Did you know that there are different types of email scams? One of the more insidious ones is whaling. What is whaling? A whaling attack is a type of scam where the attacker tries to steal large sums of money from businesses by pretending to be someone within the company.
In this article, we’ll explain what whaling is, how it works, and what you can do to protect your business from these attacks.
What Exactly Is A Whaling Attack?
A whaling phishing attack, also known as CEO Fraud, is a targeted email scam where the attacker poses as a trusted source within the company in order to trick high-level executives into transferring money or sensitive information. Whaling attacks are similar to regular phishing scams, but they are much more sophisticated and tailored specifically to the target organization.
How Do Whaling Attacks Work?
Whaling phishing attacks seek to deceive individuals into revealing personal or commercial information by utilizing social engineering, email mimicry, and content imitation methods. The attackers might send an apparently genuine email from a customized website to trick whaling attack victims into installing dangerous malware like ransomware.
Whaling attacks are extremely personalized and tailored, with the goal of gathering as much data about a company or person as possible. They frequently include the target’s name, job title, or other pertinent information gathered from a variety of channels. And because they are highly personalized, detecting a whaling attack is difficult.
For example, the attacker may notice that the victim recently acquired a new pet and mentioned it on social media. They might then scroll through the victim’s media page to a photo of last year’s Thanksgiving celebration, which featured a massive buffet.
They might construct a seemingly harmless and well-informed email with the help of both pieces of information by writing, “Hey, isn’t that cute little pooch growing up fast? I’m sure he could have finished off the whole buffet if he’d been there last Thanksgiving!” Because of the detailed nature of the correspondence, the whale may not realize that the attacker is faking its identity.
These kinds of attacks are often successful because the attacker spends a lot of time preparing the bait, thereby making it very convincing. Asides from that, they are targeted at one specific organization and not thousands of people at once like typical scams.
How To Recognize A Whaling Attack
As stated earlier, detecting a whaling attack is considerably more difficult than a typical phishing attempt since attackers will typically put in much more effort to make email communications and sites appear genuine. The following are some of the most frequent indicators that an email may be part of a whaling attack:
- A fraudulent sender’s email address that does not correspond to the domain of the company represented in the email. For example, attackers frequently swap an “m” in a domain name with an “r,” or “rn,” or “n.”
- A request to exchange sensitive information or wire money to a bank account.
- A sense of urgency that urges the receiver to act quickly, with a hint or a threat of adverse effects if the required action isn’t done immediately.
Key Objectives of Whaling Attacks Or Whaling Phishing
There are three primary objectives of a whaling attack:
- To gain unauthorized access to an organization’s critical data and systems.
- To commit financial fraud by transferring money from the victim’s account to the attacker’s account.
- To damage the reputation of the victim or the victim’s company.
Whaling Vs. Phishing Vs. Spear Phishing
Whaling, phishing, and spear phishing are all types of social engineering attacks that seek to deceive victims into revealing sensitive information or taking some sort of action. However, there are some key differences between these three attack methods:
Phishing attacks are typically sent en masse to large groups of people in the hopes that at least a few will take the bait. Whaling attacks, on the other hand, are a type of phishing attack that targets high-level executives and are much more personalized.
Spear phishing attacks also target specific individuals or organizations but generally aren’t as customized as whaling attacks.
The primary goal of a phishing attack is usually to install malware on the victim’s computer or steal login credentials. The goals of whaling attacks are usually more ambitious, such as gaining access to critical data or committing financial fraud.
6 Ways To Protect Yourself From Whaling Attacks
Although whaling attacks can be difficult to detect, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your organization from becoming a victim:
1. Employee Awareness
Every worker must be held responsible for protecting company assets in order to avoid any sort of cybersecurity threat. All employees, not just high-level executives, must be educated about these assaults and how to spot them in the case of whale phishing. This is because a lower-level employee’s lapse in security may indirectly expose an executive to danger.
Employees should also be aware of social engineering tactics, such as phony email addresses that mimic a well-known address. For example, if an employee frequently communicates with an email address that reads “firstname.lastname@example.org,” the hacker may use “Jil1@gmail.com” to impersonate the trusted contact and deceive the victim. Employees should also be cautious when money is requested by email.
2. Install Up-to-date Security Software
Organizations should install and maintain updated anti-virus protection and a firewall on all devices that connect to the internet. These tools can help to prevent malicious whaling attack emails from being opened and protect against malware that may be downloaded as a result of clicking on a phishing email.
In addition, it is important to have a spam filter in place to block suspicious emails from reaching employees’ inboxes. Spam filters can be customized to flag emails with certain characteristics, such as those coming from an unknown sender or containing attachments.
Finally, consider investing in a secure email gateway (SEG) solution. An SEG scans inbound and outbound email traffic for malicious content and can block phishing emails before they reach employees’ inboxes.
SEG solutions can be expensive, but they offer a high level of protection against phishing and other types of email-based attacks.
3. Data Protection Policies
Organizations should have strict policies in place to protect sensitive data. These policies should restrict access to data to only those who need it and require the use of strong passwords. In addition, all data should be encrypted, both at rest and in transit.
Data encryption makes it more difficult for hackers to access sensitive information if they penetrate a company’s defenses.
Asides from encryption, companies should consider implementing two-factor authentication (TFA) for accessing critical systems and data. TFA requires users to provide two forms of identification, such as a password and a fingerprint or a password and a one-time code generated by an Authenticator app, before being granted access.
This added layer of security makes it much more challenging for hackers to gain access to systems and data, even if they steal a user’s password.
4. Social Media Education
Since social media is often used as a tool for conducting whale phishing attacks, it is important to educate employees about the risks associated with using these platforms.
Employees should be aware of the dangers of sharing too much information on social media, such as their work address or contact information. They should also be cautious about clicking on links shared by unknown contacts.
In addition, companies should consider implementing policies that restrict what employees can share on social media. For example, some organizations may forbid employees from sharing any information that could potentially be used to target a whale phishing attack.
Other companies may allow employees to share certain types of information but require them to use privacy settings that limit who can see this data.
5. Be Proactive
Employee awareness, up-to-date security software, data protection policies, and two-factor authentication are all great ways to protect your organization from whaling attacks. However, the best defense is always a good offense.
Organizations should proactively monitor their networks for signs of suspicious activity and have a plan in place for how to respond in the event of an attack. By being prepared and taking steps to prevent an attack from happening in the first place, you can protect your organization from becoming the victim of a costly cybercrime.
Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, and companies must be vigilant in order to protect themselves. Cyber whaling is a serious threat, but by taking the proper precautions, you can help to ensure that your organization is not targeted by these attacks.
Whaling Attack Examples
Here are a few examples of whaling attacks:
In 2016, Seagate was duped into releasing the W2 forms for 10,000 workers as a result of a whaling scam. An email requesting copies of the employees’ 2016 W-2 forms, as well as other sensitive information such as their Social Security numbers, names, home addresses, and salaries, was sent to HR. When HR complied with the request, all of this was sent to the perpetrator.
In 2016, Snapchat fell victim to a whaling attack when an email from CEO Evan Spiegel requesting payroll information was sent to the company’s finance department. The email appeared to be legitimate, and the finance department complied with the request. As a result, the attacker gained access to employee names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and salary information.
These are just a few examples of whaling attacks that have taken place in recent years. As you can see, these attacks can be costly and cause serious damage to a company’s reputation.
What Is Whaling? Final Thoughts
According to the 2021 IBM Threat Intelligence Index, the average cost of a data breach caused by phishing is $4.24 million. This statistic highlights the importance of taking steps to protect your organization from whaling attacks. By being aware of the threat and taking steps to prevent these attacks, you can help to keep your company’s data safe.
Need Managed Security Services To Protect You From Whaling Attacks?
Global Solutions offers a variety of security solutions to meet your needs. We can help you assess your security needs and choose the right service for your business. If you would like to learn more about our managed security services, please get in touch with us. We would be happy to discuss your specific needs and provide a proposal outlining our specialized security services.