National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Foiling Phishing

Blog Post created by jenellis Employee on Oct 2, 2013

Fishing.jpgFor the past 10 years, the DHS has deemed October to be National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and since we have a hunch that people who already work in security are aware that it's is a big issue, we thought we’d help you focus on the awareness of your users instead. In fact, we’d like to change the name to National User Awareness Month, which also neatly sidesteps that whole “cyber” thing.


Why address users though? Well increasingly your users are the ones that represent the greatest threat to your environment, and I don’t mean in the sneaky covert operator way. I mean in the clicking on links, sharing information, losing laptops, downloading shady apps, and using cloud services without telling you kinds of ways. Essentially every user is now a point on your perimeter, and every user is a potential target. And typically they don’t know or understand the risks, or they just forget when faced with an ever-so-tempting email of Miley Cyrus twerking for all she’s worth.


So this month, we’re going to publish a blog every week on a security topic that is relevant to your users.  Each one will lay out the issue and then provide some basic guidance on how your users can protect themselves. If we do it right, you’ll get something you can literally copy and paste into an email and send around your company, promoting National Cyber Security Awareness Month to those that need the lessons most.


First up is probably the most obvious one, phishing. Hat tip to Chris Nickerson of Lares Consulting, who astutely and entertainingly pointed out in his recent Derbycon talk that of course people are going to click on links; it’s the most fun you can have on the internet. Even so, reminding users again and again of the risks might help them become more judicious about which links they click. And if you want to test whether your efforts are paying off, you can use the phishing campaign capabilities in Metasploit to see which of your users is still clicking on dubious links.


So here's the email for your users:


What is Phishing?

Phishing is basically someone using email to try to get you to do something or tell them something that enables them to compromise you in some way. As the name suggests, this typically works by dangling some kind of bait in front of you.  One of the most famous examples of phishing is the Nigerian 419 scams, which lured people into giving their bank information with the promise of huge riches.


Other kinds of phishing emails try to convince you to open an attachment or click on a link. These can lead to your computer (or whatever device you read the email on) becoming infected with something nasty. Or it could lead you to unknowingly giving a criminal your security credentials for a site. For example, say you receive an email from LinkedIn saying someone wants to connect with you. You click on the link and you get the login page for LinkedIn.  Pop your password in and land on the page you expected to be sent to. Everything looks normal and you have no idea that you just gave your LinkedIn password to a criminal.


Phishing that specifically targets you is called “spear phishing.”  This means the attacker used information they had learned about you – for example from calling the switchboard or looking at your social networking profiles and interactions – and then created an email specifically designed to look highly plausible to you. These emails can be very sophisticated and hard to spot. Why would someone want to target you in this way? Well, perhaps they’re actually targeting the organization you work for and you provide a convenient foot-in-the-door. Or perhaps they’re ultimately after someone in your network. You never know how tempting a target you might represent to an attacker, so it’s important to be vigilant.


How can you protect yourself?

Try to remember that lurking behind every innocent-looking email could be a giant shark waiting to make its move. This is true whether it’s work or personal email, so you must treat every email with a basic level of caution.


Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Protect your information

Do not send sensitive information such as bank details, social security number, etc over email. If you really need to, make sure you know who you are sending it to and start a new email rather than replying to a thread. Check the email address carefully.


  • Check the address

Be mindful of who is emailing you.  Check email addresses for accuracy and look for signs of suspicious activity, for example if an email is not in the format you’d expect or a name appears to be spelt incorrectly.  Email addresses made up of seemingly random combinations of letters and numbers may also be suspicious.


  • Don’t click on links

Hover over links WITHOUT CLICKING – the destination will show in the bottom left of your screen and you can see whether it looks right. If in doubt, Google the address you need rather than clicking on a link.


  • Don’t open attachments

Treat any attachment that you didn’t request as highly suspect. Send to IT and security team if you’re not sure whether it’s safe and they will check it out for you.


  • Check with IT/ Security

If in doubt, email your IT and security team.  They will let you know whether something is safe to open or click on.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.


This stuff isn’t complicated, but it is incredibly easy to get caught out by a well-crafted spear phishing campaign.  Given the sheer amount of email we all receive every day, it’s tough to remember to be vigilant. So remember that shark lurking behind you!