Hackers are constantly evolving their methods of intrusion. They’re constantly looking for the easiest and quickest way to gain entry into an otherwise secure system.
Even in the most secure of systems, the human component tends to be the weakest link. While broad phishing attacks such as the typical “Nigerian Prince” scam are relatively ineffective, spear phishing is a fairly successful type of attack.
It’s allowing hackers to gain access to everything from names and phone numbers to passwords and sensitive financial information.
Let’s take a look at what spear phishing is, why it’s more effective than the typical phishing attack, and how you can ultimately defend yourself from this emerging threat.
What is Spear Phishing?
Phishing is analogous to fishing. Hackers cast their line and wait for the human fish using the Internet to take hold of their bait. While many people are able to recognize simple phishing attacks, spear phishing attacks are much different.
Spear phishing is when a hacker specifically targets you or people like you. They may impersonate another individual or group to appear like they know you or have some established relationship with you.
Just by using a familiar name or picture, hackers are able to simultaneously get their foot in the door and use the identity of someone else to gain some trust with you. This can make these types of attacks significantly more dangerous and more likely to succeed.
Why Are Spear Phishing Attacks More Dangerous?
The simple reason spear phishing attacks are more dangerous concerns the way they work. Few people would suspect that an email could be lying about a person’s identity. Some attacks may even be able to forge an email sender’s identity to make them appear almost as if that person actually sent the message.
When these attacks are mixed with other principles, such as simply inserting a link into a message, this can utilize a person’s natural curiosity against them. This can result in everything from attacks that simply steal passwords or other pieces of sensitive information to full-blown infections that can allow hackers to hold your computer at ransom.
How Can You Defend Against Spear Phishing?
While there are a few methods you can employ to make spear phishing attacks less effective, one of the more effective approaches is to limit the amount of data you share with the average person. Ensure you have privacy settings that disallow others from seeing your friends and locations of posts on social networks, and ensure your friends do likewise.
You can also do things like stripping metadata from photographs that are public. This can obscure your location and other things that spear phishers could use against you.
Another effective approach is to apply PGP security to your emails. This approach makes it so you can authenticate the sender of emails while ensuring only the recipient can decrypt the email using a pre-arranged pair of keys.
The last and most effective safeguard is to simply be smart about what you do when you’re on the Internet. Would your friend really ask you for your password or other sensitive information? Would a company?
Even if you think for a second that they might, the best thing to do is to pick up the phone and ask them yourself. Contact them in a way that you can verify the sender’s identity to make every type of spear phishing attack ineffective.