A whaling attack refers to a spear phishing attack in which cybercriminals pose as C-suite executives or other business leaders. The attack involves a sophisticated phishing email and can have severe consequences for victims and their organizations.
How does a whaling-type attack work?
Whaling attacks involve the use of phishing emails. However, these emails tend to be more advanced than standard phishing messages. This is since whaling emails typically:
- They contain personalized information. Whaling type emails usually include information about the recipient and the organization of it.
- They seem urgent. A whaling email may include terms and phrases that indicate the recipient must act quickly and respond to the sender’s message immediately.
- They are written in an easy-to-read tone and style. Whaling-type messages can resemble other messages in a recipient’s inbox.
Before a whaling attack, a cybercriminal collects information about a potential victim. The criminal may use social media or other Internet sources to learn about this person and his organization. From here, the criminal can customize his whaling-type attack.
During a whaling attack, a cybercriminal uses the power of a “whale” to gain the trust of a phishing email recipient. The hacker can pose as the top management of an organization. And the criminal does so in the hope of gaining illegal access to an organization’s sensitive data.
Generally, a cybercriminal will send a whaling-type email to one or more employees within an organization.
The hacker pretends to be a senior leader who requests information from a worker and asks him to follow specific instructions.
The worker may be asked to share sensitive information to fulfill the sender’s email request. Or the employee may be asked to unknowingly download a malicious attachment onto their device.
Sometimes, an employee is asked to transfer funds to a cybercriminal’s bank account.
If a whaling attack is successful, a cybercriminal can access a vast amount of data across an organization. Furthermore, the attack can lead to a data breach. It can even allow a cybercriminal to launch ransomware and demand a ransom to restore access to the victim’s organization’s systems and networks.
What is the difference between a whaling, phishing, and targeted phishing attack?
Whaling attacks, phishing, and spear phishing attacks can cause significant problems for organizations of all sizes and industries. With a clear understanding of these cyberattacks, you are well-equipped to protect your organization against them.
A whaling attack is a form of spear phishing. This attack targets a select group of leaders or high-level employees.
Comparatively, phishing is a general term that describes cyber-attacks in which a hacker tricks an end user into compromising data. A cybercriminal can launch a phishing attack against large groups of people. And the hacker can use phishing to attack both businesses and consumers.
Meanwhile, spear phishing is a phishing attack that spans businesses and consumers worldwide. A cybercriminal identifies potential victims and attacks them in a spear phishing attack. But unlike whaling, a cybercriminal can use spear phishing to attack any business or consumer.
How to protect yourself against whaling attacks?
Teach your employees about whaling attacks
Educate your employees about whaling attacks and the risks associated with them. This requires that you develop and implement a cybersecurity awareness training program.
This program can teach your workforce about whaling and other cyber-attacks.
Additionally, you should regularly update your cybersecurity awareness training program to ensure your workers can identify and mitigate evolving cyber threats.
Be on the lookout for suspicious emails
Encourage senior executives and employees to be vigilant for emails from unknown senders. Also, these people should review the sender’s email address.
They should also look for different font sizes in email messages and other alerts of a whaling attack. If an employee identifies whaling alerts, this person must notify their manager immediately.
Establish whaling prevention protocols
Require multiple levels of verification before responding to an email that appears to be from a senior leader. For example, an organization may require its employees to call their manager if they receive a request to share sensitive information via email.
This extra step minimizes the risk of a worker inadvertently exposing an organization’s sensitive data in a whaling attack.
Phishing Attack Statistics You Need to Know
Today’s organizations are increasingly susceptible to phishing attacks, which is reflected in the following statistics:
- Approximately 25% of all data breaches
- Involve phishing.
- Phishing was the most prevalent threat in the United States in 2020, with more than 241,000 phishing victims reported during this period.
- Nearly 20% of all employees are likely to click on a link in a phishing email; among these people, 68% enter their credentials on a phishing website.
Are you Expecting phishing attacks to slow down soon?. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for new phishing attack methods and techniques.
They seem poised to explore new ways to attack organizations through phishing, and organizations must plan accordingly.
Why do whaling attacks work, and why are they so successful?
Cybercriminals do their homework before whaling.
Organizations can invest significant time, energy, and resources to optimize their security posture. Along the same lines, cybercriminals often investigate potential victims of whaling-type attacks.
They learn as much as they can about potential victims before a cyberattack. That way, cybercriminals can tailor an attack to their victim, increasing the probability of success.
Victims of whaling attacks are urged to take immediate action.
Receiving an email from a senior executive can be exciting. At the same time, the email can blind an employee to the fact that the email’s sender is requesting access to sensitive information about her organization.
Thus, an employee may receive an email and believe that a senior executive wants them to respond instantly to her request.
This urgency can lead the worker to make a poor decision and accidentally expose her organization’s sensitive data.
Employees may believe they are immune to phishing attacks.
Phishing attacks are global problems. They happen every day, but employees can try to ignore them. In these cases, workers may be prone to opening malicious email attachments, particularly those that appear to come from senior executives within their organization.
The Bottom Line on Whaling Attacks and How to Prevent Whaling Attacks?
Whaling attacks can wreak havoc on your organization. Fortunately, your senior leaders and employees can minimize its impact with proper training.
If you want to protect yourself against whaling attacks, start with a cybersecurity awareness training program.
You can use the program to train your workforce on whaling and other forms of phishing. In addition, the program allows you to share tips and information on cyber protection and ensure that your workers can address cyber-attacks before they escalate.