By now youíre familiar with the basic phishing e-mail. You know the one -- it comes from a bank you donít do business with asking you to verify personal information such as your name, Social Security Number and your existing bank account information. The e-mail may claim the bank it purports to represent has a check to deposit to your account, is trying to clear a check or something else along those lines. These phishing e-mails are easy to spot, their misspelled words obvious and the bogus links show up clearly. Theyíre also fairly easy to fight.
Unfortunately, so many people are on to this kind of attempted identity theft that the phishers have turned to more sophisticated means. They use real bank logos and information theyíve gleaned from elsewhere on the Internet to make it look like they know you, and they donít ask for personal information. Rather, they ask you to visit a website that will download a virus that will go through your computer and collect whatever information it can find.
But as phishing continues to evolve, detecting phishing e-mails is becoming more difficult. Worse, some phishing e-mails are really the visible part of an APT. They appear to be from someone you know, and they appear to ask for a response regarding something related to work, your finances or something else a friend may know. But spear phishing, as these highly personal phishing e-mails are called, depends on gaining your confidence by using material gleaned from social networks or other sources. When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was attacked, for example, the attackers went after the e-mail files. Most likely they were looking for e-mail addresses and information from the contents of the e-mails they found to use in a later spear phishing attack.
But these attacks may not be after personal finance information; rather, they may be after passwords to other companiesí systems, they may be after the names and e-mail addresses at other companies, or they may be after personal information they can use elsewhere.
The solution to most spear phishing attacks is first to use the best screening systems you can find. Some next-generation firewalls and most high-end security software can at least warn when they find a suspicious message. In addition, users must be trained never to answer requests for personal information of any kind. The bank is never going to e-mail anyone asking for account information. The IRS isnít going to e-mail anyone about taxes, and the security staff at another company isnít going to e-mail anyone about their access information.