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

»Filling the Gap: NIST Document to Protect Federal Information in Nonfederal Information Systems
»Cyber Security: Your Mother Was Right, Sharing is Good, And NIST Has Some Help on How
»2014 Cybersecurity Education Meeting Emphasizes Presidential Ready to Work Initiative
»UMD and NIST Announce the Creation of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science
»NISTaposs Cloud Computing Roadmap Details Research Requirements and Action Plans
»NIST Awards Contract to MITRE to Support Cybersecurity Center of Excellence
»NCCoE Fall Open House
»NCCoE Seeks Comments on Mobile Device Security Building Block
»Three Pilot Projects Receive Grants to Improve Online Security and Privacy
»NIST Megacities Carbon Project Named aposProject to Watchapos by United Nations
»NIST Announces FY 2014 Small Business Innovation Research Awards
»NIST Helps Develop New Standard for Microsensor Technology
»New Forensic Subcommittee on Digital Evidence Added to Organization of Scientific Area Committees
»NIST Team Honored for Work on Military Smartphone Apps, Security
»NIST Vetting Guide Helps in Testing Mobile Apps to Learn What They Really Do


Date published: not known
Details

»Adobe Releases Security Updates for Flash Player
Original release date: November 25, 2014 Adobe has released security updates to address a vul ...
»Docker Releases Security Advisory
Original release date: November 24, 2014 Docker has released a critical security advisory to ...
»US-CERT Alerts Users to Holiday Phishing Scams and Malware Campaigns
Original release date: November 24, 2014 US-CERT reminds users to remain vigilant when browsi ...
»WordPress Releases Security Update
Original release date: November 21, 2014 WordPress 4.0.1 has been released to address multipl ...
»Drupal Releases Security Advisory
Original release date: November 20, 2014 Drupal has released an advisory to address multiple ...
»Google Releases Security Update for Chrome
Original release date: November 19, 2014 Google has released Chrome 39.0.2171.65 for Windows, ...
»Microsoft Releases Out-of-Band Security Bulletin for Windows Kerberos Vulnerability
Original release date: November 18, 2014 | Last revised: November 19, 2014 Microsoft has rele ...
»IC3 Releases Scam Alert for Fraudulent Online Advertisements
Original release date: November 18, 2014 The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) released a ...
»Apple Releases Security Updates for iOS, OS X Yosemite, and Apple TV
Original release date: November 17, 2014 Apple released security updates for iOS devices, OS ...
»IC3 Releases “Tech Support” Themed Scam Alert
Original release date: November 13, 2014 The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partner ...


Date published: not known
Details

»VB2014 paper: Labelling spam through the analysis of protocol patterns
What do your IP packet sizes say about whether you're a spammer? Over the next few months, we will b ...
»Multi-staged, modular Regin tool enables stealthy surveillance
Nation state likely behind campaign that goes back many years. Few terms are misused in a security c ...
»Detekt tool searches PCs for traces of surveillance spyware
Second opinion essential in circumstances under which likely victims operate. Last week, the release ...
»Botconf 2014 preview
Many VB authors and presenters to speak at second botnet-fighting conference. Last year, I attended ...
»VB2014 paper: Sweeping the IP space: the hunt for evil on the Internet
Dhia Mahjoub explains how the topology of the AS graph can be used to uncover hotspots of maliciousn ...
»Report: VB100 comparative review on Windows 8.1
40 out of 48 tested products earn VB100 award. If you follow the security news, you may believe that ...
»Out-of-band patch released for all Windows versions
Kerberos bug means one set of credentials suffices to rule them all. If you are a Windows systems ad ...
»VB2014 paper: Optimized mal-ops. Hack the ad network like a boss
Why buying ad space makes perfect sense for those wanting to spread malware. Over the next few month ...
»Book review: Bulletproof SSL and TLS
Must-read for anyone working with one of the Internet's most important protocols. I was reading Ivan ...


Date published: not known
Details

»Dangers Of Shopping Are Evolving
Point-of-sale malware is making brick-and-mortar shopping more dangerous. Online, attackers are begi ...
»Custom Malware Sneaks Past Advanced Threat Detection Appliances In Lab Experiment
An independent test of advanced threat detection products demonstrates how they could be bypassed by ...
»10 Ways Security Gurus Give Thanks
From board-level awareness to bug bounty programs and everything in between, the security world's ma ...
»6 Million+ Email Accounts Worldwide Exposed In Past 3 Months
Spike in number of stolen accounts likely due to uptick in major data breaches, researchers say.
»Data Management Vs. Data Loss Prevention: Vive La Difference!
A sensitive data management strategy can include the use of DLP technology, but it also involves a c ...
»Underground Carders Abusing Charities To Verify Stolen Payment Data
Charities' weak fraud controls make things easier on donors and criminals alike.
»Newly Revealed Cyber Espionage Attack 'More Complex' Than Stuxnet, Flame
"Regin" cyber spying platform is reportedly behind cyber spying against a Belgian telecommunications ...
»How I Became A CISO: Mark Potter, Danya International
Much like one of his favorite choose-your-own-adventure novels, Mark Potter's path to the chief info ...
»Don't Discount XSS Vulnerabilities
XSS flaws are more serious than you'd think.


Date published: Thu, 27 Nov 2014 15:43:29 EST
Details
Main Menu
· Home
Current Security News
 
SANS Internet Storm Center, InfoCON: green

» Infocon: green

» Syrian Electronic Army attack leads to malvertising, (Thu, Nov 27th)
[27 Nov 2014 01:33pm]

» ISC StormCast for Wednesday, November 26th 2014 http://isc.sans.edu/podcastdetail.html?id=4253, (Wed, Nov 26th)
[25 Nov 2014 08:37pm]

» Less is, umm, less?, (Tue, Nov 25th)
[25 Nov 2014 02:31pm]

» Security update for Adobe Flash player, (Tue, Nov 25th)
[25 Nov 2014 02:17pm]

» Guest diary: Detecting Suspicious Devices On-The-Fly, (Tue, Nov 25th)
[25 Nov 2014 01:27pm]

» ISC StormCast for Tuesday, November 25th 2014 http://isc.sans.edu/podcastdetail.html?id=4251, (Tue, Nov 25th)
[24 Nov 2014 08:46pm]

» Someone is using this? PoS: Compressor, (Mon, Nov 24th)
[24 Nov 2014 07:44am]

» Craigslist Outage, (Mon, Nov 24th)
[23 Nov 2014 09:49pm]

» ISC StormCast for Monday, November 24th 2014 http://isc.sans.edu/podcastdetail.html?id=4249, (Mon, Nov 24th)
[23 Nov 2014 06:06pm]

» More Trouble For Hikvision DVRs, (Mon, Nov 24th)
[23 Nov 2014 05:43pm]

***
CNET News.com

» Microsoft defends opening Hotmail account of blogger in espionage case
[20 Mar 2014 06:47pm]

» Syria's Internet goes dark for several hours
[20 Mar 2014 04:25pm]

» Symantec fires CEO Steve Bennett
[20 Mar 2014 03:07pm]

» Microsoft sniffed blogger's Hotmail account to trace leak
[20 Mar 2014 01:28pm]

» Microsoft sniffed private Hotmail account to trace trade secret leak
[20 Mar 2014 01:28pm]

» IBM's new services zero in on fraud, financial crime
[20 Mar 2014 07:31am]

» Despite assault on privacy, Page sees value in online openness
[19 Mar 2014 08:00pm]

» Hackers transform EA Web page into Apple ID phishing scheme
[19 Mar 2014 05:21pm]

» NSA top lawyer says tech giants knew about data collection
[19 Mar 2014 02:57pm]

» Microsoft touts study showing the cost of pirated software
[19 Mar 2014 06:55am]

» Microsoft touts study showing cost of malware in pirated software
[19 Mar 2014 06:55am]

» How to spy on your lover, the smartphone way
[18 Mar 2014 01:24pm]

» Mt. Gox update lets users see their Bitcoin balances
[18 Mar 2014 06:38am]

» Fake Malaysia Airlines links spread malware
[17 Mar 2014 05:12pm]

» IBM: No, we did not help NSA spy on customers
[17 Mar 2014 01:15pm]

***

***



***


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}