What is whaling? Well, we started to hear about this strategy more and more. Data science has given birth to new ways of doing business around the world, directly increasing the importance of cyber awareness. Even the largest companies can be victims of serious cyber attacks. What was that famous phrase? Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer. Well, you might not have many hacker friends, but you get the main idea.
This famous saying of Sun Tzu actually contains important insights about our perspective on cyber security. If we are unaware of the forms of cyber attacks, we will not know how to defend against them. Now let’s get to know whaling, one of the most influential strategies, and increase our cyber awareness once more.
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What is whaling or whale phishing?
A cyber attack known as “whaling” occurs when a hacker uses spear phishing techniques to target a significant, high-profile target, such as the executive suite. They may have received extensive security awareness training due to their public profile, and the security team may have more stringent policies and robust tools in place to protect them.
Malicious actors are aware that executives and high-level employees (like public spokespersons) can be knowledgeable about the standard roster of spam tactics. Attackers who attempt to phish these targets are consequently forced to move beyond tried-and-true strategies to more advanced, focused ones. Now you know what to say if somebody asks you a question like “What is whaling?”
The importance of cyber awareness during a whaling attack
Now we have an answer to the question: “What is whaling?” but the importance of cyber awareness is another key subject. Whaling emails were initially no more difficult to spot than their less specific phishing competitors. However, even a watchful eye may find it challenging to distinguish sophisticated whaling communications because of the use of fluid business vocabulary, understanding of the industry, personal references, and forged email addresses.
In order to lessen the likelihood that they would be the subject of a whaling attack, executives should be aware of the combination of highly targeted content and a number of additional strategies. Importantly, all of these advancements either take advantage of already-existing trusted connections or combine cyberattacks with conventional fraud methods.
Cyber awareness can save lives since attempts at this kind of fraud are based on creating a sense of trust.
Why is it called whaling?
The scale of the attacks gave rise to the word “whaling,” and it is believed that the whales were chosen based on their status inside the organization.
Whaling attacks are typically more difficult to identify and stop than typical phishing assaults because of their highly targeted nature. Security administrators can aid the enterprise by urging corporate management employees to take information security awareness training to lessen the impact of whaling attacks.
What is the goal of whaling?
In a whaling attack, an individual is tricked into giving personal or business information through social engineering, email spoofing, and content spoofing techniques. For instance, the attackers can send the victim an email that looks like it came from a reliable source. Additionally, some whaling operations include malicious websites that have been expressly designed for the attack.
Personalized and highly personalized whaling attack emails and webpages frequently include the target’s name, job position, or other pertinent information obtained from a number of sources. It is challenging to recognize a whaling attack with this level of customization.
Attackers will email hyperlinks or attachments to their victims in order to infect them with malware or request sensitive information, which makes whaling attacks frequently rely on social engineering techniques. Attackers may also use business email compromise (BEC) methods to persuade high-value victims, particularly CEOs and other corporate officers, to authorize fraudulent wire transfers. In certain instances, the assailant poses as the CEO or another corporate executive to persuade staff members to make cash transfers.
Due to the possible large returns, attackers are ready to put more time and effort into creating these cyber attacks, which allows victims to fall for them. To make the whaling phishing assault more credible, attackers frequently use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to collect personal information about their target. Understanding the goal of whaling will increase our cyber awareness for sure.
Whaling attack examples
After understanding what is whaling, now let’s review some example incidents. The fundamental element of effective whaling campaigns in the past is comparable to successful phishing tactics: The messages seem to be so urgent and potentially disastrous that the recipient feels pressured to act right away, neglecting standard security hygiene procedures. Successful email scammers realize their target won’t be moved by a simple deadline reminder or severe email from a superior; instead, they’ll play on other anxieties, including facing legal action or having their reputation damaged.
One whaling attempt resulted in a number of executives from various industries falling for an attack that contained correct information about them and their companies, and that claimed to be from a United States District Court with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in a civil matter. When recipients clicked the link in the email to view the subpoena, they were instead infected with malware.
Why increasing our cyber awareness is really key?
A successful whaling operation against a well-known target still depends on persuading the target, typically by creating the appearance of some urgency. The recipient may be forced to perform an undesirable action, such as initiating a wire transfer to open an attachment or clicking on a link that downloads malware or directs the target to a malicious website that pretends to be a legitimate website.
The objective is to obtain sensitive information that could be valuable if sold on the black market, such as credentials that enable the attacker access to a company’s intellectual property, customer data, or other information.
Due to growing public cyber awareness of common phishing techniques, adversaries are changing their strategies by focusing their attacks and personalizing their fraudulent emails with information that would persuade the recipient of the email of their legitimacy and induce them to take action. Spear phishing is the term used to describe this highly specialized phishing method. When an attacker chooses to spear phish a significant, well-known target, it turns into whaling.
Common whaling targets have more publicly available information about them that attackers can obtain and use against them, such as media spokespersons or C-level executives. They might also have more access to internal data than the average employee due to their seniority: Using their internal logins, they can access more private data, and in some situations, they might even have some administrative rights. The risks are substantially larger, even though the number of prospective whaling targets at one business may be fairly tiny compared to the total number of employees.
What is phishing?
We understand what is whaling, but understanding phishing thoroughly is vital too. Phishing is a form of social engineering assault that is frequently employed to obtain user information, such as login credentials and credit card details. It happens when an attacker deceives a victim into opening an email, instant message, or text message by disguising themselves as a reliable source. Next, a dangerous link is deceived into being clicked by the recipient. This can cause malware to be installed on the recipient’s computer, a ransomware assault to lock it down, or the disclosure of private data.
What is spear phishing?
In a typical cyberattack known as spear phishing, the attacker narrows their aim and creates precise, targeted email messages for a single recipient or group. In order to trick and ensnare a valuable target into clicking on or downloading a malicious payload or into starting an unwanted action like a wire transfer, the attacker must conduct extensive research on their target in order to find crucial details that can lend their messages a thin veneer of plausibility.
One organization at a time, or even particular teams within one firm, may be the target of a spear phishing campaign. When spear phishing operations become even more specialized, they frequently target top managers or C-level executives with a laser focus; this type of hyper-specific phishing attack is known as “whaling.”
Standard phishing assaults, on the other hand, aim to affect as many targets as they can with the belief that some people will probably fall for the trick. Instead of aiming to phish a senior-level executive or specific organizations, these types of assaults are significantly more common and require less work and output from the potential attacker to compromise a target.
What is smishing?
After you comprehend the smishing concept, you will understand what is whaling better. This strategy, often known as SMS phishing, is a phishing cybersecurity attack carried out over mobile text messages.
In a phishing variation, victims are tricked into providing the sensitive information to an impersonated attacker. Malware or scam websites might help with SMS phishing. It happens across a wide range of mobile text messaging platforms, including some that don’t use SMS, like data-based mobile messaging apps.
Smishing is a phrase that combines “SMS” (short message services, sometimes known as texting) and “phishing,” as suggested by its description. Smishing is a form of social engineering assault that relies on taking advantage of people’s trust rather than technological weaknesses to define it further.
When hackers “phish,” they send phony emails with the intention of getting the receiver to click on a dangerous link. Smishing only substitutes text messages for emails.
These cybercriminals essentially want to steal your personal information so they can commit fraud or other crimes online. This typically entails stealing money, usually your own but occasionally also the money of your business.
How to protect ourselves from whaling attacks?
The typical advice for phishing avoidance and defense still holds true for CEOs and other possible targets of whaling: be wary of opening links or attachments in emails, as phishing attempts of any kind still require the victim to act in order to be effective.
Organizations can strengthen their defenses and inform potential whaling targets by putting into practice some best practices specifically related to whaling.
First, be aware of the information employees who interact with the public share about executives. Cyber awareness is the most vital thing because whaling emails can appear more trustworthy by using information that is simple to find online on platforms like social media, such as birthdays, hometowns, favorite hobbies, or sports.
Whaling emails may also assume legitimacy through the use of significant public events. Remind executives or spokespersons that they will be in the public eye in multiple ways during these high-profile moments, such as a significant industry conference or corporate event, and to be especially mindful of their inboxes.
Next, promote a “trust but verify” email culture throughout the company. Encourage all employees to confirm the validity of urgent or unexpected messages by contacting the sender directly (e.g., by calling or texting them), and have executives, and senior management set a good example.
Implement a phishing cyber awareness training program, especially for senior management and personnel who interact with the public, including information about emails that might contain whales. A comprehensive phishing cyber awareness program will teach key principles for preventing whaling assaults, and staff can practice those abilities in a secure environment. To keep employees’ abilities to recognize prospective phishing campaigns sharp, it’s a good idea to perform simulated whaling assaults from time to time in a safe training tool setting. The emphasis should be on learning, especially from failures.
Although many firms have top-notch protection systems and precautions in place, security breaches sometimes happen. Sadly, many data breaches have been caused by human mistakes, which has been a major contributing element.
Threat actors try to penetrate an organization’s networks and systems by taking advantage of this deficiency. This is where being knowledgeable about cybersecurity is useful.
Cyber awareness training teaches your staff how to recognize potential risks, how to prevent becoming a victim of these sneaky attacks, how hackers utilize malevolent methods, and how they might be easy targets. It equips your personnel with the necessary information and tools to recognize and report any hazards before they cause any harm.
Cybercriminals are always developing new techniques to attack security flaws and steal important data from companies. They also aim to take advantage of people’s emotions and actions. That social engineering assaults like phishing, spear phishing, whaling, business email compromise (BEC), etc., are so effective is not surprising.
Employees who have received proper training and education may see these dangers immediately, lowering the risk of cybersecurity events and assisting in the prevention of data breaches. Training in cyber awareness not only aids in thwarting threats in their tracks but also encourages a corporate culture that is centered on increased security.