I came across an article this evening that talked about a hack attack against Kaspersky Labs, one of the best anti-virus companies around. Coincidentally, I happen use Kaspersky anti-virus software so I had a vested interest in finding out more.
I won’t bore you with the full story but apparently the hackers gained access to the Kaspersky networks via what’s called ‘spear phishing’. Excuse me?
This is an excerpt from the best explanation I found online:
The latest twist on phishing is spear phishing. No, it’s not a sport, it’s a scam and you’re the target. Spear phishing is an email that appears to be from an individual or business that you know. But it isn’t. It’s from the same criminal hackers who want your credit card and bank account numbers, passwords, and the financial information on your PC. Learn how to protect yourself.
Email from a “Friend”
The spear phisher thrives on familiarity. He knows your name, your email address, and at least a little about you. The salutation on the email message is likely to be personalized: “Hi Bob” instead of “Dear Sir.” The email may make reference to a “mutual friend.” Or to a recent online purchase you’ve made. Because the email seems to come from someone you know, you may be less vigilant and give them the information they ask for. And when it’s a company you know asking for urgent action, you may be tempted to act before thinking.
Using Your Web Presence Against You
How do you become a target of a spear phisher? From the information you put on the Internet from your PC or smartphone. For example, they might scan social networking sites, find your page, your email address, your friends list, and a recent post by you telling friends about the cool new camera you bought at an online retail site. Using that information, a spear phisher could pose as a friend, send you an email, and ask you for a password to your photo page. If you respond with the password, they’ll try that password and variations to try to access your account on that online retail site you mentioned. If they find the right one, they’ll use it to run up a nice tab for you. Or the spear phisher might use the same information to pose as somebody from the online retailer and ask you to reset your password, or re-verify your credit card number. If you do, he’ll do you financial harm.’
You can read the complete article here:
What I find particularly unpleasant about spear phishing is that it uses personalised attacks to take you off guard. We all know not to bite when we get an email address to Dear Customer or some such generic salutation, but when we get something specifically addressed to us? Perhaps from a company that we actually do have contact with? How many of us would think to question that nice, convenient link?
Luckily most of us aren’t important enough to justify such an attack, but that does not mean we are safe. As a matter of principle [and habit!] we should make it a rule to NEVER use links in emails, no matter how convenient they are. It’s just not worth it.