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Cyber Explainer: Phishing

Smishing, typosquatting, whaling...a staggering 91% of cyberattacks can be linked to the many faces of phishing

data breach and phishing attack

In this new series, “Cyber Explainer,” Interset breaks down the five most damaging types of threats facing enterprises, then details the five most effective cyber attack methods criminals use to exact them. For this sixth installment, we look at phishing, the most popular attack method.

What It Means
With a phishing attack, a cyber criminal reaches out to victims through a seemingly legitimate form of communication to extract personal information from them. Phishers frequently use email as a front, though their bait can also hit mobile devices via SMS text messages (a.k.a. “smishing”). The malicious contact will often spoof the branding of a real company, then offer an infected attachment or make use of typosquatting—a subtly misspelled URL that takes victims to a rogue site. Thieves may cast a wide net, target specific individuals or organizations (a.k.a. “spear-phishing”), or focus on compromising the credentials of senior management (called “whaling”).

Where You’ve Seen It
Target’s large data breach in 2013, which impacted 110 million customers, began as a phishing attack on one of its HVAC subcontractors. This was ultimately leveraged to compromise Target’s network credentials. And just this summer, the widespread Google Docs scam—in which unsuspecting users clicked on email invites to edit documents—turned out to be a global phishing ring. Believe the hype: Phishing is omnipresent and on the rise. Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report found that malicious email attachments were responsible for planting two-thirds of all malware.

How to Stop It
Too often, companies assign the brunt of the blame to employees. Are they technically negligent? Sure, but as socially engineered attacks get more sophisticated, a course on best practices isn’t even remotely effective risk management. By its very nature, security analytics were designed to observe behavior. This is advantageous in catching phishing attempts, because they create aberrations in the behaviors of users, files, devices, and so on. With data-hungry machine learning solutions, threat detection speed and precision surge. This makes the use of AI analytics a formidable defense strategy, especially in stopping attacks in their earlier stages.

LEARN MORE Why machine learning is key to impactful threat detection and intelligence


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