NIST Site Search
Search NIST.GOV
Custom Search
[Official NIST.GOV TIME]
Product Research

Advertise on this site
Spear Phishing – Casting a Narrow Net
If you haven't heard of the term “Spear Phishing” you probably don't work for the Department of Defense (DoD). All DoD employees and contractors (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc.) are now required to complete spear phishing training. What is it and why should you care?No Longer Supported
Spear Phishing is simply as the title of this article indicates, it is the same as phishing but focused on a much smaller audience. A small net to catch just a few, or one, big fish. Often the attack is tailored to a particular individual, office or company. The bait is customized with information familiar, and specific, to the target. Often the attack takes on characteristics of a traditional con. The attacker uses information about you or your company to lower your guard and defeat any skepticism you may have that the email you just received is a scam. The information may be easily obtainable from the Internet, a phone book, or perhaps from a call to the office secretary. Social engineering is often a part of a good spear phishing attack. There is also some sort of bait to convince you that the message isn't just legitimate spam (because even if the sender of the email knows you that doesn't mean you want to open their email).

An attacker may use jargon used by the individual's business or line of work. They may express familiarity with other people within the company and mention them by name. Sometimes they'll reference procedures or forms used by the targets agency. Each of us may think we would never fall for this, but think of the people you work with. Given a personally addressed email that referenced a company specific product or service how many would open an attached file? Especially a MS Word or Excel file (both of which have had exploits recently that can be used to compromise a computer). Probably a large percentage of your coworkers would fall for this.

The goal of a spear phishing attack is often to obtain very specific information. It could be financial information, insider contract information, passwords, sensitive employee data, etc. (Studies show that a large percentage of users are still all too willing to give out their password to someone they don' know that claims to work for the IT department.) If they still fall for that they'll fall for most anything. (See References and Recommendations below)

Scenario 1:
Motivation: Wreak Havoc at a government office
Method: Combined social engineering / spear phishing attack
Details: Attacker finds an employee contact page on the Internet by searching Google for +“employee contacts” +site:gov. This turns up a number of web pages with contacts at various government offices. Attacker settles on a department at XYZ.GOV because not only do they list employee names and email addresses they also list the person's title (many offices still do this). The office also has a Homeland Security role so a successful attack would likely get lots of publicity. The attacker begins by calling a mid-level employee, John, in department YYY saying that he needed to open a trouble ticket for a virus on his computer. John has no idea why this person called his number but promptly gives the person the phone number of the IT Help Desk. Before he hangs up the attack asks John what antivirus he uses and whether he has had any problems before. Attacker then calls the help desk to open a ticket in John's name. While on the phone with the Help Desk the attacker makes friendly and gets this help desk person's name and email address. The attacker now spoofs an email from the Help Desk employee to a few select high level employees at department YYY with the addresses obtained from the web. The email from address is spoofed so that it apparently comes from the Help Desk employee. The email is very convincing as it contains a real name, real phone number for the help desk, even the help desk employee's personal telephone extension. The email also asks recipients to open the attached executable in order to install an antivirus security patch. Of course the attachment is actually a unique backdoor trojan and keylogger. The trojan will not be detectable by the departments antivirus and will install a rootkit that may never be found. After getting login information for the department head the hacker then logs in to several sensitive systems over the course of weeks and makes changes to existing data. The department head's computers are essentially owned by the hacker until they're replaced or completely rebuilt from the ground up.

Scenario 2: (currently being played out)
Motivation: Money
Method: Google harvest / spear phishing attack
Details: Attacker uses an off the shelf email address collection program to harvest email addresses of government employees. These programs are very simple to use and using spidering techniques can collect thousands of targeted email addresses per hour. Attacker uses these addresses to send phishing emails to government employees. The phishing message claims to be from Bank of America (BoA) asking people to update their BoA profile information. The message looks real, is addressed to “Dear Government Employee” and mentions their “government” BoA credit card. Over 1.2 million federal government employees have a BoA credit card and most are use to getting email messages asking them to update their information in some government system or another. Of course once they log in to the system from this email the phishers start running up charges against their government credit card. The Department of Defense specifically addresses this scam in it's spear phishing training that all DoD employees are required to take. But people are still being fooled.

Spear phishing scams are only limited by the attackers imagination. People are just much too likely to be tricked by a phishing email if it contains targeted information familiar to them. We also make it far too easy for attackers by including targeting information on websites. Web pages with information such as a person's email address, job function, title, phone number, mailing address, department name, recent projects they've worked on, client names, etc. are gold mines for the attacker. Employee locators are rich with this type of information and contain lists of thousands of people.

We recently used a government agency employee locator to find an email address of someone in IT security at that office so that we could notify them of a critical vulnerability on their website that was reported to us. When we found an address that said something like cybersecurity@domain.gov we added that as one of the addresses notified. Turned out that address was actually a mailing list. Everyone that had anything to do with IT in that agency received the email! We know because we received hundreds of return receipts. Bad idea to publish that address, in fact mail from the outside shouldn't be allowed to reach such a group (this agency promptly came to the same conclusion). But such an address is perfect spear phishing. Not only does it reach a large targeted audience but the email address even tells you what its used for. Had this been a new unpublished exploit used by an attacker it could have brought that agency down for days and caused immeasurable harm.

Recommendations:
  • Training – Though it may not seem as easy as installing a security appliance at the perimeter it is still one of the most effective steps against any social engineering attack. As mentioned above the Department of Defense has mandated it for all DoD employees. Even with all the money and technical know-how they can throw at the problem this was still one of the most important steps.
  • Block inbound message at the perimeter that contain a from address with your own domain (as applicable). Make sure mail from known sources originates from those sources. Eg; If you do a lot of business with a sister organization make sure email from that organization originates from known SMTP servers.
  • Use digital signatures where possible. This is being mandated within DoD and will soon be used throughout the federal government. If an important email is not signed ask the sender to resend it digitally signed. Yes, this can require a large PKI infrastructure but if you are implementing PKI for authentication, HSPD-12, DoD's Common Access Cards (CAC), etc. then by all means start using them within your organization to digitally sign your email. Its the best method for verifying the sender of an email.
  • Use encryption. If only the sender and yourself know the shared secret key then no one else will be able to impersonate one of you to the other. Of course symmetric key encryption (where the key is the same to both encrypt and decrypt a message) becomes very difficult to manage with a large number of people. But its certainly an option. Asymmetric encryption (public / private key) requires the same PKI infrastructure mentioned above or some sort of web of trust to certify the person is who they say they are (see the following description on how the product Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) works).
  • Double up on your current spam defenses. Often times phishing messages originate from compromised computers or botnets. Your anti-spam appliance may have already identified the source as a compromised or rogue SMTP server. Having multiple devices, or services, verifying incoming mail ups the odds of detection.
  • Make sure your users are using either IE7, Firefox 2.0, or Opera 9.1 as those web browsers include some built in protection against known phishing websites. Each of these browsers use technology to compare visited sites against databases of discovered phishing sites. None of these products will offer much protection against true spear phishing since the “narrow net” would probably involve a server that had not yet been discovered. But every layer of protection helps.


References:
  • What is Spear Phishing by Microsoft
  • Spear Phishing by Wikipedia
  • What Is Spear Phishing from SearchSecurity.com Definitions
  • DoD's Spear Phishing Awareness Training – Unclassified PowerPoint but hard to find if you're not part of one of the military Intranets. This link may not work for long so get it while you can, with a little modification it would be great training for any end-user.
  • DoD Information Assurance Awareness – by Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). Excellent end-user training that can be used by anyone. Takes about 1.5 hours to complete and includes a short test at the end.
  • DoD Battles Spear Phishing – by Federal Computer Week. Real-life spear phishing examples of what the military faces daily. The same techniques can be used against anyone. The argument can be made that every organization or company has something they don't want falling in to the wrong hands.
  • AntiPhishing.Org – A good source of Anti-Phishing information, news, training, whitepapers, and statistics.


Share or Bookmark this Article Using:
No Longer Supported




Google
WebNIST.org
NIST.govSecurityFocus.com





Posted by NIST.org on Wednesday 17 January 2007 - 22:05:35 | |printer friendly
Translate to: French German Italian Spanish Portuguese GTM_LAN_DUTCH Russian Chinese Arabic Korean English
Google Ads




Headlines

»CVE-2013-4312
The Linux kernel before 4.4.1 allows local users to bypass file-descriptor limits and cause a denial ...
»CVE-2014-9757
The Ignite Realtime Smack XMPP API, as used in Atlassian Bamboo before 5.9.9 and 5.10.x before 5.10.0, allows remote configured XMPP servers to execute arbitrary Java code via serialized data in an XMPP message.
»CVE-2015-2012
The MQXR service in WMQ Telemetry in IBM WebSphere MQ 7.1 before 7.1.0.7, 7.5 through 7.5.0.5, and 8 ...
»CVE-2015-3251
Apache CloudStack before 4.5.2 might allow remote authenticated administrators to obtain sensitive p ...
»CVE-2015-3252
Apache CloudStack before 4.5.2 does not properly preserve VNC passwords when migrating KVM virtual m ...
»CVE-2015-6398
Cisco Nexus 9000 Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) Mode switches with software before 11.0(1c ...
»CVE-2015-7513
arch/x86/kvm/x86.c in the Linux kernel before 4.4 does not reset the PIT counter values during state ...
»CVE-2015-7550
The keyctl_read_key function in security/keys/keyctl.c in the Linux kernel before 4.3.4 does not pro ...
»CVE-2015-7566
The clie_5_attach function in drivers/usb/serial/visor.c in the Linux kernel through 4.4.1 allows ph ...
»CVE-2015-7675
The "Send as attachment" feature in Ipswitch MOVEit DMZ before 8.2 and MOVEit Mobile before 1.2.2 al ...
»CVE-2015-7677 (moveit_dmz)
The MOVEitISAPI service in Ipswitch MOVEit DMZ before 8.2 provides different error messages dependin ...
»CVE-2015-7678
Multiple cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerabilities in Ipswitch MOVEit Mobile 1.2.0.962 and e ...
»CVE-2015-7679
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in Ipswitch MOVEit Mobile before 1.2.2 allows remote attack ...
»CVE-2015-7680
Ipswitch MOVEit DMZ before 8.2 provides different error messages for authentication attempts dependi ...
»CVE-2015-8360
An unspecified resource in Atlassian Bamboo before 5.9.9 and 5.10.x before 5.10.0 allows remote atta ...


Date published: 2016-02-12T05:50:00Z
Details

»Mozilla Releases Security Updates
Original release date: February 11, 2016 The Mozilla Foundation has released security updates ...
»Cisco Releases Security Update
Original release date: February 10, 2016 | Last revised: February 11, 2016 Cisco has released ...
»Microsoft Releases February 2016 Security Bulletin
Original release date: February 09, 2016 Microsoft has released 13 updates to address vulnera ...
»Google Releases Security Update for Chrome
Original release date: February 09, 2016 Google has released Chrome version 48.0.2564.109 to ...
»Adobe Releases Security Updates
Original release date: February 09, 2016 Adobe has released security updates to address vulne ...
»Oracle Releases Security Updates for Java
Original release date: February 08, 2016 Oracle has released security updates to address a vu ...
»Comodo Chromodo Browsers Vulnerable to Cross-Domain Attacks
Original release date: February 04, 2016 Some Comodo Chromodo browser versions (45.8.12.392, ...
»WordPress Releases Security Update
Original release date: February 02, 2016 WordPress 4.4.1 and prior versions contain two secur ...
»FTC Announces Enhancements to IdentityTheft.gov
Original release date: January 29, 2016 The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has upgraded its I ...
»OpenSSL Releases Security Advisory
Original release date: January 28, 2016 OpenSSL versions 1.0.2f and 1.0.1r have been released ...


Date published: not known
Details

»VB2015 paper: Sizing cybercrime: incidents and accidents, hints and allegations
Cybercrime is big. But how big is it really? In a paper presented a ...
»Throwback Thursday: The Thin Blue Line
This Throwback Thursday, VB heads back to 1994 when UK Fraud Squad ...
»Welcome to virusbulletin.com
Almost 20 years after Virus Bulletin revealed its first site on the ...
»VB2015 video: TurlaSat: The Fault in our Stars
In a presentation at VB2015 in Prague, Kaspersky Lab researcher Kur ...
»Security vendors should embrace those hunting bugs in their products
When interviewed by the Risky Business podcast last week, VB Editor ...
»February
Anti-virus and security related news provided by independent anti-v ...
»More VB Conference papers and videos published
More VB2014 Conference papers and videos published - 11 papers and ...
»Throwback Thursday: Peter-II - Three Questions of The Sphinx
This Throwback Thursday, VB heads back to 1993, when an ordinary me ...
»VB2015 paper: Effectively testing APT defences
Simon Edwards discusses how to test the potentially untestable. ...


Date published: not known
Details
Main Menu
· Home
Current Security News
 
US-CERT Current Activity

» Mozilla Releases Security Updates
[11 Feb 2016 08:06pm]

» Cisco Releases Security Update
[10 Feb 2016 10:17am]

» Microsoft Releases February 2016 Security Bulletin
[09 Feb 2016 03:44pm]

» Google Releases Security Update for Chrome
[09 Feb 2016 03:18pm]

» Adobe Releases Security Updates
[09 Feb 2016 11:01am]

» Oracle Releases Security Updates for Java
[08 Feb 2016 02:20pm]

» Comodo Chromodo Browsers Vulnerable to Cross-Domain Attacks
[04 Feb 2016 05:53pm]

» WordPress Releases Security Update
[02 Feb 2016 02:46pm]

» FTC Announces Enhancements to IdentityTheft.gov
[29 Jan 2016 03:36pm]

» OpenSSL Releases Security Advisory
[28 Jan 2016 02:11pm]

***
US-CERT Alerts

» TA15-337A: Dorkbot
[03 Dec 2015 04:40pm]

» TA15-314A: Compromised Web Servers and Web Shells - Threat Awareness and Guidance
[10 Nov 2015 06:12pm]

» TA15-286A: Dridex P2P Malware
[13 Oct 2015 05:23am]

» TA15-240A: Controlling Outbound DNS Access
[28 Aug 2015 11:31am]

» TA15-213A: Recent Email Phishing Campaigns – Mitigation and Response Recommendations
[01 Aug 2015 04:01pm]

» TA15-195A: Adobe Flash and Microsoft Windows Vulnerabilities
[14 Jul 2015 05:13pm]

» TA15-120A: Securing End-to-End Communications
[29 Apr 2015 10:00pm]

» TA15-119A: Top 30 Targeted High Risk Vulnerabilities
[28 Apr 2015 10:00pm]

» TA15-105A: Simda Botnet
[15 Apr 2015 06:51am]

» TA15-103A: DNS Zone Transfer AXFR Requests May Leak Domain Information
[13 Apr 2015 01:36pm]

***
Computerworld Security

» Nasdaq to use blockchain to record shareholder votes
[12 Feb 2016 09:41am]

» Pwn2Own contest puts $75K bounty on VMware Workstation bypass
[12 Feb 2016 08:15am]

» 7 Android tools that can help your personal security
[12 Feb 2016 04:30am]

» ENCRYPT Act co-sponsor learned tech ropes at Microsoft
[11 Feb 2016 03:29pm]

» Data destruction 101: There's more to it than wiping your drive [Infographic]
[11 Feb 2016 10:00am]

» Critical flaw exposes Cisco security appliances to remote hacking
[11 Feb 2016 08:19am]

» House bill would prevent patchwork of state laws banning smartphone encryption
[11 Feb 2016 04:45am]

» Encryption boost from U.S. House bill: Stop States’ smartphone stupidity
[11 Feb 2016 04:37am]

» Android root malware is widespread in third-party app stores
[10 Feb 2016 04:07pm]

» SAP slaps a patch on leaky factory software
[10 Feb 2016 09:06am]

» Microsoft fixes 36 flaws in IE, Edge, Office, Windows, .NET Framework
[10 Feb 2016 08:34am]

» Government may tap into your IoT gadgets and use your smart devices to spy on you
[10 Feb 2016 08:20am]

» Poseidon hacker group behind long-running extortion scheme
[10 Feb 2016 06:04am]

» Setting up a Windows 10 picture PIN
[10 Feb 2016 06:00am]

» U.S. regulator: A Google computer could qualify as car driver
[10 Feb 2016 05:51am]

***
Microsoft Security Advisories

» 3137909 - Vulnerabilities in ASP.NET Templates Could Allow Tampering - Version: 1.1
[10 Feb 2016 12:00am]

» 2871997 - Update to Improve Credentials Protection and Management - Version: 5.0
[09 Feb 2016 12:00am]

» 3123479 - Deprecation of SHA-1 Hashing Algorithm for Microsoft Root Certificate Program - Version: 1.0
[12 Jan 2016 12:00am]

» 3109853 - Update to Improve TLS Session Resumption Interoperability - Version: 1.0
[12 Jan 2016 12:00am]

» 3118753 - Updates for ActiveX Kill Bits 3118753 - Version: 1.0
[12 Jan 2016 12:00am]

» 2755801 - Update for Vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge - Version: 53.0
[05 Jan 2016 12:00am]

» 3123040 - Inadvertently Disclosed Digital Certificate Could Allow Spoofing - Version: 1.0
[08 Dec 2015 12:00am]

» 3057154 - Update to Harden Use of DES Encryption - Version: 1.1
[08 Dec 2015 12:00am]

» 3119884 - Inadvertently Disclosed Digital Certificates Could Allow Spoofing - Version: 1.0
[30 Nov 2015 12:00am]

» 3108638 - Update for Windows Hyper-V to Address CPU Weakness - Version: 1.0
[10 Nov 2015 12:00am]

» 3097966 - Inadvertently Disclosed Digital Certificates Could Allow Spoofing - Version: 2.0
[13 Oct 2015 01:00am]

» 2960358 - Update for Disabling RC4 in .NET TLS - Version: 2.0
[13 Oct 2015 01:00am]

» 3042058 - Update to Default Cipher Suite Priority Order - Version: 1.1
[13 Oct 2015 01:00am]

» 3083992 - Update to Improve AppLocker Publisher Rule Enforcement - Version: 1.0
[08 Sep 2015 01:00am]

» 3074162 - Vulnerability in Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool Could Allow Elevation of Privilege - Version: 1.0
[14 Jul 2015 01:00am]

***
WIRED » Security

» Evidence Suggests the Sony Hackers Are Alive and Well and Still Hacking
[12 Feb 2016 07:00am]

» Encryption Is Worldwide: Yet Another Reason Why a US Ban Makes No Sense
[11 Feb 2016 10:23am]

» New Bill Aims to Stop State-Level Decryption Before It Starts
[10 Feb 2016 01:27pm]

» Obama’s Cybersecurity Plan is Meant to Secure His Legacy
[10 Feb 2016 05:00am]

» How to Hack the Power Grid Through Home Air Conditioners
[09 Feb 2016 08:40am]

» Donate Your Old USB Drives to Fight North Korean Brainwashing
[09 Feb 2016 07:00am]

» Obama’s New Cybersecurity Plan Sticks to the Most Basic Basics
[09 Feb 2016 03:01am]

» Hack Brief: Hacker Leaks the Info of Thousands of FBI and DHS Employees
[08 Feb 2016 01:33pm]

» It’s Been 20 Years Since This Man Declared Cyberspace Independence
[08 Feb 2016 07:58am]

» Take a Trip to a Time When Viruses Still Called You Names
[08 Feb 2016 05:00am]

***
Network World Security

» White-hat hackers key to securing connected cars
[12 Feb 2016 09:35am]

» FTC reminder: ‘Spread the word about government imposters’
[12 Feb 2016 09:31am]

» Nasdaq to use blockchain to record shareholder votes
[12 Feb 2016 09:09am]

» Henry Ford and Incident Response
[12 Feb 2016 08:41am]

» REVIEW: Cyphort makes advanced threat protection easier than ever
[25 Jan 2016 04:00am]

» Two network video cameras raise the bar for home security
[19 Jan 2016 12:20pm]

» FidSafe: A cloud service for important documents (and the price is right)
[15 Jan 2016 06:23pm]

» Best open source email security products
[11 Jan 2016 04:00am]

» REVIEW: MailScanner and ScrolloutF1 are standouts in open source email security
[11 Jan 2016 04:00am]

» Piper nv: An ambitious home monitoring and automation system
[09 Jan 2016 04:09pm]

» Sentri wants to guard your home but isn't very good at it yet
[20 Dec 2015 04:11pm]

» Dog and Bone LockSmart: The padlock rethought
[19 Dec 2015 12:53pm]

» Review: Best password managers for the enterprise
[07 Dec 2015 04:00am]

» FTC reminder: ‘Spread the word about government imposters’
[12 Feb 2016 09:31am]

» Nasdaq to use blockchain to record shareholder votes
[12 Feb 2016 09:09am]

***


More IT Security
News Feeds
More Sponsors

Advertise on this site
RSS Feeds
Our news can be syndicated by using these rss feeds.
rss1.0
rss2.0
rdf
Symantec News

NIST.org is in no way connected to the U.S. government site NIST.gov

This site is © John Herron, CISSP. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit daily to stay up to date on all your IT Security compliance issues.

http://www.nist.org -
Hosted by BlueHost. We've never had a better hosting company.
{THEMEDISCLAIMER}