The Evolution of phishing: How it is becoming more sophisticated over time


The term “phishing” was first used in 1996 to describe a group of hackers impersonating AOL workers on AOL messenger to steal users’ accounts and billing details. As this was a never-seen-before tactic, many naïve users fell for this scam. Even though we’d like to think we’re too tech-savvy to fall for a phishing scam these days, the practice is still widely used and extremely successful. While internet users have become more discerning, cyber criminals have become more adept at enticing them.

Phishing has become a very prevalent and frustrating form of cyber crime. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many records have been breached by phishing attacks because no central databases currently track this activity. Still, it’s safe to say that the number is steadily increasing. However, as cyber criminals continue developing new methods for compromising their victims, so do the defences established by internet service providers.

“Social engineering remains worryingly effective” in targeting consumers, according to Verizon’s newest Data Breach Investigations Report, with over 30% of phishing communications received in 2016 opened, up from 23% in 2014. This indicates that phishing criminals are closing in on the most effective and efficient way to attack their victims.

The Evolution of Phishing & its Impact

When trying to answer the question, “What is phishing?” it’s crucial to remember that the phrase encompasses more than a single kind of attack. The objective of a phishing assault is to trick a target into giving over sensitive information. The purpose of the phishing assault is to convince the victim to comply with the attacker’s desired action, which could be any of the following:

Provide sensitive information:

Social engineering is the art of persuading an individual to reveal sensitive information. This can include divulging account and billing details, accessing sensitive data (financial information or customer lists), or otherwise providing access to secure areas of the network.

Allow Access to Sensitive Areas of the Network:

An attacker can access a system administrator’s account by posing as an authorised user. The victim can then install malicious software that gives the attacker control of the network.

Download Malicious computer programs (malware):

By sending an email with a malicious attachment, an attacker can infect the target’s computer with malware and then use that malware to perform a variety of functions. For example, the attacker could install ransomware on the victim’s computer to encrypt files and prevent access.

Change the System's Settings:

Malicious software installed on the victim’s computer can overwrite system files or alter security settings. This could allow hackers to access sensitive data or gain access to secure areas of the network.

How Can Companies Avoid Phishing?

It’s easy to become complacent about the security of your organisation’s network. Since phishing is becoming more pervasive, businesses and other organisations must ensure that their networks are adequately protected. To do so, administrators must take the following steps to avoid regularly falling victim to phishing attacks.

Deploy Anti-Phishing Penetration Tests:

An anti-phishing penetration test is an advanced security exercise that analyses a target system and identifies any vulnerabilities. Cyber criminals can develop new methods for targeting their victims without a thorough, realistic assessment of their networks.

Educate Employees & Follow Best Practice:

Companies should ensure that their employees are adequately trained in identifying and responding to phishing emails. Just as businesses must implement a training program for fire drills, they should implement an  awareness program to prepare their employees for an attack. It is also now recommended to run phishing simulations throughout your organisation – this is an effective way to help keep your team vigilant, in-the-know with the latest phishing trends, and demonstrate that the awareness training is working.

Retest Regularly:

As new phishing techniques are developed; businesses need to re-evaluate their security systems to avoid falling victim to the latest offerings of phishing technology.

Phishing is a constant threat to businesses and other organisations. While internet users are becoming more aware of the dangers associated with phishing emails, cyber criminals are developing new ways to snag victims.

To conclude, phishing is constantly evolving. Cyber criminals are always coming up with new techniques to deceive their targets. An organisation cannot afford to be complacent about its security. It should ensure its employees follow the best practices that prevent phishing from happening in the first place. Organisations must implement anti-phishing programs designed to test a network’s security systems regularly to ensure that cyber criminals are not exploiting them. 

Therefore, companies need to monitor their networks regularly. By performing anti-phishing penetration tests, implementing effective training, and putting that training to the test with phishing simulations, businesses can uncover vulnerabilities that need to be addressed and build a resilient human firewall against these cyber-criminal tactics.

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