Whale phishing: What is it, and what do you need to know to avoid falling for it?

Most businesses are familiar with phishing as a tactic that cybercriminals use to gain access to networks and sensitive data. However, you may not have heard about whale phishing. This is a unique type of phishing wherein high-profile employees, like c-suite executives, are targeted in an attempt to steal sensitive information.

Much of the time, the goal of whale phishing is to manipulate targets into facilitating high dollar wire transfers. Because of how specific these types of campaigns are, they can be harder to detect by cybersecurity protocols and protections. Every small business needs protection from cybercrime, and there are many ways to deploy cybersecurity best practices in your organization.

The threat is real as phishing attacks continue to rise and impact businesses of all sizes. So, why are whale phishing attacks much more dangerous? Let’s look at how they work.

How whale phishing attacks work

As with any kind of phishing, the goal is to trick the receiver of the email. Cybercriminals have become very sophisticated and often use tactics like social engineering and email spoofing to make the message seem legitimate.

The recipient could receive an email that appears to be from a trusted source. Maybe it’s a follow up from a conference they just attended, or a message from a hotel where they recently stayed. 

What makes whaling attacks more refined than typical phishing attacks is that they are highly customized and personalized.

They may even incorporate the target’s name, job title, or other personal information. With this level of detail, they can be much harder to detect. In fact, many IT professionals find them a top security threat with 56% of IT decision-makers saying targeted phishing attacks were their biggest concern. Every small business wants to promote good tech habits in the workplace, but how can you best defend against whale phishing attacks?

How to defend against whale phishing attacks

One of the most important aspects of preventing whale phishing is educating potential targets. They should be wary of clicking any links or downloading any attachments sent via email, even if they appear legitimate. And if the sender is unknown, then for sure, hover above those links before clicking!

There are several best practices and IT security tips that companies can initiate as well. First, you should encourage your high-profile executives to be aware of what they share on social media. Details of an executive’s professional life are fairly easy for cybercriminals to find. This is especially true when they are part of events that gain much publicity. Remind them that any emails they get regarding these events should be carefully investigated to ensure their validity.

Next, you should create a culture based on verification. All employees should scrutinize the messages they receive. They should seek to verify the validity of these messages. When executives champion this, it becomes a habit for all employees.

You should also establish a phishing awareness training program with content that is specifically targeted to leadership. This training should provide real-life scenarios that they may encounter. Your program should be multifaceted and offer attendees the chance to put the skills they’ve learned to the test.

Whale phishing will continue to be a lucrative business for cybercriminals, so don’t delay in training and educating your executives. Need help getting started or have other cybersecurity concerns? Turn to the experts at 3Points, a Chicago IT support company that’s helped many small businesses put up their best defense to cybercrime. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.