NIST Site Search
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 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.

  • 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.

  • What is Spear Phishing by Microsoft
  • Spear Phishing by Wikipedia
  • What Is Spear Phishing from 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


Posted by on Wednesday 17 January 2007 - 22:05:35 | |printer friendly
Translate to: {GOOGLETRANS}
Google Ads


»CVE-2006-3635 (linux_kernel)
The ia64 subsystem in the Linux kernel before 2.6.26 allows local users to cause a denial of service ...
»CVE-2009-5145 (zope)
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in ZMI pages that use the manage_tabs_message in Zope 2.11. ...
»CVE-2010-2245 (wink)
XML External Entity (XXE) vulnerability in Apache Wink 1.1.1 and earlier allows remote attackers to ...
»CVE-2011-4343 (myfaces)
Information disclosure vulnerability in Apache MyFaces Core 2.0.1 through 2.0.10 and 2.1.0 through 2 ...
»CVE-2011-5325 (busybox)
Directory traversal vulnerability in the BusyBox implementation of tar before 1.22.0 v5 allows remot ...
»CVE-2012-2771 (ffmpeg)
Unspecified vulnerability in FFmpeg before 0.10.3 has unknown impact and attack vectors, a different ...
»CVE-2012-2773 (ffmpeg)
Unspecified vulnerability in FFmpeg before 0.10.3 has unknown impact and attack vectors, a different ...
»CVE-2012-2778 (ffmpeg)
Unspecified vulnerability in FFmpeg before 0.10.3 has unknown impact and attack vectors, a different ...
»CVE-2012-2780 (ffmpeg)
Unspecified vulnerability in FFmpeg before 0.10.3 has unknown impact and attack vectors, a different ...
»CVE-2012-2781 (ffmpeg)
Unspecified vulnerability in FFmpeg before 0.10.3 has unknown impact and attack vectors, a different ...
»CVE-2014-8903 (curam_social_program_management)
IBM Curam Social Program Management 6.0 SP2 before EP26, 6.0.4 before and 6.0.5 before ...
»CVE-2014-9260 (download_manager)
The basic_settings function in the download manager plugin for WordPress before 2.7.3 allows remote ...
»CVE-2014-9262 (duplicator)
The Duplicator plugin in Wordpress before 0.5.10 allows remote authenticated users to create and dow ...
»CVE-2015-0194 (sterling_b2b_integrator, sterling_file_gateway)
XML External Entity (XXE) vulnerability in IBM Sterling B2B Integrator 5.1 and 5.2 and IBM Sterling ...
»CVE-2015-1378 (grml-debootstrap)
cmdlineopts.clp in grml-debootstrap in Debian 0.54, 0.68.x before 0.68.1, 0.7x before 0.78 is source ...

Date published: 2017-08-17T16:01:14Z

»Drupal Releases Security Updates
Original release date: August 16, 2017 Drupal has released an advisory to address several vul ...
»Cisco Releases Security Updates
Original release date: August 16, 2017 Cisco has released updates to address vulnerabilities ...
»Symantec Releases Security Update
Original release date: August 11, 2017 Symantec has released an update to address vulnerabili ...
»Juniper Networks Releases Junos OS Security Advisory
Original release date: August 09, 2017 | Last revised: August 10, 2017 Juniper Networks has r ...
»FTC Releases Alert on Government Grant Scams
Original release date: August 08, 2017 The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released an ale ...
»Microsoft Releases August 2017 Security Updates
Original release date: August 08, 2017 Microsoft has released updates to address vulnerabilit ...
»Mozilla Releases Security Updates
Original release date: August 08, 2017 Mozilla has released security updates to address multi ...
»Adobe Releases Security Updates
Original release date: August 08, 2017 Adobe has released security updates to address vulnera ...
»IRS Warns Tax Professionals of New Scam to Steal Passwords
Original release date: August 07, 2017 The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), acting in concert ...
»Google Releases Security Updates for Chrome OS
Original release date: August 03, 2017 Google has released Chrome OS version 60.0.3112.80 for ...

Date published: not known

»Throwback Thursday: Ten memorable Virus Bulletin conference presentations - part 2
In the second part of this two-part blog series, we look at five mo ...
»Five tips for submitting to Calls for Papers
With the VB2017 Call for Papers out, here are five tips to increase ...
»The WannaCry kill switch wasn't inserted to make someone a hero
Following the arrest of WannaCry hero Marcus Hutchings, suggestions ...
»Throwback Thursday: Ten memorable Virus Bulletin conference presentations - part 1
In a two-part blog post series, we look back at ten memorable VB co ...
»Worms wiggling inside your networks are a lot harder to stop
The authors of the Trickbot banking trojan seem to have taken note ...
»VB2017 drinks reception to be hosted in Madrid's unique Geographic Club
To give those attending VB2017 Madrid a chance to experience a litt ...
»By removing VPNs from its Chinese App Store, Apple turns its biggest security asset against its users
To comply with Chinese laws, Apple has removed all iOS VPN apps fro ...
»VB2017 Small Talks and reserve papers announced
Today we announce the first two Small Talks for the VB2017 programm ...
»NoMoreRansom's first birthday demonstrates importance of collaboration
This week the NoMoreRansom project celebrated its first birthday. I ...

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

» Drupal Releases Security Updates
[16 Aug 2017 05:08pm]

» Cisco Releases Security Updates
[16 Aug 2017 04:36pm]

» Symantec Releases Security Update
[11 Aug 2017 06:40am]

» Juniper Networks Releases Junos OS Security Advisory
[09 Aug 2017 09:08pm]

» FTC Releases Alert on Government Grant Scams
[08 Aug 2017 06:30pm]

» Microsoft Releases August 2017 Security Updates
[08 Aug 2017 03:31pm]

» Mozilla Releases Security Updates
[08 Aug 2017 11:11am]

» Adobe Releases Security Updates
[08 Aug 2017 10:41am]

» IRS Warns Tax Professionals of New Scam to Steal Passwords
[07 Aug 2017 01:30pm]

» Google Releases Security Updates for Chrome OS
[03 Aug 2017 12:25pm]

US-CERT Alerts

» TA17-181A: Petya Ransomware
[30 Jun 2017 11:41pm]

» TA17-164A: HIDDEN COBRA – North Korea’s DDoS Botnet Infrastructure
[13 Jun 2017 09:45am]

» TA17-163A: CrashOverride Malware
[12 Jun 2017 03:44pm]

» TA17-156A: Reducing the Risk of SNMP Abuse
[05 Jun 2017 06:11pm]

» TA17-132A: Indicators Associated With WannaCry Ransomware
[12 May 2017 07:36pm]

» TA17-117A: Intrusions Affecting Multiple Victims Across Multiple Sectors
[27 Apr 2017 04:50pm]

» TA17-075A: HTTPS Interception Weakens TLS Security
[16 Mar 2017 06:40am]

» TA16-336A: Avalanche (crimeware-as-a-service infrastructure)
[30 Nov 2016 10:00pm]

» TA16-288A: Heightened DDoS Threat Posed by Mirai and Other Botnets
[14 Oct 2016 05:59pm]

» TA16-250A: The Increasing Threat to Network Infrastructure Devices and Recommended Mitigations
[06 Sep 2016 04:29pm]

Computerworld Security

» Find My Device: How Android's security service can manage your missing phone
[17 Aug 2017 10:27am]

» Where’s the KB 4034661 jumbo bug fix for Win10 Anniversary Update?
[17 Aug 2017 05:33am]

» 8 steps to install Windows 10 patches like a pro
[16 Aug 2017 01:07pm]

» 31% off WD 4TB My Passport Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive - Deal Alert
[16 Aug 2017 07:26am]

» Where we stand with this month’s Windows and Office security patches
[15 Aug 2017 08:18am]

» Another undocumented Surface Pro update — Dynamic Platform and Thermal Framework
[14 Aug 2017 09:47am]

» Mingis on Tech: Android vs iOS – Which is more secure?
[10 Aug 2017 04:00am]

» New in Windows security: Automatically log off suspicious users
[10 Aug 2017 03:59am]

» Windows 10 1607 cumulative update KB 4034658 wipes out Update History
[09 Aug 2017 07:40am]

» How Windows to Go can protect data for business travelers
[08 Aug 2017 04:00am]

» It’s time to check your Windows machines and temporarily turn off Automatic Update
[07 Aug 2017 10:10am]

» The case against Windows Automatic Update
[07 Aug 2017 06:19am]

» New Surface Pro 4 driver restores Windows Hello — and this time it’s documented
[04 Aug 2017 04:43am]

» 44% off Aukey Dash Cam, Full HD Wide Angle With Night Vision - Deal Alert
[03 Aug 2017 07:54am]

» Can Microsoft lawyers defeat Putin’s most notorious spy-hackers?
[31 Jul 2017 08:53am]

Microsoft Security Advisories

» 4038556 - Guidance for securing applications that host the WebBrowser Control - Version: 1.0
[08 Aug 2017 11:00am]

» 4033453 - Vulnerability in Azure AD Connect Could Allow Elevation of Privilege - Version: 1.0
[27 Jun 2017 11:00am]

» 4025685 - Guidance related to June 2017 security update release - Version: 1.0
[13 Jun 2017 11:00am]

» 4022345 - Identifying and correcting failure of Windows Update client to receive updates - Version: 1.3
[12 May 2017 11:00am]

» 4022344 - Security Update for Microsoft Malware Protection Engine - Version: 1.2
[12 May 2017 11:00am]

» 4021279 - Vulnerabilities in .NET Core, ASP.NET Core Could Allow Elevation of Privilege - Version: 1.1
[10 May 2017 11:00am]

» 4010323 - Deprecation of SHA-1 for SSL/TLS Certificates in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer 11 - Version: 1.0
[09 May 2017 11:00am]

» 3123479 - SHA-1 Hashing Algorithm for Microsoft Root Certificate Program - Version: 2.0
[14 Mar 2017 11:00am]

» 4010983 - Vulnerability in ASP.NET Core MVC 1.1.0 Could Allow Denial of Service - Version: 1.0
[27 Jan 2017 11:00am]

» 3214296 - Vulnerabilities in Identity Model Extensions Token Signing Verification Could Allow Elevation of Privilege - Version: 1.0
[10 Jan 2017 11:00am]

» 3181759 - Vulnerabilities in ASP.NET Core View Components Could Allow Elevation of Privilege - Version: 1.0
[13 Sep 2016 11:00am]

» 3174644 - Updated Support for Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange - Version: 1.0
[13 Sep 2016 11:00am]

» 3179528 - Update for Kernel Mode Blacklist - Version: 1.0
[09 Aug 2016 11:00am]

» 2880823 - Deprecation of SHA-1 Hashing Algorithm for Microsoft Root Certificate Program - Version: 2.0
[18 May 2016 11:00am]

» 3155527 - Update to Cipher Suites for FalseStart - Version: 1.0
[10 May 2016 11:00am]

Security Latest

» Cloudflare Pulls Support For The Daily Stormer, a White Supremacist Site
[16 Aug 2017 05:47pm]

» A Deep Flaw in Your Car Lets Hackers Shut Down Safety Features
[16 Aug 2017 02:55pm]

» Verizon Takes Fourth Amendment Stand in Carpenter V. United States
[16 Aug 2017 08:00am]

» Donald Trump's Charlottesville Press Conference Has Roots in Fox News and Twitter
[15 Aug 2017 07:47pm]

» Tech Companies Have the Tools to Confront White Supremacy
[14 Aug 2017 04:24pm]

» Free Stingray-Detector Apps Could Be Outsmarted
[14 Aug 2017 05:00am]

» The Alt-Right Can't Disown Charlottesville
[13 Aug 2017 06:10pm]

» A Guide to Russia’s High Tech Tool Box for Subverting US Democracy
[13 Aug 2017 05:00am]

» The Guy Who Made Up All Those Password Rules Is Sorry
[12 Aug 2017 06:00am]

» Russia's 'Fancy Bear' Hackers Used Leaked NSA Tool 'Eternal Blue" to Target Hotel Guests
[11 Aug 2017 07:00am]

» Trump's North Korea Nuclear Riffing Creates a Real Danger
[10 Aug 2017 05:00am]

» Biohackers Encoded Malware in a Strand of DNA
[09 Aug 2017 10:00pm]

» North Korea's Miniature Nuke Spells Big Trouble For the World
[08 Aug 2017 04:28pm]

» Warrantless US Spying Is Set to Expire Soon. Let It Die
[08 Aug 2017 08:00am]

» HBO Hackers Drop Ransom Note and More Game of Thrones Spoilers
[07 Aug 2017 05:52pm]

Network World Security

» 31% off WD 4TB My Passport Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive - Deal Alert
[16 Aug 2017 07:26am]

» 7 free tools every network needs
[15 Aug 2017 01:52pm]

» IDG Contributor Network: SDN and a life beyond the death of the internet
[15 Aug 2017 12:00pm]

» IDG Contributor Network: Can U.S. lawmakers fix IoT security for good?
[14 Aug 2017 06:00am]

» 7 free tools every network needs
[15 Aug 2017 01:52pm]

» Gravityscan, keeping WordPress sites safe
[24 May 2017 02:34pm]

» Network monitoring tools: Features users love and hate
[01 May 2017 04:51am]

» Book Review: Practical Packet Analysis: Using Wireshark to Solve Real-World Network Problems
[27 Apr 2017 12:45pm]

» Fight firewall sprawl with AlgoSec, Tufin, Skybox suites
[10 Apr 2017 04:32am]

» Review: Canary Flex security camera lives up to its name
[24 Mar 2017 07:01am]

» Zix wins 5-vendor email encryption shootout
[13 Mar 2017 04:00am]

» Review: vArmour flips security on its head
[06 Mar 2017 03:50am]

» 5 open source security tools too good to ignore
[21 Feb 2017 07:12am]

» 7 free tools every network needs
[15 Aug 2017 01:52pm]

» IDG Contributor Network: SDN and a life beyond the death of the internet
[15 Aug 2017 12:00pm]


More IT Security
News Feeds
More Sponsors

Advertise on this site
RSS Feeds
Our news can be syndicated by using these rss feeds.
rdf is in no way connected to the U.S. government site

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

Please visit daily to stay up to date on all your IT Security compliance issues. -
Hosted by BlueHost. We've never had a better hosting company.