Fishing for Phishers is a Full-Time Job

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By Ian Moyse, EMEA Channel Director

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We seem to take phishing attacks for granted these days, in much the same way that we’ve accepted spam as a natural, and inevitable, by-product of email. Some experts believe that one of the best solutions to thwart phishing attacks is end-user training, but I doubt training alone can be a viable solution. Can we really train every computer user to be sufficiently security literate, such that anyone can distinguish a phishing message from a genuine bank email? I doubt that it is possible, especially given how specific the details in spear phishing (phishing targeted at specific people and/or companies) attacks have become.

It used to be that thieves could satiate their hunger for evil (and money) merely through the emulation of a consumer bank or a PayPal login screen. While those low-hanging-fruit scams show no signs of abating, even following some major busts of phishing rings, we’ve seen new types of phishing attacks that wear the mask of a Web security product, persuading users to follow through on fake spam quarantine messages, or security update alerts, sometimes using the name of real vendors. It’s all very plausible.

Unfortunately, the average user is not a trained security expert—and why should he or she be? Criminals lure us into phishing and email scams in much the same way that street cons lure some people into losing their wallet at Three-card Monte. We let our curiosity get the best of us, and at times can be gullible. Like street hustlers, cybercriminals aren’t afraid to experiment with hacking our inclinations (or, as many security experts call it, social engineering). The volume of phishing attacks has increased, as have their variety and sophistication. Even security experts struggle to  identify some of the fakes.

The phishers cast their rods farther and with more efficiency than ever before. They can easily download phishing site creation tools (yes they exist) and produce convincing messages and pages. Expecting an average PC user to beat these guys without any help is tantamount to pitting an average golfer against Tiger Woods (albeit a few years ago; no offense, Tiger). The criminal’s job is to create online scams that work, and the returns on their investments are huge. Why would we expect non-criminally-minded users to be more adept at spotting scams, than scammers are at reeling in the users?

Technology has to step up its game. We need to continue to make it harder and less lucrative for online scammers to do their “jobs.” That’s really the most effective way to stop phishers from attacking our end users.


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