A whaling attack involves cybercriminals impersonating a high-level employee to demand payment or classified information. They often rely on digital communication methods like email or office texting to gain the trust of their victims.
This makes them more dangerous than traditional phishing attacks and can lead to disastrous outcomes, including data breaches and lost revenue. Here are some ways you can prevent whaling attacks in your organization.
Invest in Security Awareness Training
Whaling attacks are highly personalized emails that can include personal references and even spoofed email addresses to appear more convincing. They are often targeted at executives and senior-level employees to entice them to wire funds, provide credentials, or send sensitive company information.
Unlike the average phishing attack, which is more generic and easier to detect, whaling attacks take advantage of a high-profile target’s public presence, social media profiles, Linkedin, or other professional online networks to gather as much information as possible about their targets. This includes birthdays, anniversaries, hometowns, hobbies, and personal details that can make the email more authentic. High-profile events, such as company conferences or significant industry public appearances, can also lend credibility to a whaling attack.
As the sophistication of whaling attacks continues to increase, companies need to invest in security awareness training to educate their staff on recognizing the warning signs and not falling prey to these phishing attempts. In addition to providing a clear understanding of the risks, security teams should employ multistep verification processes that require the approval of multiple individuals before any financial transactions or requests for confidential information can be made. This can help prevent the most sophisticated whaling attacks from being successful. An award-winning digital security solution helps protect against phishing and other malicious content.
Implement a Four-Eye Policy
In addition to phishing, whaling attacks leverage social engineering and pretexting. To gain a victim’s trust, hackers impersonate company managers and executives to appear as credible senders. They may also use a sense of urgency or veiled threats in the message to encourage victims to comply with their requests. This tactic has doubled in popularity over the past couple of years, with the median amount stolen from these attacks now topping $50,000.
High-level targets are especially susceptible to these scams as they have more decision-making authority and trust within their company. They also have a wealth of personal information online, which makes it easy for cybercriminals to make their emails appear more authentic. This is especially true when the attackers mimic an executive’s name, job title, or other details from their company website.
Organizations should implement a multistep verification process to avoid costly cyberattacks for any money or confidential data requests. This will help decrease the likelihood of a breach at the last line of defense, typically an employee’s inbox. In addition, they should implement a culture of trust and verification, encouraging employees to check the authenticity of urgent or unexpected requests through another method of communication. For example, an employee could call the sender directly to confirm the request or contact a trusted colleague to verify the email’s validity.
Don’t Fall Prey to a Manufactured Urgency
Like most phishing attacks, whaling relies on a false sense of urgency to coerce victims to take an action they usually wouldn’t have. This could include responding to a spoofed email or clicking on an infected link or attachment that deposits malware onto the device. Once the device is compromised, hackers can steal credentials and access critical data that could be sold on black markets for profit.
High-profile targets, such as executives and media spokespersons, are common whaling victims because they typically have more information publicly available online. This makes them easier to impersonate. Additionally, they usually have more internal data access than other employees.
Now, how to prevent whaling attacks? The first step in protecting against whaling attacks is promoting a culture of trust and verification. It’s vital to remind all employees to verify any urgent messages they receive through other means of communication, such as talking with the sender or calling them. It is essential to train employees to recognize a spoof email and what steps to take if they suspect it is not legitimate.
It’s also crucial to implement security protocols that require two people to approve any significant financial transaction, regardless of who the request is coming from. This can help reduce the risk of whaling attacks by ensuring that the right individuals are involved in reviewing and approving a payment or wire transfer.
Require Two People to Authorize Financial Transactions
Whaling attacks are a subset of phishing in which hackers impersonate a high-level company member. The goal is to entice their target to wire money or give up credentials while leveraging the individual’s authority and trust inside the organization.
These attacks usually involve requests for money or data, often accompanied by a false sense of urgency to prompt immediate action. Executives and employees need to recognize these emails and follow proper security protocols like only communicating with known colleagues through email or office text, verifying all financial transactions over a separate channel, and avoiding unsolicited attachments.
It’s typically relatively easy to impersonate a high-level executive because there is a wealth of personal information on them available on the Internet. This makes it even more critical for top executives to keep their private data as private as possible on social media.
Adding two-factor authentication for all logins can prevent whaling attacks from stealing employee passwords and accessing accounts. This simple measure can significantly decrease the likelihood of an attack.
As cybercriminals evolve tactics, companies must adopt proactive measures to protect themselves. Investing in education, training, and the proper cybersecurity protocols can make it much harder for attackers to achieve their goals. It’s essential to ensure that all employees know the dangers of whaling attacks so they don’t become targets themselves.