Posted by Steve Fey, TCC Director of Business Development

For quite a long time now, we security folks have been educating computer user folks on how to be cautious when interacting with unsecure web sites; you know, the ones that don’t have that closed green lock in the upper left-hand of the web page address line. Those are the plain-brown-paper web sites that start out with “http://.

In a report released eleven days ago, cybercriminals have begun using two new attack vectors to fraudulently obtain personal information. The two attack vectors they employ are by either sending spoofed emails that look like they come from trusted sources (phishing) or by redirecting Internet traffic to a web site that uses that closed green lock. This tactic is known as “pharming.”

Since Cybercriminals are expanding their tactics, we have to expand our training to include cautions about interacting with web sites that do contain that closed green lock.

Historically, cyber-criminals hijacked or hacked existing websites to lure users to their compromised websites. Cybercriminals are bypassing hacking other people’s web sites and have gone to phishing attacks that are increasingly leveraging new malicious domain registrations. The Anti-Phishing Working Group (AWPG) recently released a report that detailed how malicious use of the domain name system reached an all-time high in 2016. The study showed that malicious domain registrations accounted for half of all domain names used for phishing in 2016.

How Phishing Attacks Use Domains

Authors of the report, titled “Global Phishing Survey: Trends and Domain Name Use in 2016,” suggested that the shift from hacked web servers and domains to malicious domain registration signifies phishers are becoming bolder in their activities and actions.

The AWPG report explained there were at least 255,065 unique phishing attacks globally during 2016. Of the 195,475 domains used for phishing, 95,424 domain names were maliciously registered by phishers — almost three times the total for 2015.

Domains have become a key element in the cybercriminal arsenal. Phishers set up webpages that masquerade as trustworthy brands, such as banks and e-commerce sites. Cybercriminals can then lure victims to these fake sites, and users are tricked into providing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.

The study also revealed many domains used by phishers are being aged and are not used immediately. New domains receive low reputation scores from security and antispam companies, which makes it more likely the phishing emails will be flagged before reaching intended victims. Cybercriminals evade those measures by waiting until registered domains are older and have better reputation scores.

More Tricks in the Phishing Game

Experts have long warned that cybercriminals evolve and adapt to bypass industry safeguards. For example, in May, researchers at Netcraft referred to a sharp hike — from roughly 5 percent to 15 percent — in the number of phishing sites using https:// to communicate since the start of the year.

Greg Aaron, vice president of iThreat Cyber Group and report co-author, recognized in a press release that phishers are using other tricks, such as domain shadowing, to further their schemes. Domain shadowing is when an unsuspecting company’s DNS settings are manipulated to insert multiple phishing sites onto the firm’s servers.

The shift in techniques used by phishers, such as registering domain names, using https, and manipulating DNS settings highlight how cybercrime detection is becoming harder and taking longer. The study’s authors suggested businesses take strong measures to protect their web hosting and email services. Users, meanwhile, must always be alert when they enter credentials and should pay close attention to the destination URL for any site they are using.

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