‘Spear phishing’: scam uses sophisticated methods to bypass detection

2011-02-24 00:00

FIN24 recently reported that in the last couple of months, e-mail scams exploiting South African bank account holders have more than tripled since the start of 2010.

Earlier this year, Carte Blanche reported on an evolved version of e-mail scams namely “spear phishing”, featuring an American cyber crime expert, Brian Krebs, who explained the modus operandi of spear phishing in America.

Unfortunately spear phishing is not restricted to America. It is very active in South Africa and even closer to home in KwaZulu-Natal.

Carte Blanche further reported that the South African banking ombudsman, Advocate Clive Pillay, has handled over 700 cases involving spear phishing in 2010.

Unlike random e-mail scams easily identified by their use of templates containing misspelled words, spear phishing targets specific groups of people or organisations with personalised content.

We analysed a number of spear phishing e-mails and found that it employs more sophisticated methods to bypass detection.

In the past we have been educated to ensure that an online banking website address starts with “HTTPS”; there is a padlock visible at the bottom right hand of your Internet browser.

However, with spear phishing we noticed that the e-mail scam usually informs you that a deposit of funds requires your attention; you are redirected to a website that is an exact clone of your bank’s online webpage; the website address starts with HTTPS; there is a padlock visible at the bottom right hand of your Internet browser.

The cloned website will allow you to log in to your bank account while intercepting everything you type during the login process, including your one-time pin (OTP).

By now you are wondering how to avoid becoming a victim, especially since you access your e-mail account via your cellphone.

Take note of the fact that a bank will never redirect you to verify a deposit and that the cloned website address won’t match that of your bank’s official website address.

Also note that the padlock visible at the bottom right-hand of your Internet browser will have an exclamation (!) mark over it that indicates the cloned website is not digitally signed and should therefore not be trusted.

We as consumers need to take more responsibility in ensuring our safety and not rely solely on banks to protect us against cyber-attacks.

For more information call KPMG at 033 347 7600.

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