What is Trap Phishing? (And How To Stop It)

There's a stealthy type of phishing attack on the rise known as trap phishing, which tricks users into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment by impersonating a familiar entity, such as a trusted organization or colleague. A successful trap phishing email attack can have severe consequences for individuals and organizations.

Cybercriminals can gain access to sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial data, and personal intel, which can be used for identity theft, fraud, or other malicious purposes. This article will define trap phishing in greater detail, describe an example of a real-life attack, and provide the best practices to prevent a scheme from impacting your business.

Phishing vs. Trap Phishing

Cybercriminals use phishing as an intelligence-gathering tool to trick users into clicking on a malicious link or downloading an attachment. It is one of the most significant cyber threats modern organizations face. In 2021, researchers found that 83% of organizations experienced a successful phishing email attack. 

Phishing is an attack in which a cybercriminal sends fraudulent emails or text messages purporting to come from trusted sources (like banks and social media platforms). The messages include links viewers are encouraged to click on, leading them to fake websites that mimic real ones. Once on these websites, users are often required to enter sensitive data (such as login credentials or credit card numbers), which the attacker then steals for themselves. Phishing email attacks can use social engineering techniques as well in order to trick their victims into divulging this sensitive data.

Trap phishing is a more sophisticated type of phishing attack that involves creating a fake website designed to look similar to one with legitimate intent. An attacker then relies on URL phishing, waiting for users to try accessing this legitimate website but mistyping the URL or clicking on a malicious link, redirecting them instead to the trap phishing site where they're asked for login credentials or sensitive data - the attacker then uses this data against them to steal identity or commit fraud. Trap phishing can be harder to detect than traditional forms as users don't actively seek out this type of threat.

How Does A Trap Phishing Attack Happen?

Cybercriminals utilize trap phishing as a technique to trick users into downloading or clicking on a link to malware. The first step involves sending general emails, phone calls, and messages to the public; it's common for individual organizations to be targeted.

After these types of threats have been sent out, the attacker waits for a user to respond, which can be through clicking on phishing links, downloading an attachment, or giving out personal information. 

Consequences vary upon responding to a phishing email attack. The attacker could use the provided intel to steal money/information or even sell it to a third party. They can also take control of your system by installing malware on your device. 

Cybercriminals use different types of trap phishing to trick users into downloading or clicking on a link to malware. Types to be aware of include:

  • Content Injection: Content injection is a type of smishing scam that entails embedding harmful code, such as malware ransomware, into the content of a genuine website. This implies that the text and images visible on the web page remain unaltered. However, when the user clicks on the link, they are redirected to the scammer's website instead of the intended website.
  • CEO Fraud: Business Email Compromise (BEC), also known as CEO fraud or whaling, is a type of phishing attack that specifically aims at high-ranking executives in companies. The phishing starts with a hacker creating a malicious email account that looks similar to a CEO's email address. The hacker sends an email to an employee that seems important (often including a sense of urgency). When the employee opens the email and opens the included link/attachment, it directs them to the hacker's malicious website, which the attacker can control. Now, the hacker has access to company resources and possibly confidential information. With compromised business email addresses, attackers can use these resources to steal money, information, etc.
  • Spear Phishing: This type of phishing attack is highly targeted and personalized. The attacker researches the target and creates a fake email or website that appears to come from a trusted source, such as a colleague or friend. These spear phishing emails or websites contain links that, when clicked, download malware onto the user's device.
  • Vishing: Vishing, short for voice phishing, is a phishing attack involving using the telephone system instead of email to contact victims. The aim of vishing is to deceive people into divulging private information such as passwords, account numbers, or credit card details. The scammers achieve this by posing as authorized representatives of legitimate companies. Vishing attack phone calls can take various forms, such as impersonating legitimate companies such as banks and retailers or pretending to be from government agencies like the IRS or police departments.

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How Can I Prevent An Attack?

While phishing prevention sounds like it can be difficult, one of the first steps is awareness. Prevention also depends on the types of phishing attacks your company could be experiencing. Here are some tips to ensure trap phishing protection:

  • Be cautious when clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources. It is important to verify the authenticity of the sender and the content before clicking on any links or downloading any attachments.
  • Keep your software and security systems up-to-date. This can help detect and prevent trap phishing attacks by identifying and blocking suspicious activity and new email leaks.
  • Use multi-factor authentication. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring two or more forms of identification, such as a verification code sent to your phone, before granting access to your account, making certain you have a secure web email.
  • Use anti-phishing software. This type of software can help detect and block phishing emails and websites before they can cause harm.
  • Educate yourself and your employees. Knowing the latest techniques used by cybercriminals can help you identify and avoid trap phishing attacks.
  • Safeguard against human error with a comprehensive cloud email security solution that protects Microsoft and Gmail against the most targeted and sophisticated phishing scams. 

Marketing Automation Platform Suffers Multiple Attacks Within Months of Each Other 

Earlier this month, Mailchimp encountered a new data breach that resulted in the loss of a client. The breach came from a trap phishing attack that targeted Mailchimp users involved in cryptocurrency. The attackers employed advanced phishing and social engineering techniques to gain unauthorized access to 214 Mailchimp accounts. In the course of the attack, the threat actors used password reset methods to compromise DigitalOcean accounts. Although some customer passwords were successfully changed, the trap phishing attack was thwarted by two-factor authentication, which prevented the attackers from gaining further access.

In situations like these, it is incredibly valuable to identify a trap phishing email attack so that you can make the best choice possible to avoid being hacked and ensure phishing prevention as you move forward.

Keep Learning About Trap Phishing And Stay Alert

Trap phishing is a serious threat that requires constant vigilance and attention. If a phishing campaign isn't stopped quickly, it can have a lasting impact on your organization. Providing your staff with training, having the right protocols, and staying informed and alert online can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to an attack. 

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