While the majority of phishing attempts are conducted via email, there has been a significant rise in the use of other communications platforms such messaging services, with WhatsApp phishing scams now increasing in popularity amongst phishers.
WhatsApp phishing attacks are common for two main reasons. First is the sheer number of people that are on the platform. In January 2018, the number of monthly users of WhatsApp worldwide reached 1.5 billion, up from 1 billion users six months previously. Secondly, is the lack of anti-phishing measures to prevent malicious messages from being delivered.
Many businesses have implemented spam filtering solutions such as SpamTitan, while personal users are benefiting by significant improvements to spam filtering on webmail services such as Gmail. Spam filtering solutions are highly effective at identifying phishing emails and other malicious messages and send them to the spam folder rather than delivering them to inboxes.
Messaging services often lack spam filtering controls. Therefore, malicious messages have a much greater chance of being delivered. Various tactics are used to entice recipients to click the links in the messages, usually an offer of a free gift, an exceptionally good special offer on a product – the new iPhone for instance – or a money off voucher or gift card is offered.
The messages contain a link that directs the recipient to the phishing website. The link usually contains a preview of the website, so even if a shortlink is used for the URL, the recipient can see some information about the site. A logo may be displayed along with the page title. That makes it much more likely that the link will be clicked.
Further, the message often comes from a known individual – A person in the user’s WhatsApp contact list. When a known individual vouches for the site, the probability of the link being clicked is much greater.
To add further legitimacy to the WhatsApp phishing scams, the websites often contact fake comments from social media sites confirming that a gift card has been won or a reward has been received. Some of those comments are positive, and some are neutral, as you would expect from a real prize draw where not everyone is a winner.
The websites used in WhatsApp phishing scams often use HTTPS, which show a green tick next to the URL to show that the site is ‘secure.’ Even though the green tick is no guarantee of the legitimacy of a site, many people believe the green tick means the site is genuine.
Gift cards are often given out for taking part in legitimate surveys, so the offer of either a gift card or entry into a free draw is not out of the ordinary. In return, the visitor to the site is required to answer some standard questions and provide information that would allow them to be contacted – their name, address, phone number, and email address for instance.
The information gathered through these sites is then used for further phishing attempts via email, telephone, or snail mail which aim to obtain even more personal information. After completing the questions, the website may claim that the user has one, which requires entry of bank account information or credit card details… in order for prize money to be paid or for confirmation of age.
These WhatsApp phishing scams often have another component which helps to spread the messages much more efficiently to other potential victims. Before any individual can claim their free prize or even submit their details for a prize draw, they must first agree to share the offer with some of their WhatsApp contacts.
If you receive an unsolicited link from a contact that offers a free gift or money-off voucher, there is a high chance it may not be genuine and is a WhatsApp phishing scam. If an offer seems too good to be true, it most likely is.