What is URL Phishing?

Oct. 14, 2020

1:00-2:00AM PST

Phishing is among the most productive and successful means for attackers to exploit victims. URL Phishing is a social engineering attack used to steal users' information such as username, password, and credit card number. It happens when a perpetrator impersonates a trusted source and tricks the victim into opening a text message, instant SMS, or email. Upon opening the message, the recipient is duped into clicking a malware link that can lead to hacking their system with a ransomware attack, installation of a virus, or revealing personal & financial information.

Phishing attacks are successful only when the person opens the link to a website and gives away sensitive information. Usually, perpetrators masquerade those links as identity confirmation or password resets. They can even replicate the entire website, so that the victim thinks it is a legitimate site.  

Phishing attacks are advancing and becoming progressively more difficult to identify. Research from Intel says that 97 percent of security experts cannot spot a phishing email from a real email. 

While experts struggle to pick out phishing emails, software has been developed to identify and trap malicious messages. Trustifi’s system helps businesses by identifying fake emails and blocking them before they ever reach the client's inbox. Trustifi is a trusted email security company protecting millions of users around the world. They provide advanced threat protection, zero data loss, and end-to-end encryption.

Example of a URL Phishing Attack

Here is a common example of a URL Phishing attack:

A person with nefarious intent distributes a fake email disguised as myuniversity.edu to university faculty members. The email content shows that the expiration date for the user's password is approaching. The message advises to renew the password within 24 hours by clicking the following link: myunviersity.edu/renewal.

If a user clicks the link, one or the other of the following things can take place:

  1. The user is redirected to a fake renewal page containing an exact copy of the real renewal page. It will ask the user to enter both existing and new passwords. The perpetrator, lurking behind that page, gains access to the original password and uses it to enter the secured university network.
  2. The user is redirected to the original password renewal page, but a malicious script activates in the background to hack the user's session cookie. Thus, it gives the attacker a backdoor to the university's restricted network.

Once the hacker is in the university’s network, they can wreak all sorts of havoc, from deleting databases, to accessing files full of information about the faculty and students, to defacing the university’s website.

URL Phishing Techniques

The following two techniques are common for URL Phishing:

  • Email Phishing – The most common type of URL Phishing. A perpetrator sends bulk emails to a significant number of users. Even if only a small percentage of the recipients react to the emails, the attacker gets a significant amount of information and money. First, the perpetrator creates a phishing email by replicating a real email from a legitimate organization. They use the same logos, typefaces, phrasing, and signatures to make the email look real. Next, the attacker adds a sense of urgency in the message to make the user act immediately, such as notifying of account expiration or even a warning that the recipient’s account may have been hacked. The hacker then creates a URL that resembles the real counterpart. To an unsuspecting user, the message, the origin of the email, and the place to which the link sends them all look legit, making the user vulnerable to attack.
  • Spear Phishing – A version of URL phishing that requires in-depth information about an organization. It allows the attacker to impersonate a trusted individual and dupe the user into clicking a fake link in a bogus email, instant message, or text message. Once the link is clicked, the victim unintentionally reveals private information to the hacker.

How to Identify URL Phishing Attacks

Both individuals and enterprises can take the necessary steps to dodge URL Phishing. Individuals can prevent it by being vigilant. A phishing message or an email often includes subtle mistakes that can reveal its true identity. Those mistakes can be simple spelling errors or slight changes in the URL link. 

Enterprises can keep themselves safe from such attacks in several ways:

  • A security-conscious enterprise should impose strict policies about password management. They should force employees to change passwords frequently and to not use the same password for multiple platforms. Still, these measures depend on the employees adhering to the policies. Humans being what they are, even the best of policies are only as good as the people who follow them. 
  • Therefore, security-savvy companies rely on Trustifi. Trustifi’s automated email security system is considered the most successful method to stop phishing attacks. It adds a verification layer to all inbound email traffic to keep the bad guys out while allowing legitimate messages through. 

Contact a Trustifi representative to learn about all the security features Trustifi offers and how affordable peace of mind can be.

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