Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers Work to Counter Spear Phishing Attacks

11.01.2013
The email resembled the organization’s own employee e-newsletter and asked recipients to visit a website to confirm that they wanted to continue receiving the newsletter.

Another email carried an attachment it said contained the marketing plan the recipient had requested at a recent conference. A third email bearing a colleague’s name suggested a useful website to visit.

None of these emails were what they pretended to be. The first directed victims to a website that asked for personal information, including the user’s password. The second included a virus launched when the “marketing plan” was opened. The third directed users to a website that attempted to install a malicious program.

All three are examples of what information security experts at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) say is the most challenging threat facing corporate networks today: “spear phishing.”

Generic emails asking employees to open malicious attachments, provide confidential information or follow links to infected websites have been around for a long time. What’s new today is that the authors of these emails are now targeting their attacks using specific knowledge about employees and the organizations they work for. The inside knowledge used in these spear phishing attacks gains the trust of recipients.

“Spear phishing is the most popular way to get into a corporate network these days,” said Andrew Howard, a GTRI research scientist who heads up the organization’s malware unit. “Because the malware authors now have some information about the people they are sending these to, they are more likely to get a response. When they know something about you, they can dramatically increase their odds.”

The success of spear phishing attacks depends on finding the weakest link in a corporate network. That weakest link can be just one person who falls for an authentic-looking email.

“Organizations can spend millions and millions of dollars to protect their networks, but all it takes is one carefully-crafted email to let someone into it,” Howard said. “It’s very difficult to put technical controls into place to prevent humans from making a mistake. To keep these attacks out, email users have to do the right thing every single time.”

Howard and other GTRI researchers are now working to help email recipients by taking advantage of the same public information the malware authors use to con their victims. Much of that information comes from social media sites that both companies and malware authors find helpful. Other information may be found in Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, or even on an organization’s own website.

“There are lots of open sources of information that will increase the chances of eliciting a response in spear phishing,” Howard said. “We are looking at a way to warn users based on this information. We’d like to see email systems smart enough to let users know that information contained in a suspect message is from an open source and suggest they be cautious.”

Other techniques to counter the attacks may come from having access to all the traffic entering a corporate network.

To increase their chance of success, criminals attempting to access a corporate network often target more than one person in an organization. Network security tools could use information about similar spear phishing attempts to warn other members of an organization. And by having access to all email, security systems could learn what’s “normal” for each individual – and recognize unusual email that may be suspicious.

“We are looking at building behavioral patterns for users so we’d know what kinds of email they usually receive. When something comes in that’s suspicious, we could warn the user,” Howard said. “We think the real answer is to keep malicious email from ever getting into a user’s in-box, but that is a much more difficult problem.”

It’s difficult because organizations today depend on receiving, opening and responding to email from customers. Deleting or even delaying emails can have a high business cost.

“What we do requires a careful balance of protecting the user, but allowing the user to get his or her job done,” he said. “Like any security challenge we have to balance that.”

These and other strategies will be part of Phalanx, a new product being developed by GTRI researchers to protect corporate networks from spear phishing. It will be part of Titan, a dynamic framework for malicious software analysis that GTRI launched last spring.

Among the challenges ahead are developing natural language algorithms that can quickly separate potential spear phishing attacks from harmless emails. That could be done by searching for language indicating a request such as “open this attachment” or “verify your password.”

GTRI researchers been gaining experience with corporate networks based on security evaluations they’ve done, and work with GTRI’s own network – which receives millions of emails each day. Fortunately, they say, it’s not just the bad guys who are learning more.

“The chief financial officers of companies now understand the financial impacts of spear phishing, and whey they join forces with the chief information officers, there will be an urgency to address this problem,” he added. “Until then, users are the front line defense. We need every user to have a little paranoia about email.”

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0181
Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986)(jtoon@gatech.edu)
Writer: John Toon

John Toon | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.gatech.edu

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Goodbye, login. Hello, heart scan
26.09.2017 | University at Buffalo

nachricht Stable magnetic bit of three atoms
21.09.2017 | Sonderforschungsbereich 668

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The fastest light-driven current source

Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.

Graphene is up to the job

Im Focus: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nerves control the body’s bacterial community

26.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Four elements make 2-D optical platform

26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Goodbye, login. Hello, heart scan

26.09.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>