Phishing Attacks Continue—What is a Whaling Attack?

Ransomware, phishing, and the obnoxious viruses that plague businesses are constantly on the news, and for good reason. The average data breach can cost a small to medium-sized business more than $25,000, so the risk is very high.

You may have heard of a certain virus called a “whaling attack”, but are not sure exactly what it means or if you need to be worried about it. 

If so, you’ve come to the right place, because we’re going to cover all you need to know about whaling attacks and how to protect your business from falling victim to this type of phishing.

How to Recognize a Whaling Attack

A whaling attack, also called whaling phishing or a whaling phishing attack, is a variety of phishing. Hackers carry out a phishing attack when they obtain sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or Social Security numbers by disguising themself as something trustworthy, such as an email from a large company like the IRS. 

The email will often look like it’s from a legitimate source, but upon closer inspection, you might find some grammatical errors or off-putting things in the sender’s address. Whaling attacks are much more sophisticated than regular phishing scams, making them much harder to spot.

Their Target

Whaling targets high-level executives and other individuals within an organization who may have access to sensitive information. The target of the attacks gives the virus its name—the executives or business owners are the “whales” of the company. Because these people are harder to reach and more “valuable” than the average employee because of their access to sensitive information, they make much bigger targets.

What Happens in an Attack

These attacks are well-planned and executed, and can be very difficult to detect. Whaling attacks often use very sophisticated social engineering techniques to lure victims into clicking on malicious links or opening attachments.

The attackers may impersonate a trusted individual or organization, and almost always use email or instant messaging to contact victims. They may also create fake websites that look identical to legitimate websites, in order to trick victims into entering their login credentials.

Once the attacker has gained access to the victim’s account or other crucial information, they may use it to send out more phishing emails or instant messages to other individuals within the organization. They may also attempt to access sensitive information such as financial records or customer data. In many whaling attacks, the goal is to get the victim to authorize high-value wire transfers to the attacker.

What Makes Them Different

Whaling attacks are different from the average phishing scam because they’re highly personalized. Because of the potentially high returns, attackers will spend more time fine-tuning the attack to look legitimate. A lot of our data is available for free online, so it’s not difficult for a hacker to find an executive’s name, email address, and a little information about them before setting up the whaling attack.

The Impact

Whaling attacks lead to loss of data, financial loss, and damage to the organization’s reputation. That’s not to mention the downtime that it takes to get your systems back online and to overhaul your security system. It’s so important for individuals and organizations to be aware of these attacks and take steps to protect themselves.

How to Prevent Whaling Attacks

Don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer number of cyberattacks out there! You can only do your best and educate yourself on cybersecurity best practices. Here are a few things that you can do to help protect yourself from whaling attacks:

1. Be suspicious of unsolicited emails, even if they appear to come from a trusted source. If you are not expecting an email from someone, do not open any attachments. If you’re able, contact the person that the email looks like it came from to confirm that it’s real.

2. Be wary of links and attachments. Do not click on any links or attachments in emails unless you are absolutely sure that they are safe.

3. Be aware of fake websites that may be created for phishing attacks. If you are unsure about a website, do not enter any login credentials or personal information. Check to make sure the web address has “https://” and not just “http://”, because the ‘s’ means that it’s a secure website.

4. Keep your software and security systems up to date. This will help to protect against new types of attacks.

5. Train your staff on phishing attacks and how to protect against them. If you’re unsure about your ability or the ability of your IT team to educate your staff, find training online or reach out to a managed service provider.

Bottom Line

Whaling attacks are tricky and sophisticated, so don’t try to battle them on your own. If you are worried that your business may be at risk for a whaling attack or any other type of cyberattack, contact our experts at AIS for a cybersecurity consultation. We can help you to assess your risk and put the necessary protections in place to keep your data safe.

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