Spam email is a part of daily life on the internet. Even the best junk mail filters will still allow through certain suspicious looking messages. If an illegitimate email tries to persuade you to click a link and enter personal information, then it is classified as a phishing attack.
Phishing attackers send out email blasts to large groups of people with the messages designed to look like they come from a reputable company, such as Google, Apple, or a banking or credit card firm. The emails will typically try to warn you about an error with your account and then urge you to click a link and log in with your credentials. Doing so will bring you to an imitation website where the attacker will attempt to steal your password, social security number, or other private data.
These days phishing attacks are becoming more widespread. One of the primary reasons is because of easy access to cybercrime kits on the dark web. With the hacker community growing, internet users need to take privacy seriously and remain vigilant against spam and other threats. Read on to learn more about this trend and how to protect yourself.
Dark Web Basics
The dark web, sometimes referred to as the deep web, operates as a separate environment on the internet. Normal web browsers, like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, connect to the world wide web using the HTTP protocol. The dark web requires a special browser tool known as the TOR browser, which is fully encrypted and anonymous.
Image courtesy of Medium.com
Sites on the dark web cannot be indexed by search engines, so you’ll never stumble on that content through Google. When you connect through the TOR browser, all of your browsing traffic is sent through a global overlay network so that your location and identity cannot be tracked. Even IP addresses are masked on the dark web.
Much of what takes place in this cyber underworld is illegal or unethical in nature, and that includes the marketplaces that exist there. Think of these sites as blackmarket versions of eBay, where anonymous individuals can buy and sell illegal goods and services.
Recently, dark web markets have seen a surge in demands for cybercrime tools and utilities. Entire phishing kits are sold to buyers, which include spoofed pages that imitate real companies and full guides on how to launch an email phishing scam.
Image courtesy of Medium.com
When a spam email is sent out as part of a phishing scam, the messages are typically delivered through dark web servers that make it hard for junk filters to identify. In addition, the “From” address in the emails may look legitimate and use a valid domain like @gmail.com.
Phishing kits can be found for as less as two dollars, meaning that inexperienced hackers can launch a cybercrime effort with little funding or training. It’s interesting to note that personal data prices at the Dark Web supermarket range from a single dollar (Social Security card) to thousands (medical records).
You should be on the lookout for phishing scandals related to any company or industry, but in particular, banking and financial attacks can be the most dangerous. If a hacker gains access to your credit card numbers or online banking password, then can commit fraud or even steal your identity.
The growing popularity of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether have revolutionized the financial industry, but as a negative result of the trend, cybercriminals are now targeting these digital money systems. MyEtherWallet website, which allows users to store blockchain currency in a central location, has been victim to a number of phishing scams in recent months.
Image courtesy ofMyEtherWallet.com
Because cryptocurrencies do not operate with a central bank or financial authority, you may not know what a legitimate email alert for one looks like. Phishing messages for MyEtherWallet will usually claim that there is an issue with your cryptocurrency account, or sometimes even suggest that you have a payment pending that needs to be verified.
Clicking on the link in the phishing email will launch your web browser and navigate to a spoofed page that looks like it is part of myetherwallet.com. However, the page is actually hosted on the hacker’s network and will feed directly into their illegitimate database. If you enter your private wallet address, which is a unique string of letters and numbers, the hacker can gain access to all of the funds in your account.
Phishing attacks are a type of cybercrime that targets individuals, so it’s up to you to be on guard for these messages and react appropriately. The first line of defense against phishing is to be skeptical of all emails that enter your inbox. Dark web hackers are getting better and better at imitating real companies with their spam and spoofing pages, so you need to look closely when examining the content. Always check the full URL of the links in email messages before you click one.
If you do get tricked and end up navigating to a spoofed page in your web browser, you still have a chance to protect yourself. All browsers support secure sockets layer (SSL) functionality and will display a lock icon or a green status bar at the top of the window when a website has been confirmed as legitimate. If you navigate to a webpage from an email that does not have a valid SSL certificate, you should close the browser immediately and permanently delete the email message.
The Bottom Line
Keep this in mind. As prices for phishing kits drop and supply increases, the allure of engaging in this kind of bad behavior will be too much to resist for an increasing number of people. Expect incidents of phishing attempts will increase. The general internet-browsing public should stay on high alert at all times when navigating their email inbox. Think first, then click.
Gary Stevens is a front-end developer. He’s a full-time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor.