As explored in Part 1, phishing is a social engineering attack in which attackers prey on human error and the vulnerability of users and systems in order to obtain sensitive information. There are several types of phishing attacks, each of which involves specific attack vectors and methodologies.

With the evolution of each type, the number of phishing attacks has increased. According to the FBI's Internet Crime Report 2021, phishing attacks have increased the most out of the top five cybercrimes in the United States over the past five years. The number has increased from 25,344 attacks in 2017 to 323,972 attacks in 2021.

Phishing attacks, trends, and techniques

The cyberwar between Russia and Ukraine triggered several phishing email scams where criminals collected data and cryptocurrency while claiming to gather funds for Ukraine. The United Kingdom's national cybercrime reporting center, Action Fraud, received over 196 reports of phishing emails asking people to donate to the welfare of Ukrainian citizens.

Social media has also been increasingly used for phishing attempts of late, with LinkedIn becoming a popular choice for cybercriminals. The attacker can either send a fake notification email with a link claiming to lead to a LinkedIn page or lure users using fake job offers that redirect them to forms that collect their personal information, like bank details.

A recent PSA put out by the FBI points to an increase in business email compromise (BEC) attacks where scamsters reach out to businesses or individuals and convince them to carry out funds transfers or to provide PII and financial documents. Or, in the case of cryptocurrency wallets, scammers ask for the secret phrase that can be used to hack into the wallets. According to the announcement, there has been a 65% increase in global exposed losses (both potential and actual losses) due to BEC attacks.

The Phishing as a Service (PhaaS) business model

Like the advancement of the Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) model, PhaaS has evolved into a thriving business model on the dark web. Attackers can create fake pages and leverage them to carry out phishing operations online. A recent PhaaS discovery was the application Frappo, which helps cybercriminals create and use premium phishing pages called phishlets to collect victims' information, like their IP addresses, login credentials, and user-agents.

Frappo is completely anonymous and uses a Docker container and an API to collect credentials. Threat actors don't even have to register or create an account. Once the application is configured, data about page visits, authorization, and uptime is automatically collected and visualized. Originally designed to be a cryptocurrency wallet, Frappo now facilitates the large-scale development of phishing kits.

PhaaS businesses like Frappo offer two kinds of purchase models. One model is a one-time purchase of an item called a phishing kit. Phishing kits are usually packaged ZIP files and are of two types: simple and advanced. Simple kits contain an HTML page with a form to collect victims' data as well as the required content (images, text, and multimedia) that would help it ape popular websites like Facebook. More advanced kits include features like geoblocking and antidetection elements to evade antiphishing bots and search engines.

The other purchase model customers can go for is a subscription-based model where a PhaaS operation takes care of the entire phishing campaign, or a large part of it, for the customer. This includes services like providing and deploying HTML pages and scripts (as present in phishing kits), hosting the website, and parsing and redistributing credentials.

A notorious addition to organized cybercrime, PhaaS is much like the RaaS model (previously discussed here). The first noticeable PhaaS operation was BulletProofLink, discovered by Microsoft in 2020. Many aspects of the operation, be it the services it offered, its business model, or its double extortion method, had similarities to RaaS.

Phishing and the MITRE ATT&CK® framework

ATT&CK (which stands for adversarial tactics, techniques, and common knowledge) was created in 2013 by MITRE, an American not-for-profit research organization. Designed to gauge adversary behavior in the post-compromise stages of an attack, it is a matrix consisting of various tactics and techniques.

  • Tactics are a list of possible reasons or adversarial goals for an attack. Tactics are divided into three types based on the environment in which attacks are carried out: enterprise, mobile, and industrial control systems (ICS). In 2017, MITRE released a PRE-ATT&CK framework with the intention of providing more insights into the pre-compromise stages of attacks. This included reconnaissance and resource development as pre-compromise tactics.
  • Techniques listed under each tactic are possible ways adversaries can carry out the attack. These are further divided into sub-techniques.

The image below shows a list of possible enterprise tactics and the phishing techniques and sub-techniques that can be used to carry out the tactics.

Phishing for information, Part 2: Tactics and techniques

As mentioned above, we will try to understand the intentions behind the techniques used by phishers through the MITRE ATT&CK matrix. Listed below are descriptions of the tactics, the phishing techniques used to carry them out, corresponding sub-techniques, and recommended detection strategies.

  1. Tactic: Reconnaissance

    Technique: Phishing for information

    Sub-techniques: Spear phishing service, attachment, and link

    Reconnaissance is the stage during which adversaries gather intelligence and conduct research into a target organization before initiating an attack. According to the MITRE ATT&CK framework, an adversary can use phishing for information and three of its sub-techniques to collect enterprise information during the reconnaissance stage. Here, the differentiation between phishing for information and phishing itself is that the specific objective of this attack is obtaining the victim’s information, not gaining access. The attack is carried out using spear phishing, either via third-party services or via emails that contain a malicious attachment or link.

  2. Tactic: Initial access

    Technique: Phishing

    Sub-techniques: Spear phishing attachment, link, and service

    This is when the adversary tries to enter the enterprise network and uses techniques like phishing to gain initial entry. As in the reconnaissance stage, phishing can be carried out using sub-techniques like spear phishing via emails with attachments or links and spear phishing via third-party services.

  3. Tactic: Lateral movement

    Technique: Internal spear phishing

    Here, the adversaries are already in the network, exploring it further to find vulnerable systems to exploit. The primary aim is to gain control over these vulnerable systems and use them to carry out malicious activities like escalation of privileges or credential dumping. This can be done using internal spear phishing, which involves attackers using an already compromised user's email account or credentials to send targeted spear phishing emails to other users in the network with malicious links or attachments.

Recommended detection strategies for phishing

MITRE ATT&CK recommends the following detection strategies for the phishing techniques and sub-techniques for the three mentioned tactics (reconnaissance, initial access, and lateral movement).

  • Monitor application logs: To monitor applications logs, the framework suggests that organizations use a security solution that keeps a record of emails sent and conducts offline analysis. It also recommends software that uses on-premises or API-based integrations to detect internal phishing attacks.
  • Monitor network traffic: ATT&CK proposes that enterprises should monitor network traffic and perform packet inspection to spot the execution of protocols or traffic patterns that are unusual as well as unconventional data flows or processes using the network. Organizations must employ a security solution that correlates this data with existing protocols to discover anomalous patterns.
  • Monitor file creation: The framework also suggests that organizations look out for any new files created from phishing messages. This could be the result of an adversary trying to gain access to vulnerable systems.

Defending against phishing attacks with an effective SIEM tool

Like we've seen so far, social engineering attacks like phishing require continuous monitoring of network traffic and processes to ensure early threat detection and swift incident response. As recommended by the MITRE ATT&CK framework, it is necessary to deploy a security solution that collects and analyzes application logs, regularly monitors network activity, and sends immediate SMS and email alerts in case of critical security incidents.

Here's how organizations can use Log360, our SIEM solution, to detect suspicious activity that could lead to phishing attacks:

  • Log360's Exchange Server audit reports help you stay alert to unusual mailbox login attempts or permission changes.
  • Its Exchange Server monitoring feature helps ensure the proper functioning of email connectivity protocols like SMTP, IMAP, and POP.
  • Its network device log monitoring keeps an eye on network activity and helps you block traffic from various sources through customized workflows that allow you to change inbound and outbound firewall policies for specific alerts.
  • Integrated with the MITRE ATT&CK framework, Log360 provides you with analytics to detect techniques and sub-techniques used by phishers to carry out phishing attacks to gain initial access. For example, one of the techniques detected by Log360 is suspicious activity in Microsoft Outlook's temp folder (where email attachment files are stored), which could mean a phisher is executing a process through a file in that folder.
  • Log360 also detects instances where files have double extensions (e.g., ABC.JPG.vbs). This is one of the simplest things phishers do to hide their nefarious activities.
  • Another way to gain access to victims' systems is to execute malicious PostScript code through Hangul Word Processor (HWP) files. HWP is a Korean word processor that runs PostScript, a programming language used for publishing. Older versions of HWP do not possess Encapsulated PostScript, which places restrictions on what code can be run. Phishers exploit this to enter victims' systems by running malicious PostScript code to place malware files in the system instead of the intended sub-processes. Log360's detection report on suspicious HWP sub-processes helps you tackle this threat with ease.
  • Log360's threat analytics capability uses information obtained from threat intelligence feeds to detect threats from malicious systems known for executing phishing attacks.

To learn more about how Log360 can help you detect and prevent phishing attacks, request a free demo with our product experts.

Get the latest content delivered
right to your inbox!

Thank you for subscribing.

You will receive regular updates on the latest news on cybersecurity.

  • Please enter a business email id
    By clicking on Keep me Updated you agree to processing of personal data according to the Privacy Policy.

Expert Talks


© 2021 Zoho Corporation Pvt. Ltd. All rights reserved.