What is a Whaling Attack? The Definitive Guide

What exactly is meant by a "attack whale"?

An assault known as whaling is a specific kind of spear phishing, which is the wider category in which it is included.

It is necessary to have an understanding of what a spear phishing assault is in order for us to be able to explain what whaling is.

A phishing scam known as "spear phishing" is one that is carefully tailored to the specific needs of particular users, often found inside an organisation. A significant number of the initiatives that are designed to infiltrate a company in order to reach its personnel are complex enough to easily fool any user.

The purpose of this exercise is to recreate an email sent by a real company or a real coworker. In order to accomplish this goal, the email address will undergo several minor modifications that are difficult to tell apart from one another. It's possible to do this by exchanging the number "1" for the lowercase letter "l," the number "0" for the uppercase letter "O," and so on. These appear to be low-tech, but to a user who is only skimming the email, it may be enough to get that user to click on a link that leads to a website that collects login credentials or a malicious document that is hosted on legitimate cloud-storage spaces like Google Drive or OneDrive. Both of these scenarios are extremely dangerous.

Whaling requires an even higher level of specialisation. When a hacker engages in whaling, they pretend to be a high-level manager or executive at the victim firm (also known as "whales"). Because hackers are aware that workers are inclined to obey what the boss says, they attempt to assume the identity of an authoritative person in order to convince an employee to send money from their bank account.

The hacker will need to do a great deal of study in order to do this. In order to pull it off, the hacker has to be familiar with the workers of the company as well as the hierarchy of reporting. They need to be aware of the manner in which the CEO generally composes emails as well as the recipients of such communications. It is not impossible, despite the challenges, and it continues to pose a significant risk.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that whaling has resulted in losses to victims of up to $26 million. It has affected all fifty states and one hundred fifty nations, with fraudulent payments being routed to banks in as many as one hundred forty countries. This is an issue that affects the whole planet.

The Whaling Attacks: How Do They Work?

Hackers have accomplished a remarkable feat of research with their whale assaults. To ensure that they are believed, it is necessary for them to convey as much pertinent information as is reasonably feasible. In most cases, this information is collected from publicly available social media channels. In order to ensure that the emails are taken seriously, they will include information that only the relevant people would know. To give the impression that they are up to speed on current events, maybe they will make reference to a recent picture taken at a corporate event or bring up a status update.

The cybercriminal will spend some time crafting an email account that seems to originate from the targeted organisation. It is possible that genuine logos and email signatures will be included.

Because of the natural trust that exists between a top management or executive and their subordinates, it is very difficult for the typical worker to identify these types of behaviours. An employee who is multitasking may miss the fact that the faked email is truly harmful, provided that the spoofed email appears convincingly similar to the genuine thing.

How to Protect Yourself From Being Whaled On

You need robust anti-phishing software in order to protect yourself against whaling assaults.

Avanan's customer-specific, machine-learning social graph performs an analysis of up to a year's worth of communications and activity within hours of the first deployment of the product. Because of this, we are able to construct a reputation matrix that can detect assaults that are targeted. This gives us a per-customer context that lets us recognise when an email is genuine — and when it's the indicator of something worse. It does this by identifying aliases and partner reputations.

Even better, since our deployment is on the inside, we are able to regularly and automatically monitor changes across the business. This is made possible by the fact that we sit inline behind email. Because secure email gateways can only do this manually, it is quite simple to forget to update it when new employees are hired or when promotions are given. Because we are aware of the various sorts of emails that are considered regular and those that are not, we are able to warn you in real time on the differences.

In addition, Avanan will search through files and emails for URLs, even if they are contained in a recursive fashion, and will actively follow links in order to evaluate domain risk and do individual page analysis.

Our machine learning system does dynamic analysis of email, associating more than 300 phishing signs (and rising) in each each email message.

Avanan protects each user's inbox individually, allowing it to see and analyse all incoming and outgoing email messages. In addition, Avanan is the only firm that uses a particular AI model to analyse internal traffic, which includes signs that are pertinent to an assault that was launched from inside the organisation. Avanan is able to recognise harmful emails as phishing and stop them even while hackers enter internal accounts and transmit malicious material to workers.

Avanan is able to recognise threats and defend itself from assaults by whaling because to the information contained inside this internal environment.

Some Closing Thoughts Regarding Whaling

Even though whaling may be difficult to carry out successfully, this does not imply that it should be neglected. Together with thorough user education about the role of the human element in phishing assaults, it ought to constitute the primary component of an effective anti-phishing security solution.

The most effective method of defence against these highly-targeted and potentially catastrophic assaults is to construct a reputation model and to obtain an automated understanding of an organization's communication processes.

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