Phishing: Setting Traps

Lay traps: When you’ve mastered the basics above, consider setting traps for phishers, scammers and unscrupulous marketers. Some email providers — most notably Gmail — make this especially easy. When you sign up at a site that requires an email address, think of a word or phrase that represents that site for you, and then add that with a “+” sign just to the left of the “@” sign in your email address. For example, if I were signing up at, I might give my email address as Then, I simply go back to Gmail and create a folder called “Example,” along with a new filter that sends any email addressed to that variation of my address to the Example folder. That way, if anyone other than the company I gave this custom address to starts spamming or phishing it, that may be a clue that shared my address with others (or that it got hacked, too!). I should note two caveats here. First, although this functionality is part of the email standard, not all email providers will recognize address variations like these. Also, many commercial Web sites freak out if they see anything other than numerals or letters, and may not permit the inclusion of a “+” sign in the email address field.

After Epsilon: Avoiding Phishing Scams & Malware, Krebs on Security, by Brian Krebs, 04/06/2011

Phishing: Establishing an Effective Defense

Quote 1:

…it’s unrealistic to expect every single user to avoid falling victim to the attack. User education may not be an effective preventative measure against this kind of phishing. Education can, however, be effective for encouraging users to report phishing emails. A well-designed incident response plan can help mitigate the impact of attacks.

Quote 2:

  • Defense 1 – Filter emails at the gateway. The first step stops as many malicious emails as possible from reaching users’ inboxes….

  • Defense 2 – Implement host-based controls. Host-based controls can stop phishing payloads that make it to the end user from running. Basic host-based controls include using antivirus and host-based firewalls…

  • Defense 3 – Implement outbound filtering. Outbound filtering is one of the most significant steps you can take to defend your organization’s network. With proper outbound filtering, attacks that circumvent all other controls can still be stopped…

Defending Against Phishing, Insider Threat Blog, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Security Engineering Institute (SEI), by Michael J. Albrethsen, 12/16/2016

Spear Phishing: Effective Because it’s Believable

Quote 1:

Spear phishing is targeted. The attackers did their research, usually through social engineering. They might already know your name or your hometown, your bank, or your place of employment—information easily accessed via social media profiles and postings. That bit of personalized information adds a lot of credibility to the email.

Spear-phishing emails work because they’re believable.

Quote 2:

Spear-phishing attacks are not trivial or conducted by random hackers. They are targeted at a specific person, often times by a specific group. Many publicly documented advanced persistent threat (APT) attack groups, including Operation Aurora and the recently publicized FIN4 group, used spear-phishing attacks to achieve their goals.

-Best Defense Against Spear Phishing, FIreEye

Quote 1:

Phishing emails are exploratory attacks in which criminals attempt to obtain victims’ sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information (PII) or network access credentials. These attacks open the door for further infiltration into any network the victim can access. Phishing typically involves both social engineering and technical trickery to deceive victims into opening attached files, clicking on embedded links and revealing sensitive information.

Spear phishing is more targeted. Cyber criminals who use spear-phishing tactics segment their victims, personalize the emails and impersonate specific senders. Their goal is to trick targets into clicking a link, opening an attachment or taking an unauthorized action. A phishing campaign may blanket an entire database of email addresses, but spear phishing targets specific individuals within specific organizations with a specific mission. By mining social networks for personal information about targets, an attacker can write emails that are extremely accurate and compelling. Once the target clicks on a link or opens an attachment, the attacker establishes a foothold in the network, enabling them to complete their illicit mission.

Quote 2:

A spear-phishing attack can display one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Blended or multi-vector threat. Spear phishing uses a blend of email spoofing, dynamic URLs and drive-by downloads to bypass traditional defenses.
  • Use of zero-day vulnerabilities. Advanced spearphishing attacks leverage zero-day vulnerabilities in browsers, plug-ins and desktop applications to compromise systems.
  • Multi-stage attack. The spear-phishing email is the first stage of a blended attack that involves further stages of malware outbound communications, binary downloads and data exfiltration.
  • Well-crafted email forgeries. Spear-phishing email threats usually target individuals, so they don’t bear much resemblance to the high-volume, broadcast spam that floods the Internet.

White Paper: Spear-Phishing Attacks, FIreEye