Microsoft Reports on the Cleverest Phishing Tactics of 2019
While for individuals it is frustrating — and threatening — how quickly cyber-criminals are evolving, for cybersecurity providers it is a matter of amused contemplation. Studying cases upon cases of successful cyber-attacks helps security providers reverse engineer tactics of the hackers to provide countermeasures preemptively. In that vein, as the year draws to a close, Microsoft has released some of the cleverest phishing tactics it encountered in 2019, in a comprehensive report. If you’re an organization interested in strengthening your online security arsenal, stick around; some of these tactics may help you gain a better understanding of the techniques used by phishers.
1.1 Messing with Search Results
The internet has become a live creature now, having an existence of its own. As such, search engines appreciate keywords and inter-linking as it helps them crawl the entire www space. A lot of hackers simply misused this fact. Here’s how Search Results were shown to be hijacked:
- Crooks divert web traffic from legitimate sites to their maleficent, bogus websites.
- The domains go on to become the top Google search result for very specific terms. The attackers achieve this by using garbled words like “hOJo55XatrCPy.” as target keywords.
- Phishers send emails to victims linking the Google search result for that specific term
- If the victim clicks the Google link, and then the top result, they’d land on an attacker -controlled website
- This website would then redirect the user to a phishing page, provided you were in the locality targeted by the attackers.
1.2 404 Not Found
Attackers used custom, malicious phishing URLs for broken or dead links (non-existent pages). When Microsoft’s own security mechanisms scan the link, they receive a 404-error back (because the link points to a non-existent resource). Microsoft would deem the link safe.
However, if a real user accessed the URL, the phishing site would detect the user and redirect them to an actual phishing page instead of the server’s standard 404 error page. Subdomain-generating code bytes helped attackers generate practically unlimited phishing URLs.
1.3 Man In The Middle
Microsoft details its experience with a MitM Server which was used as a phishing tool. In Microsoft’s own words:
“One particular phishing campaign in 2019 took impersonation to the next level. Instead of attackers copying elements from the spoofed legitimate website, a man-in-the-middle component captured company-specific information like logos, banners, text, and background images from Microsoft’s rendering site. […] The result was the exact same experience as the legitimate sign-in page, which could significantly reduce suspicion.”
However, this dummy page creation tactic came with a drawback that alerted most cyber-aware internet users: the hyperlink. The page URL isn’t legitimately Microsoft’s, but instead reveals the address location of the phishing site. Just goes to show how a little knowledge can save someone from becoming a victim.
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