February 19, 2012

Big Phish, Small Phish

Phishing is an attack whereby someone pretends to be a trustworthy entity, but is really trying to get your personal information in order to steal from you or an organization.
Phishing is a type of social engineering where fraudsters try to deceive and spoof their victims by sending email or instant messages (or even by calling) and pretending to be a legitimate private or public sector organization. They then either request personal information, provide links to fake websites, or even create unauthorized pop-ups from legitimate websites to get you to give them your personal data.

Additionally, phishing emails can contain attachments that infect recipient's computers with malware, creating a backdoor to control or compromise a system and its information.

In all of these cases, the intent of phishing is impersonate others and lure consumers into providing information that can be used to steal identities, money, or information.
The word phishing alludes to the technique of baiting people and like in real fishing, fooling at least some into biting and getting caught in the trap. 

In this fraudulent type, perpetrators pretend to be legitimate financial institutions, retailers, social media companies, and government agencies in an attempt to get you to divulge private information like date of birth, social security numbers, mother maiden names, account numbers, passwords and more.
Once criminals have this valuable information, they can commit identity theft, break into your accounts, and steal money or information.

Spear-phishing is a derivative of this scam that is targeted on specific people, and whaling is when the scam is perpetrated on organization executives or other high profile targets,  which can be especially compromising and harmful to themselves or the organizations they represent.
The first recorded phishing attack was in 1987.  Over the years, the prevalence of these attacks have steadily increased. According to the Anti-phishing Working Group (APWG), there were some 20,000-25,000 unique phishing campaigns every months through the first half of 2011, each targeting potentially millions of users.  Additionally, as of March 2011, there were as many as 38,000 phishing sites.  The most targeted industry continues to be financial services with 47% of the attacks.
There are a number of ways to protect yourself against phishing attacks.
  1. Delete email and messages that are unwarranted and ask for personal information
  2. Do not click on links, instead go directly to a website by using a search engine to locate it or copying the link and pasting it into the browser
  3. Configure your browser to block pop-ups
  4. Use anti-virus, firewalls, and anti-spam software
  5. Set up automatic security updates
  6. Input personal information only into secure sites, such as those that begin with "https"
  7. Only open attachments when you are expecting them and recognize where they are coming from
  8. Check financial statements upon receipt for any fraudulent activity
  9. If you are caught in a phishing scheme, notify law enforcement and credit reporting authorities immediately
  10. Always be cautious in giving out personal information
Whether you consider yourself a big fish or a small fish, beware of those trying to catch you up on the Internet--hook, line, and sinker.


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