In case you are feeling like the only one under constant cyber attack, Microsoft has recently admitted that the Syrian Electronic Army has successfully hacked some of its employee email accounts, apparently in pursuit of documents pertaining to ongoing law enforcement surveillance requests. As is typical with these types of breaches, Microsoft has yet to determine if any customer data was exposed, and so far is saying very little in that regard. This comes on the heels of it’s the Microsoft Office blog being defaced only days prior, as well as successful attacks on high-profile Twitter accounts and blogs used by other Microsoft divisions.
What this means for you:
The Microsoft employees who were hacked were compromised through nothing more sophisticated than the ole “phishing” tactic. In case you still don’t know what that is, I’ll describe it in brief:
- You receive a legitimate-looking email, warning that your account at a popular service has been compromised, or your password has been reset, or that some other urgent action is required. Other popular phishing tactics include packages (or money) awaiting delivery, important faxes being held, etc.
- The email directs the recipient to a website that may be designed to look legitimate, but is not. The hacker owns that website, and any data typed into it.
- In all cases, the hacker is trying to get the recipient to volunteer specific information about themselves, usually things like user IDs, passwords, Social Security numbers, addresses, anything that could be used to compromise and possibly steal your ID.
- On top of tricking you into entering your important data, the website will often attempt to install other malware on your computer, resulting in severe infections and further data theft if it’s not caught quickly. This can even happen if don’t enter any information on the website. Visiting that first page is often all it takes to get a bad malware infection.
If you haven’t figured out why it’s called “phishing”, the hackers are the fishermen, the email is the bait (and hook), and you are the fish. “Spear phishing” is when specific groups of recipients are targeted (as was probaby the case with the Microsoft incident above), and “whaling” is when high-profile executives or critical employees are specifically targeted with carefully crafted emails tailored for the individual coupled with other social engineering tactics to lend legitimacy to the attack. And don’t think that you are immune to whaling attacks just because you aren’t a high-powered executive. Analysts are even now investigating possible AI-generated whaling attacks that being generated based upon information gathered on the internet from sites like Facebook and Linkedin, making it harder and harder to spot the fakes in your email.