Ransomware attacks can be incredibly expensive and business email compromise (BEC) scams can result in transfers of millions of dollars to attackers, but these breaches often start with an email.

Phishing emails are sent to employees that ask them to click on a link, which directs them to a webpage where they are asked to provide their login credentials, for Microsoft 365 for example. Once credentials are entered, they are captured and used to access that individual’s account. The employee is often unaware that anything untoward has happened.

The stolen credentials give an attacker the foothold in the network that is needed to launch a major cyberattack on the business. The phisher may use the email account to send further phishing emails to other employees in the company, with the aim being to gain access to the credentials of an individual with administrative privileges or the credentials of an executive.

An executive’s account can be used to send emails to an individual in the company responsible for making wire transfers. A request is sent for a wire transfer to be made and the transfer request is often not recognized as fraudulent until the funds have been transferred and withdrawn from the attacker’s account. These BEC scams often result in tens of thousands of dollars – or even millions – being transferred.

An alternative attack involves compromising the email accounts of employees and sending requests to payroll to have direct deposit information changed. Salaries are then transferred into attacker-controlled accounts.

Phishers may act as affiliates for ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) gangs and use the access they gain through phishing to compromise other parts of the network, steal data, and then deploy ransomware, or they may simply sell the network access to ransomware gangs.

When email accounts are compromised, they can be used to attack vendors, customers, and other contacts. From a single compromised email account, the damage caused is considerable and often far reaching. Data breaches often cost millions of dollars to mitigate. All this from a single response to a phishing email.

Phishing campaigns require very little skill to conduct and require next to no capital investment. The ease at which phishing attacks can be conducted and the potential profits that can be gained from attacks make this attack method very attractive for cybercriminals. Phishing can be used to attack small businesses with poor cybersecurity defenses, but it is often just as effective when attacking large enterprises with sophisticated perimeter defenses. This is why phishing has long been one of the most common ways that cybercriminals attack businesses.

How to Deal with the Phishing Threat

Phishing attacks may lead to the costliest data breaches, but they are one of the easiest types of cyberattacks to prevent; however, some investment in cybersecurity and training is required. The most important first step is to purchase an advanced spam filter. This technical control is essential for preventing phishing emails from reaching end users’ inboxes. If the phishing emails do not arrive in an inbox, they cannot be clicked by an employee.

Not all spam filtering solutions are created equal. Basic spam filters are effective at blocking most threats, but some phishing emails will still be delivered to inboxes. Bear in mind that phishers are constantly changing tactics and are trying to get one step ahead of cybersecurity firms. Most spam filtering solutions will block messages from malicious IP addresses and IP addresses with poor reputations, along with any messages identified in previous phishing campaigns and messages containing known variants of malware.

Advanced spam filtering solutions use AI and machine learning techniques to identify messages that deviate from the normal emails a business typically receives, are able to detect previously unseen phishing emails, and incorporate Sender Policy Framework and DMARC to identify email impersonation attacks. Sandboxing is also included which is used to identify previously unseen malware threats. Greylisting is a feature of advanced spam filters that involves initially rejecting a message and requesting it be resent. The delay in a response, if one is received at all, indicates the mail server is most likely being used for spamming. Spam servers are usually too busy on huge spam runs to resend messages that have initially been rejected.

Advanced spam filters also feature outbound email scanning, which can identify compromised email accounts and can block phishing messages from being sent internally or externally from a hacked mailbox.

SpamTitan incorporates all of these advanced controls, which is why it is capable of blocking more threats than basic spam filters. Independent tests have shown SpamTitan blocks in excess of 99.97% of malicious messages.

Don’t Neglect End User Training

No spam filter will be 100% effective at blocking phishing threats, at least not without also blocking an unacceptable number of genuine emails. It is therefore important to provide regular security awareness training to the workforce, with a strong emphasis on phishing. Employees need to be taught how to identify a phishing email and conditioned how to respond when a threat is received (alert their security team).

Since phishing tactics are constantly changing, regular training is required. When training is reinforced, it is easier to develop a security culture and regular training sessions will raise awareness of the latest phishing threats. It is also recommended to conduct phishing simulation exercises to test the effectiveness of the training program and to identify individuals who require further training.

Web Filtering is an Important Anti-Phishing Control

The key to blocking phishing attacks is to adopt a defense-in-depth approach. That means implementing multiple overlapping layers of security. One important additional layer is a web filtering solution. Spam filters target the phishing emails, whereas web filters work by blocking access to the webpages hosting the phishing kits that harvest credentials. With a spam filter and web filter implemented, you are tackling phishing from different angles and will improve your defenses.

A web filter will block access to known malicious websites, providing time-of-click protection against malicious hyperlinks in phishing emails. A web filter will also prevent employees from being redirected to phishing web pages from malicious website adverts when browsing the Internet. Web filters also analyze the content of web pages and will block access to malicious web content that has not previously been identified as malicious. Web filters will also block malware and ransomware downloads.

WebTitan is a highly effective DNS-based web filtering solution that protects against phishing, malware, and ransomware attacks. The solution can protect office workers but also employees who are working remotely.

Speak to TitanHQ Today About Improving your Phishing Defenses

TitanHQ has been developing anti-phishing and anti-malware solutions for more than two decades. TitanHQ’s email and web security solutions are cost effective, flexible, easy to implement, and easy to maintain. They are consistently given top marks on software review sites and are a big hit with IT security professionals and managed service providers (MSPs). TitanHQ is the leading provider of email and web security solutions to MSPs serving the SMB market.

If you want to improve your phishing defenses and block more threats, contact the TitanHQ team today for further information on SpamTitan and WebTitan. Both solutions are available on a 100% free trial of the full product complete with product support. Product demonstrations can also be booked on request.