Whaling is a specialized phishing attack that focuses on high-ranking targets in the corporate industry. Employees in C-level chief executive positions are the main victims of these attacks. However, other senior executives can also be targeted. Ensuring upper management doesn’t fall prey to such attacks is crucial to the security of your organization.
Whaling activities target significant funds, so they’re likely to earmark their victim’s company rather than their private accounts. The primary objective of this tactic is to get the individual to release sensitive information about themselves or their organization. Some effective ways of preventing whaling attacks include:
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Training and awareness
Creating awareness about the potential dangers of whaling attacks is crucial in getting the message across. All social media accounts should have privacy settings that deny access to the public. Executives should also be trained on the verification protocols applied to any sensitive activities. Any emails identified as potential whaling attacks should be immediately reported and cataloged to prevent phishing attacks from the same source.
The most effective way to protect your senior executives against whaling attacks is to train them to maintain their online privacy. Ensuring their account settings don’t allow unhindered access to everyone is essential. Changing these settings isn’t complicated and, in most cases, isn’t done because people don’t think about it. Sending frequent reminders about the importance of maintaining this privacy can encourage executives to act on the information.
Investing in data loss prevention (DLP) software
DLP software is a program designed to ensure that an organization’s sensitive software is not lost or accessed by unauthorized sources. The software classifies data into varying levels of security according to the nature of the content involved. Primary categories can include controlled, confidential, and critical operational data. The software highlights potential violations of company data according to regulatory cyber security compliances like HIPAA, GDPR, and PCI DSS.
The primary actions taken by DLP software include monitoring system endpoint activities, implementing control measures on these endpoints where necessary, filtering corporate data streams, and regulating the access of data in motion. The primary objective is to ensure users don’t maliciously or accidentally share sensitive information that could represent an organizational risk. DLP programs can either alert users on the dangers of their actions or encrypt an active data stream.
Applying effective verification protocols
Whaling attacks are based on potential victims rendering access to an attacker through clicking on malicious links or providing sensitive data. The fact that these emails look so legitimate means that even the most experienced employees can fall victim to such ploys. Applying verification protocols for critical content and activities ensures personnel can’t be tricked into providing access to unauthorized sources.
Some effective verification protocols can include the addition of a phone call to confirm sensitive requests. These phone calls should be made by the receiver of an email request and not the sender. Requiring employees to sign off on a physical document before submitting a sensitive request is another good way to identify false communications.
Setting up external email warning messages
Flagging emails that come from outside your organization’s network can help employees identify potential spoof emails. This is especially effective with companies that implement a hybrid work model. Employees working from home and are connected to the organization’s network need an effective means of ensuring they don’t confuse spoof emails for being legitimate. In most cases, some addresses might look familiar and could be hard to catch without the help of monitoring software.
Companies using an Office 365 subscription can easily set up email warning messages. You can set up these configurations using the transport rule, which is a set of mail flow regulations that establish specific conditions for sent and delivered emails. Emails from unrecognized sources, for example, can be flagged, and any attachments should be restricted until official authentication protocols are fulfilled. The Gmail external badge feature can also identify emails sent from outside the organization.
Report all potential attacks to regulatory bodies
Whaling attacks are illegal, and any potential attacks should be immediately reported to the proper regulatory bodies for further action. Reducing the number of these cyber-attacks can only be achieved if organizations collaborate with these authorities to bring attackers to justice. Some of the laws related to whaling and other spoofing attacks include the Dodd-Frank Act, Section 747, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (Exchange Act), Sections 10(b) and 9(a)(2), and Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), Section 4c(a)(5)(C).
The primary regulatory bodies concerned with whaling attacks include the Department of Justice (DOJ), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Depending on the nature of the attack, a whaling attack can be classified as a civil or criminal offense. Civil cases are primarily brought by the CFTC, while criminal cases are handled by the DOJ. Any cases should be brought forward with sufficient proof to ensure a successful trial.
Identify potential targets beforehand
The specific targeting methods implemented with whaling attacks can be used to an organization’s advantage when it comes to prevention and preparation. All senior executives should be taken through extra training and made aware that they’re likely to be the targets of such schemes.
Training all employees is necessary as other phishing attacks target lower-level workers. However, it’s especially important to focus on members of upper management when dealing with whaling attacks. Anyone with access to sensitive information should also be given special attention when implementing training programs.
Enhancing the network security for potential targets can strengthen the overall safety of sensitive information. Conducting regular scans on CEO and managerial computers, for instance, can ensure no users have potentially downloaded malicious software that can represent a threat to the network’s organization.
Keeping tabs on new tactics being implemented by current whaling schemes allows the organization to develop new safety protocols that can address these new strategies. Potential whaling attacks should also be highlighted by the organization to give executives a firsthand glance at the risk involved.