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Spear Phishing: A Top Threat to Your Organization’s Security

Cybercriminals are becoming much more sophisticated in their attacks. Take spear phishing as an example instead of just sending a phishing email, hackers are creating a hyper-targeted attack that can be very effective if users aren’t practicing good cyber hygiene. While spear phishing emails account for only 0.1% of all emails that are sent, they are responsible for 66% of all data breaches according to research by Barracuda. It’s important that organizations understand the threats around spear phishing and put measures in place to mitigate their risk.

What is Spear Phishing?

Phishing is an attempt to trick someone into revealing sensitive information, often via email, text, or chat. Spear phishing is a type of phishing that focuses on a specific person or group. While phishing is an attempt to trick someone into revealing sensitive information, often via email, text, or chat, phishing is often a one-to-many type of attack. With spear phishing, the attacker adjusts their methods to make them tailored to more likely fool their target.

Regular phishing may involve a mass email sent to hundreds of targets — or more. Spear phishing attacks are typically more surgical. They may also involve considerable research using company data, social media, or personal information the attackers have already stolen.

How to Prevent Spear Phishing

Organizations need to be aware that phishing and more specifically spear phishing is a top threat to your security. You can mitigate your risk against these attacks, but you need to put proper controls in place. Here are some steps you can take to stay a step ahead of spear phishers.

Strengthen Your Data Privacy Standards

Every organization needs strong data privacy policies in place to keep data secure and be compliant with so many regulatory requirements. By setting a culture of high confidentiality standards, you can ensure employees are keeping sensitive data security and not sharing information they shouldn’t. Even if your team comes across a spear phishing email, they won’t fall for disclosing sensitive information.

Train Your Team

You should foster a culture of confidentiality when it comes to personal and business data. Employees should be mindful of what they share and practicing good cyber hygiene. By creating a security awareness training program, you can help your staff be more prepared to defend against spear phishing along with other threats. Your staff needs to know:

  • How to identify a phishing or spear phishing attack
  • Who to report it to if they suspect they’re being targeted
  • What to do regarding keeping data safe and what action steps to take if they’ve already divulged sensitive information

Validate All Email-Based Requests

Cybercriminals use time sensitive matters to get users to act. If an email is asking for sensitive information or wanting you to act by clicking a link or downloading a file, you should take a moment and evaluate if the email is legitimate or not. Spear phishers often use scare tactics to manipulate people into sharing data. All requests should be validated through direct channels before an employee engages with the email.

Always Update Security Patches

You should systematically update security patches across your organization. This involves every app and system within your infrastructure, not just your email system. Web applications should be high on your list of priorities because a spear phishing hacker who can penetrate a web app can access information that would make a request seem very authentic.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication

With multi-factor authentication, a hacker could steal credentials and still be unable to access a system because they can’t provide the second authentication measure. For instance, suppose employees must have a token or fingerprint before accessing financial data. That could stop a hacker who’s stolen a username and password. By using multi-factor authentication, you’re able to keep your systems more secure even credentials are compromised.

Leverage an Email Filtering System

Email filtering systems can catch more attacks than anti-spam filters alone. By enabling multiple email filters, you can check the content of emails, blacklist malicious IP addresses and senders, and whitelist acceptable senders. You can also have an email filtering system open attachments in a sandbox, which is an environment you use to study the behavior of a program.

Layer Your Email Security

Your standard email security by itself may not catch enough attacks. You can layer your email security by using Managed Inbox Detection and Response. This easy-to-use technology integrates with Microsoft Outlook to allow users to report suspicious emails with just one click. Emails are validated within seconds, which lets the user know if the email is malicious or safe.

Defend Against Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is only one type of phishing that criminals use. They also try to go after senior executives, which is called whaling. Sometimes, attackers also try angler phishing, which uses social media to trick people into sharing private info. And regardless of the type of attack, many cyber thugs may also use pretexting. With pretexting, the attacker sets up an expectation for future communication. In this way, they may be able to foster trust with their target.

Are you looking for more ways to defend against phishing and spear phishing? Reach out to TPx to see how we can improve your security posture.

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