Phishing

Quick Facts

Phishing is a scam where Internet fraudsters send spam or pop-up messages to lure unsuspecting victims into providing passphrases, personal, and/or financial information. To avoid getting hooked:

  • Realize that no one should ask for your passphrase.
  • Don’t reply to email or pop-up messages that ask for passphrases, personal, or financial information, and do NOT click on links in such messages. Don’t cut and paste a link from the message into your Web browser — phishers can make links look like they go one place, but that actually send you to a different site.
  • Some scammers send an email that appears to be from a legitimate business and ask you to call a phone number to update your account or access a “refund.” Because they use Voice over Internet Protocol technology, the area code you call does not reflect where the scammers really are. If you need to reach an organization you do business with, call the number on your financial statements or on the back of your credit card.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly.
  • Don’t email passphrases, personal, or financial information.
  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized charges.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
  • Forward phishing emails to spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email. You also may report phishing email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org. The Anti-Phishing Working Group, a consortium of ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, uses these reports to fight phishing.
  • If you’ve been scammed, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft.

For general information about phishing, see: What are phishing scams and how can I avoid them?

How not to get hooked by phishing scams

“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”

“During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”

“Your e-mail (or passphrase) will expire soon. To avoid any interruption please click the link below and upgrade your email.”

Have you received email with a similar message? It’s a scam called “phishing” — and it involves Internet fraudsters who send spam or pop-up messages to lure personal information (credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information) from unsuspecting victims.

According to OnGuard Online, phishers send an email or pop-up message that claims to be from a business or organization that you may deal with — for example, an Internet service provider (ISP), bank, online payment service, or even a government agency. The message may ask you to “update,” “validate,” or “confirm” your account information. Some phishing emails threaten a dire consequence if you don’t respond. The messages direct you to a website that looks just like a legitimate organization’s site. But it isn’t. It’s a bogus site whose sole purpose is to trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.

We suggest these tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:

Don’t reply
If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply. And don’t click on the link in the message, either. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization mentioned in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company’s correct Web address yourself. In any case, don’t cut and paste the link from the message into your Internet browser — phishers can make links look like they go to one place, but that actually send you to a different site.
Area codes can mislead
Some scammers send emails that appear to be from a legitimate business and ask you to call a phone number to update your account or access a “refund.” Because they use Voice over Internet Protocol technology, the area code you call does not reflect where the scammers really are. If you need to reach an organization you do business with, call the number on your financial statements or on the back of your credit card. And delete any emails that ask you to confirm or divulge your financial information.
Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly
Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge.Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Anti-virus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones; that can effectively reverse the damage; and that updates automatically.A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It’s especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Operating systems (like Windows or Linux) or browsers (like Internet Explorer or Netscape) also may offer free software “patches” to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.
Don’t email personal or financial information.
Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization’s website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.
Review credit card and bank account statements to check for unauthorized charges
If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
Be cautious of attachments and downloads
Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain viruses or other software that can weaken your computer’s security.
Forward phishing emails to spam@uce.gov
You can also forward emails to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email — especially if it’s particularly realistic. Most organizations have information on their websites about where to report problems. You also may report phishing email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org. The Anti-Phishing Working Group, a consortium of ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, uses these reports to fight phishing.
File a complaint
If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft website at ftc.gov/idtheft. Victims of phishing can become victims of identity theft. While you can’t entirely control whether you will become a victim of identity theft, you can take some steps to minimize your risk. If an identity thief is opening credit accounts in your name, these new accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You may catch an incident early if you order a free copy of your credit report periodically from any of the three major credit reporting companies. See www.annualcreditreport.com for details on ordering a free annual credit report.

I’ve been phished! What should I do?

This depends — mostly on how much information you accidentally provided to the phishers.

In addition to reporting the phishing scam, this guide should help:

I accidentally sent…You should…
My email/username & password/passphraseChange your password/passphrase immediately.If you’re using a free provider (Gmail, Hotmail, etc) and you find an increasingly and uncontrollable amount of spam, you may wish to change your email address as well.
Personal information, such as:

  • Address
  • Bank/financial account number
  • Credit Card number or information
  • Answers to security questions
  • Other personal information that can be changed
  • Driver’s license / license plate
While there’s no way to “unsend” the email, many of these pieces of information are changeable (especially credit card numbers). Contact the appropriate organization or financial institution. You should also report this as identity theft.Please note: the theft of a credit card (or credit card number) alone does not constitute identity theft (as determined by the FTC). You should, however, promptly call the financial institution and have the number changed. You can also work out any erroneous charges on your account.Also, technically, yes — your address is changeable, if you move. However, consider that only as a last resort; most identity thieves attempt to collect thousands (even millions) of individuals’ information during phishing scams; they’re likely not singling you out as a target. If you feel your personal safety threatened, contact your local police department.
Personal information that isn’t changeable — such as:

  • Social Security number
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Date &/or city of birth
  • Health/medical information
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this except defend yourself (electronically). Being proactive and staying alert/aware of your credit is your best defense.

How to Report a phishing scam

Forward spam that is phishing for information to spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email. Most organizations have information on their websites about where to report problems.

If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint with the FTC, and then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft. Victims of phishing can become victims of identity theft.

You also may report phishing email to reportphishing@antiphishing.org. The Anti-Phishing Working Group, a consortium of ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, uses these reports to fight phishing.

Other types of phishing

IVR or phone phishing
This criminal technique uses a rogue (IVR) system to recreate a legitimate sounding copy of a bank or other institution’s IVR system. The victim is prompted (typically via a phishing e-mail) to call in to the “bank” via a (ideally toll free) number provided in order to “verify” information. A typical system will reject log-ins continually, ensuring the victim enters PINs or passwords multiple times, often disclosing several different passwords. More advanced systems transfer the victim to the attacker posing as a customer service agent for further questioning.A criminal could even record the typical commands (“Press one to change your password, press two to speak to customer service” …) and play back the direction manually in real time, giving the appearance of being an IVR without the expense.
Quid pro quo
Quid pro quo means something for something:

  • An attacker calls random numbers at a company claiming to be calling back from technical support. Eventually they will hit someone with a legitimate problem, grateful that someone is calling back to help them. The attacker will “help” solve the problem and in the process have the user type commands that give the attacker access or launch malware
  • In a 2003 information security survey, 90% of office workers gave researchers what they claimed was their password in answer to a survey question in exchange for a cheap pen. Similar surveys in later years obtained similar results using chocolates and other cheap lures, although they made no attempt to validate the passwords

Subscribe to get new posts in your mailbox.

Share

Social Engineering

Don’t get tricked out of your information

In computer security, social engineering is a term that describes a non-technical kind of intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking or manipulating other people to divulge confidential information or break normal security procedures.

A social engineer runs what used to be called a “con game”. For example, a person using social engineering to break into a computer network would try to gain the confidence of someone who is authorized to access the network in order to get them to reveal information that compromises the network’s security. They might call the authorized employee with some kind of urgent problem; social engineers often rely on the natural helpfulness of people as well as on their weaknesses. Appeal to vanity, appeal to authority, and old-fashioned eavesdropping are typical social engineering techniques.

Another aspect of social engineering relies on people’s inability to keep up with a culture that relies heavily on information technology. Social engineers rely on the fact that people are not aware of the value of the information they possess and are careless about protecting it. Frequently, social engineers will search dumpsters for valuable information, memorize access codes by looking over someone’s shoulder (shoulder surfing), or take advantage of people’s natural inclination to choose passwords that are meaningful to them but can be easily guessed. Security experts propose that as our culture becomes more dependent on information, social engineering will remain the greatest threat to any security system. Prevention includes educating people about the value of information, training them to protect it, and increasing people’s awareness of how social engineers operate.

All social engineering techniques are based on specific attributes of human decision-making known as cognitive biases. These biases, sometimes called “bugs in the human hardware,” are exploited in various combinations to create attack techniques, some of which are listed here.

Pretexting

Pretexting is the act of creating and using an invented scenario (the pretext) to persuade a targeted victim to release information or perform an action and is typically done over the telephone. It’s more than a simple lie as it most often involves some prior research or set up and the use of pieces of known information (e.g. for impersonation: date of birth, Social Security Number, last bill amount) to establish legitimacy in the mind of the target.

This technique is often used to trick a business into disclosing customer information, and is used by private investigators to obtain telephone records, utility records, banking records and other information directly from junior company service representatives. The information can then be used to establish even greater legitimacy under tougher questioning with a manager (e.g., to make account changes, get specific balances, etc).

As most U.S. companies still authenticate a client by asking only for a Social Security Number, date of birth, or mother’s maiden name, the method is effective in many criminal situations and will likely continue to be a security problem in the future.

Pretexting can also be used to impersonate co-workers, police, bank, tax authorities, or insurance investigators — or any other individual who could have perceived authority or right-to-know in the mind of the targeted victim. The pretexter must simply prepare answers to questions that might be asked by the victim. In some cases all that is needed is a voice that sounds authoritative, an earnest tone, and an ability to think on one’s feet.

For more information about pretexting, visit:
http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0272-how-keep-your-personal-information-secure

Phishing

Phishing is a scam where Internet fraudsters send spam or pop-up messages to lure personal and financial information from unsuspecting victims.

For more information about phishing, see our topic about phishing.

Subscribe to get new posts in your mailbox.

Share

What Are Phishing Scams And How Can I Avoid Them?

On this page:

  • Phishing explained
  • Specific types of phishing
  • Avoiding phishing scams
  • Warnings
  • Reporting phishing attempts
  • Example of a phishing scam

Phishing explained

Phishing scams are typically fraudulent email messages appearing to come from legitimate enterprises (e.g., your university, your Internet service provider, your bank). These messages usually direct you to a spoofed web site or otherwise get you to divulge private information (e.g., password, credit card, or other account updates). The perpetrators then use this private information to commit identity theft.

One type of phishing attempt is an email message stating that you are receiving it due to fraudulent activity on your account, and asking you to “click here” to verify your information.

Phishing scams are crude social engineering tools designed to induce panic in the reader. These scams attempt to trick recipients into responding or clicking immediately, by claiming they will lose something (e.g., email, bank account). Such a claim is always indicative of a phishing scam, as responsible companies and organizations will never take these types of actions via email.

Specific types of phishing

Phishing scams vary widely in terms of their complexity, the quality of the forgery, and the attacker’s objective. Several distinct types of phishing have emerged.

Spear phishing

Phishing attacks directed at specific individuals, roles, or organizations are referred to as “spear phishing”. Since these attacks are so pointed, attackers may go to great lengths to gather specific personal or institutional information in the hope of making the attack more believable and increasing the likelihood of its success.

The best defense against spear phishing is to carefully, securely discard information (i.e., using a cross-cut shredder) that could be used in such an attack. Further, be aware of data that may be relatively easily obtainable (e.g., your title at work, your favorite places, or where you bank), and think before acting on seemingly random requests via email or phone.

Whaling

The term “whaling” is used to describe phishing attacks (usually spear phishing) directed specifically at executive officers or other high-profile targets within a business, government, or other organization.

Avoiding phishing scams

Reputable organizations will never use email to request that you reply with your password, Social Security number, or confidential personal information. Be suspicious of any email message that asks you to enter or verify personal information, through a web site or by replying to the message itself. Never reply to or click the links in a message. If you think the message may be legitimate, go directly to the company’s web site (i.e., type the real URL into your browser) or contact the company to see if you really do need to take the action described in the email message.

When you recognize a phishing message, delete the email message from your Inbox, and then empty it from the deleted items folder to avoid accidentally accessing the web sites it points to.

Always read your email as plain text.

For help, see Microsoft Support.

Phishing messages often contain clickable images that look legitimate; by reading messages in plain text, you can see the URLs that any images point to. Additionally, when you allow your mail client to read HTML or other non-text-only formatting, attackers can take advantage of your mail client’s ability to execute code, which leaves your computer vulnerable to viruses, worms, and Trojans.

Warnings

Reading email as plain text is a general best practice that, while avoiding some phishing attempts, won’t avoid them all. Some legitimate sites use redirect scripts that don’t check the redirects. Consequently, phishing perpetrators can use these scripts to redirect from legitimate sites to their fake sites.

Another tactic is to use a homograph attack, which, due to International Domain Name (IDN) support in modern browsers, allows attackers to use different language character sets to produce URLs that look remarkably like the authentic ones. See Don’t Trust Your Eyes or URLs.

Reporting phishing attempts

For more about phishing scams, see Phishing.

Subscribe to get new posts in your mailbox.

Share

Privacy And Security In Uncertain Times

Recently I was at a conference and the subject of computer and Internet security came up.  That, coupled with all that has been in the news lately, helped me decide to do a series of posts covering some of my general security suggestions.  I will try to make at least one post a week, and will be posting some suggestions on 7th Circle Designs as well.

Topics will include (and will be amended as we go):

Stay tuned for our first post on hard drive encryption.

Subscribe to get new posts in your mailbox.

Share