How To Sync Outlook Emails More Than 3 Months Old Avoid The Pointy End Of Executive Spear Phishing Attacks

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Avoid The Pointy End Of Executive Spear Phishing Attacks

Organized crime is zeroing in on medium and large-sized businesses using a well-honed attack that can penetrate most corporate defenses. Called “spear phishing” it involves targeting one or two individuals in the company and then sending them well-crafted e-mails with links or document attachments that then download malware into the company. The number of attacks is increasing dramatically.

In March, MessageLabs Ltd. said it had intercepted 716 messages from 249 attacks last month targeting 216 customers. MessageLabs says this compares to two a day on average last year and two attacks a week two years ago.

The attack method usually uses MS Office documents, but can also involve links to fake websites that look real. One attack focused on the new executive of a large company for whom a press release had been written.

The executive received an e-mail allegedly from the company’s travel agency asking him to click on a link and access the agency’s website where he would provide his personal profile for approval. The executive clicked on the link and found the website that contained all kinds of personal information about him (which had been discovered from the internet). The executive then clicked a button to synchronize his Outlook mail calendar with the travel agency. The executive did not know that this was a website run by criminals and that he had just downloaded malware into his company.

Other attacks use realistic MS Office document attachments that, when opened, silently load malware into the enterprise or, if the computer crashes and when restarted, the malware sneaks into the enterprise.

What can companies do to protect their managers and themselves from this form of attack? Use heuristic intrusion detection systems and train your managers.

Companies should use new software that does not rely on malware signatures for verification. This is how most common antivirus products work. They have a list of “bad guys” for which the code is recognized as malware. The incoming code is then mapped against the list. If it is not there, the code is passed. This no longer works.

Criminals change their code so quickly that there can be thousands of variations on malware produced every day. Therefore, heuristic technology has come into play that sees the effects that the malware is trying to do on the company’s systems. Still in its infancy, this is the future for malware detection. But it doesn’t work all the time.

The challenge of relying solely on intrusion detection systems is that malware can often escape their notice. Criminals develop new malware every day that is designed to slip under the intrusion detection radar screen. Some types of rootkits and other attacks are not collected by this technology. So while companies should use this as the first line of defense, they shouldn’t rely on it 100%.

This is where training comes in. 77% of malware attacks start with users clicking on a link or opening a document attachment in unexpected messages. Educate your executives not to click on links in unexpected documents or open email attachments, even if the email appears to be from a fellow executive, then the company’s risk can be mitigated.

A new free 3-minute malware awareness training program, “Training in a Flash,” offers just that. It is played in more than 90% of the world’s browsers using Adobe Flash. In just 3 minutes, users can be quickly educated to avoid phishing and pharming attacks.

Bottom line for businesses:

1. Make sure you are using an up-to-date intrusion detection system with heuristics.

2. Train your executives to “think before you click”.

If you don’t, you could end up on the receiving end of a successful spear phishing attack.

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