I just returned from Brazil where the anticipation around the 2014 FIFA World Cup was astounding. Even though Brazil has won the Word Cup several times, this is the first year they’ve hosted since 1950. As with many countries where soccer (“football”) inspires nationalistic pride, promotes escapism or more simply provides the zenith of sports entertainment, most Brazilians have an insatiable hunger. The media, event sponsors and retailers are more than happy to overindulge their appetites. From clothing and restaurants to television and Internet – the World Cup is everywhere.
The Phishing Landscape
Understanding the proclivities of these fans gives criminals an advantage. The World Cup provides a window of opportunity and a tremendous vehicle for online fraud such as phishing. Not only do the targets accept that they will receive a barrage of World Cup-related solicitations, but they often desire said solicitations and are excited to “click.” This “perfect storm” isn’t specific to the World Cup. Phishing scams are often associated with current events such as:
- Entertainment in the form of movie trailers, awards and celebrity photos
- Sporting events with large, preferably global audiences
- Natural disasters, political elections and military actions
- Viral videos of animals seeing themselves in mirrors
Unfortunately for the targets of phishing, the fraudsters have nefarious ulterior motives. The fraudsters may be interested in identity theft, stealing credentials, stealing financial information, or locking your system and holding it for ransom with malware like “Simplelocker,” which has been dissected and analyzed by my employer Blue Coat in a blog titled: “Simplelocker” Android Ransomware Encrypts Files. Or maybe the fraudsters just want to add your device to their botnet army to be controlled at will. Regardless of their motive, you have something they want. The results of phishing can impact individuals and organizations including depleted bank accounts, credit debt, sensitive/personal data theft, countless hours of negotiation with financial institutions, stress, and the list goes on.
The risks to the criminals are low. This is because the likelihood of being apprehended and the severity of the punishment for phishing -- and most cybercrimes, depending on the country -- are low. Thus legal deterrence is ineffective. Additionally, the complexities of international law and extradition means that criminals can reside and operate in cybercrime-friendly countries, much like pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries that stimulated the economy in Jamaica and provided protection from the Spanish in exchange for a safe haven.
While there is no anti-phishing panacea that will mitigate all threats, there are technical and non-technical controls that can reduce the risk of a phishing attack being successful. Here are 15 safeguards to consider.
- Verify before you click, download and open
- Use bookmarks instead of clicking on a link, or typing in a URL with potential misspellings; that URL could take you to a malicious site
- Don’t respond to emails with your sensitive data
- Don’t enter your sensitive data it into a form indiscriminately
- Don’t enter your sensitive data into pop-up windows
- Understand criminal tactics and if in doubt pick up the phone - criminals will try to create compelling events by stating:
- Free World Cup...
- Enter your password or all your cloud data will be corrupted
- Click here to avoid your Internet service being disconnected
- Final warning - download this anti-malware tool to avoid shutdown
- You have five seconds to comply or your bank account will be frozen
- Your smartphones and tablets are computers too, and the security best practices you apply to traditional computers like laptops should apply to them; before you install that World Cup app do some research
- Keep your operating systems and applications patched and up-to-date
- Use web filtering software to disallow access to known bad sites; many are free
- Use browser phishing protection – common in most modern browsers
- Install and update endpoint security controls
- All legitimate websites requesting personal information such as your bank should be encrypting communications; look for “HTTPS” and/or the lock icon in the browser’s URL field
- Keep an eye on your account activity. Many sites provide last login date, location, etc.
- Use credit activity monitoring services - you likely already have a bunch of free years from getting credit cards stolen in the past
- Report suspicious activity (IT dept., ISP, FTC) and opt in to share threat intelligence via your security solutions – use the crowd as a force multiplier
With events like the World Cup where information is flooding our laptops, tablets and smartphones from all directions, it is important not to get so caught up in the moment that we forget the criminals are working overtime. By considering these 15 safeguards and successfully mitigating phishing attacks, you’re negatively impacting the criminal revenue stream and making this type of fraud less appealing.
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