Email Security: The Rise of Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is the type of growing cyber threat that can cripple a business if effective email security isn’t implemented. This type of attack can leave your entire network compromised, expose data to criminals and even be used to blackmail your company. However, many companies are either unaware of what spear phishing actually is or simply don’t know how sophisticated this threat has become. If you want to ensure you don’t become a victim, then you need the right IT security services to keep your network safe.

What Is Spear Phishing Exactly?

Phishing has been used by hackers for decades. It essentially involves a hacker pretending to be someone trustworthy in order to trick you into giving away important data, such as passwords or insider information. However, spear phishing is a more advanced form of phishing that targetes individuals in your company with very specific information designed to trick them.

If you can remember Tom Hanks in “Castaway” mastering the art of throwing a spear to nab his fish dinner, then it’s not a stretch to imagine spear phishing. It’s simply a term designed to define a targeted way of catching prey. In this case, the spear happens to be a digital attack, and the prey happens to be your company’s network and data.

There are many forms of spear phishing attacks, but commonly one of your employees will receive an e-mail from what appears to be an individual or business you’re familiar with. The e-mail will either contain malicious malware or a virus that will infect your network. Your employee may open the e-mail and assume it’s from a trusted source.

Often, the hacker’s e-mail will contain information about projects your company is actually working on or internal information, making it seem even more legitimate. It shows what kind of research spear phishers are willing to perform in order to ensure an employee unwittingly infects your system.

A Growing Threat

The threat of spear phishing has grown so rapidly that the FBI released an alert noting a 270 percent rise in attacks in 2015. The FBI also reported that, between 2013 and 2015, spear phishing attacks have cost U.S. victims an estimated $747 million, underlining what a huge threat this is. Businesses and organizations of all types have been subject to attack, with small and medium-sized businesses often prime targets for these hackers.

Organized Spear Phishing Attacks

Spear phishing has become incredibly advanced over the years. Many spear phishing attacks are now organized by criminal enterprises in Eastern Europe and other locations that actually directly employ teams of hackers in operations that are run virtually like real corporations.

Often, these groups will focus on hacking one part of your network in order to gain a foothold in your system. Using their access, they can send an e-mail from an account that is compromised internally, often to someone with more access to your network, such as an administrator, to gain maximum access.

New Spear Phishing Methods Are Spreading

Spear phishing has also spread to social media, with IT security researchers demonstrating that spear phishing over LinkedIn and other social media services is often more effective than e-mail.

Spear phishers will also sometimes send ransomware, a form of malware which essentially locks you out of all your files with encryption until you pay a ransom.

How to Prevent Spear Phishing

In order to prevent spear phishing, it helps to have a comprehensive IT security strategy that attacks this threat from multiple angles. Here are some top strategies a professional managed IT service provider like Dobson Technologies can help you implement:

  • An effective firewall – A network firewall is a good first line of defense against spear phishing. It will help protect your company’s server from hacking attacks and also stop hackers from monitoring your company’s internal conversations. Your security gateway should be able to analyze incoming traffic and e-mails in real-time, and be extremely effective at stopping incoming malware.
  • Implement a web filter – A web filter is also an excellent tool to add to your network, which will prevent most employees from visiting websites with malicious code.
  • E-mail sandboxing – Sandboxing is designed to check the safety of a link once a user clicks on it. This helps protect against a variety of spear phishing attacks, such as when a hacker injects malicious code into a URL after it’s already sent. This practice usually tricks standard e-mail spam filters, which explains why sandboxing is more effective against spear phishing.
  • Employee training and testing – Not only do you need to educate employees about phishing attacks (such as keeping their personal information private on social media), but you can also test employees with simulated spear phishing programs. InfoSec Institute conducted a study that found that simulated phishing doubled employee awareness about the dangers of phishing within 12 months.
  • Encryption – Sensitive company data should be encrypted with strong encryption protocols to minimize spear phishing damage.
  • Patching and updates – Not only should your system have the latest security protections and patches, but you should also ensure that your spam filter, anti-virus and malware detection are all up to date.

Ultimately, smart IT solutions from a managed IT service provider like Dobson Technologies are what you need to combat spear phishing. Schedule a meeting with Dobson Technologies or give us a call today at (405) 242-0105 today to learn how we can help protect your business and data all year round.