks between February 2007 and June 2008 ("whaling" refers to phishing for executives or high-value individuals). In the past 15 months, the company said it has identified more than 15,000 corporate victims, including 1,400 government officials with the IRS and U.S. Treasury Tax Court in May.
To avoid being phished, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard in 2006 directed that employees undergo training to defend against spear phishing. Other agencies and contractors have followed suit.