[David Strom's Web Informant] Why you should be afraid of phishing attacks

David Strom david at strom.com
Mon Nov 20 08:32:49 EST 2017

Web Informant, November 20, 2017: Why you should be afraid of phishing

I have known Dave Piscitello for several decades; he and I served together
with a collection of some of the original inventors of the Internet and he
has worked at ICANN for many years. So it is interesting that he and I are
both looking at spam these days with a careful eye.

He recently posted a column saying
"It sounds trivial but spam is one of the most important threats to manage
these days." He calls spam the security threat you easily forget, and I
would agree with him. Why? Because spam brings all sorts of pain with it,
mostly in the form of phishing attacks and other network compromises. Think
of it as the gateway drug for criminals to infect your company with
malware. A report last December from PhishMe
<https://phishme.com/2016-enterprise-phishing-susceptibility-report/> found
that 91% of cyberattacks start with a phish. The FBI says these scams
have resulted in $5.3 billion in financial losses since October 2013.

We tend to forget about spam these days because Google and Microsoft have
done a decent job hiding spam from immediate view of our inboxes. And while
that is generally a good thing, all it takes is a single email that you
mistakenly click on and you have brought an attack inside your
organization. It is easy to see why we make these mistakes: the phishers
spend a lot of time trying to fool us, by using the same fonts and page
layout designs to mimic the real sites (such as your bank), so that you
will login to their page and provide your password to them.

Phishing has gotten more sophisticated, just like other malware attacks.
There are now *whaling attacks* that look like messages coming from the CFO
or HR managers, trying to convince you to move money. Or *spear phishing*
where a criminal is targeting someone or some specific corporation to trick
the recipient into acting on the message. Attackers try to* harvest a
user's credentials* and use them for further exploits, attach *phony SSL
certificates* to their domains to make them seem more legitimate, use
social engineering methods* to compromise your cell phone, and create phony
domains that are *typographically similar* to a real business. And there
are *automated phishing construction kits* that can be used by anyone with
a minimal knowledge to create a brand new exploit. All of these methods
show that phishing is certainly on the rise, and becoming more of an issue
for everyone.

Yes, organizations can try to prevent phishing attacks through a series of
defenses, including filtering their email, training their users to spot
bogus messages, using more updated browsers that have better detection
mechanisms and other tools. But these aren't as effective as they could be
if users had more information about each message that they read while they
are going through their inboxes.

There is a new product that does exactly that, called Inky Phish Fence.
They asked me to evaluate it and write about it. I think it is worth your
time. It displays warning messages as you scroll through your emails.

There are both free and paid versions of Phish Fence. The free versions
work with Outlook.com, Hotmail and Gmail accounts and have add-ins
available both from the Google Chrome Store
and the Microsoft Appsource Store
These versions require the user to launch the add-in proactively to analyze
each message, by clicking on the Inky icon above the active message area.
Once they do, Phish Fence instantly analyzes the email and displays the
results in a pane within the message. The majority of the analysis happens
directly in Outlook or Gmail so Inky’s servers don't need to see the raw
email, which preserves the user's privacy.

The paid versions analyze every incoming mail automatically via a server
process. Inky Phish Fence can be configured to quarantine malicious mail
and put warnings directly in the bodies of suspicious mail. This means
users don't have to take any action to get the warnings. In this
configuration, Outlook users can get some additional info by using the
add-in, but all the essential information is just indicated inline with
each email message.

As part of my engagement with Inky, I produced a short video screencast
<https://strom.wistia.com/medias/66dbqr57xi> that shows the differences in
the two versions and how Phish Fence works. And you can download a white
I wrote for them about the history and dangers of phishing and where their
solution fits in. Check out Phish Fence and see if helps you become more
vigilant about your emails.
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