Phishing and Scams: When Fraudsters Exploit Kindness

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By Adam Mohammed 6 months ago

The digital age, with its myriad of advantages, also brings forth new challenges and threats. At the forefront of these digital dangers is "phishing." Let's dive into what it is and how you can keep yourself safe.

Phishing is a form of online trickery. Just like how a fisherman uses bait to catch fish, cybercriminals use fake messages or websites as their 'bait'. These messages or sites might look real, almost identical to ones you trust, like your bank or favorite online store. The goal? To get you to share private details, like passwords or credit card numbers. Think of it as someone pretending to be a trusted friend to secretly get something valuable from you.

Types of Phishing

  1. Email Phishing
  2. Spear Phishing
  3. Smishing (SMS Phishing)
  4. Vishing (Voice Phishing)
  5. Social Media Phishing

How Phishers Lure Their Victims

  1. Email Phishing: These are emails disguised to look genuine, using official logos and mimicking the format of genuine institutions.

Real-Life Example of Email Phishing

Even the most tech-savvy among us can sometimes be targeted. Consider this real example:

Subject: Your domain registration is complete!

From: Domain Registrar no-reply@story-d.awsapps.com via amazonses.com

Date: Aug 11, 2023

Content:
"The next step you need to take is confirming your email address. Click the link below and enter code 9597 to confirm the contact email for devcentricstudio,com."

phishing_email.png 112.08 KB

Red Flags:

  • From Address Deception: At first glance, the email seems to be from Amazon (amazonses.com). However, AWS (Amazon Web Services) is a vast service, and many legitimate and illegitimate services run on it. It's easy for phishers to use AWS to send phishing emails.
  • Domain Typo: Note the comma in "devcentricstudio,com" instead of a period. This simple typo is a strong indicator that the email is not legitimate.
  • Unsolicited Confirmation Codes: Always be wary of unsolicited emails that provide confirmation codes, especially if you didn't initiate any action that would require such a code.

2. Spear Phishing: A personalized form of deception where the scammer has researched their victim, making their bait highly tailored and convincing.

Real-Life Example of Spear Phishing

Target: John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

In March 2016, John Podesta received an email that appeared to be from Google. The email claimed that someone in Ukraine had tried to access his Gmail account, and he needed to change his password immediately for security reasons.

"Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account john.podesta@gmail.com. Google stopped this sign-in attempt. You should change your password immediately."

Below the message was a big blue button that said "CHANGE PASSWORD."

Phishing email sent to John Podesta RELEASED BY WIKILEAKS

Red Flags:

  1. Urgent Call to Action: The email created a sense of urgency, prompting Podesta to act quickly without questioning the email's authenticity.
  2. Legitimate-Looking Content: The email appeared genuine, containing Google's logo and formatting similar to typical Google alerts.

Unfortunately, Podesta's IT staff incorrectly identified the email as legitimate. Podesta followed the provided link and entered his current Gmail password, falling right into the trap set by the attackers. This breach resulted in the leak of thousands of emails.


Smishing (SMS Phishing):

3. Smishing and Vishing: Respectively, these are SMS-based and voice call-based phishing attempts. An example might be a call or text from "your bank" asking for verification.

In early 2020, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals received text messages that appeared to be from government health departments.

"URGENT: Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, all citizens are required to get tested. Click [malicious link] to schedule your test and receive results immediately."

Red Flags:

  1. Urgency: The message pressed for immediate action.
  2. Unfamiliar Sender: The sender wasn't recognized as an official number from any health organization or department.

Many individuals clicked on the link, leading them to malicious websites that either installed malware on their devices or solicited personal and financial information under the guise of scheduling a test.

Vishing (Voice Phishing):

In 2019, a technology executive at a UK-based company received a call from someone who claimed to be the CEO of the parent company based in Germany.

The caller, speaking fluent German with the CEO's slight accent, informed the executive of a secret acquisition in Germany and that an immediate transfer of funds was necessary to ensure the deal's success.

Red Flags:

  1. Secret Nature: The CEO insisted on secrecy, urging the executive not to discuss the matter with other board members.
  2. Urgency: An immediate transfer was demanded, leaving little time for verification.

The executive, convinced by the caller's knowledge and familiarity with company lingo and projects, authorized a transfer of close to $243,000. Later, it was revealed that the scammer likely used AI-based voice technology to mimic the CEO's voice.

4. Social Media Phishing: Scammers use fake profiles or posts to distribute malicious links or deceitful requests.

It's important to note that these phishing attempts often prey on the sense of urgency, causing the user to act hastily. It's always a good practice to double-check any email that requires actions on your end, especially if it concerns sensitive actions like domain confirmations or password changes.

But there's another sophisticated tactic on the rise: Fraudulent NGOs or Government Program Websites. These are fake platforms imitating genuine NGOs or government initiatives. Their goal? To exploit people seeking help, jobs, or those trying to do good.

Staying Safe in Digital Waters

  1. Verify First: If an NGO or a government initiative reaches out, verify through official channels before taking action.
  2. Stay Updated: Regularly update your software, as updates often contain security enhancements.
  3. Be Skeptical: If something feels off, it probably is. Listen to your instincts.

The digital realm, much like the oceans, has its predators. But with awareness, caution, and a good measure of skepticism, we can navigate safely. Remember, it's always better to double-check than to regret later.


Devcentric Studio Services

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