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As businesses worldwide are growing by the day, more whaling phishing attacks have been recorded nowadays than ever. These attacks are different from traditional phishing attacks, and they select a specific target. But what are they, and what should you do to minimize your chances of becoming a victim? This article will give you all the crucial information you need and prepare you for any unwanted accidents.

What is Whaling Phishing?

To understand whaling phishing, you need to familiarize yourself with the concept of phishing. This type of cyber-attack uses SMS, emails, or other messaging services to trick the victim into sending sensitive information to the criminal, thinking they’re a legitimate source. These attacks can lead to a company member giving off identity information or losing your money to a scammer.

There is also spear-phishing, which targets specific individuals and uses targeted information, so it sounds like it’s coming from someone the target knows (e.g., a co-worker or a family member).

In layman’s terms, whaling is spear-phishing where the cyber attacker targets a high-position target. This can either be a senior position in a company like a CEO, finance manager, or co-worker among the high ranks. Whaling phishing is also known as CEO fraud, and it usually results in a company losing money, sensitive information, or access to its computer systems.

Whaling Phishing Examples

To give you a better idea and picture of what whaling phishing is, check out some of the best examples of this cyberattack type:

  • Snapchat CEO email scam – In 2016, the payroll department of Snapchat received a whaling email that seemed as if it was coming from the CEO. The email asked for employee payroll information, but luckily the Snapchat team responded quickly, and the incident was reported to the FBI.
  • Mattel $3 million scam – The Barbie and Hot Wheels toymaker fell victim to a Phishing attack that almost cost them $3 million. The company’s finance executive received a phishing email that seemed to be coming from the CEO, in which they demanded a $3 mil transfer.
  • Austrian aerospace $50 million loss – In 2016, the CEO of an Austrian aerospace company, FAAC, lost the company $50 million by falling victim to a whaling attack.

As you can see, the threat is very real and can lead to companies facing financial disasters. A whaling phishing attack can be devastating if not taken care of in advance.

How To Recognize a Whaling Attack

A whaling attack is 10x harder to recognize than your typical phishing attempt because the cybercriminal will usually invest more time and effort into the scam to make everything look legitimate. Because they target CEOs and other high-ranking positions, a whaling attack will usually contain a:

  • The sender’s email doesn’t match the domain of the company the email claims to be from. The attackers will usually replace easily misread words that contain letters such as ‘m’, ‘n,’ ‘i’, ‘l,’ etc.
  • Request to share sensitive information or transfer money from one account to another.
  • A sense of urgency encourages the recipient to act quickly and to whatever they’re told in the email as fast as possible.
  • Hint or a threat of consequences if the action stated in the email isn’t performed immediately.
  • Spelling or formatting errors, which you wouldn’t expect the sender to make. These can either be grammatical errors or inconsistencies in the sender’s language.

How To Protect Yourself Against Whaling Phishing Attacks

To protect yourself against whaling phishing attacks, you need to:

  • Educate your employees – Educating your employees, especially executives, is the first step you want to take care of if you want to protect yourself against whaling. Most people think whaling is easy to spot, which isn’t the case. Educate your executives on detecting whaling, setting up strong passwords, distinguishing emails from legitimate sources, etc.
  • Train your employees – Once you educate your employees, you should put their knowledge to the test. Simulate a whaling phishing attack, see how your employees act, and learn from their mistakes.
  • Flag emails outside your network – Flagging emails is a simple yet effective way of protecting yourself against whaling. The difference in email names can only be in one letter, but this one letter can be detrimental to your company.
  • Set up whaling prevention protocols – Whaling prevention protocols include verifying requests for sensitive information through other means of communication, such as phone calls. Having an appointed person to sign off email requests is also a solid way of ensuring no important emails get answered without supervision.
  • Invest in data loss prevention software – DLP software blocks protocol violations that you put in place and flags emails for you based on the name or age of the domain. With DLP, you can also flag emails that have suspicious keywords in them. Although an efficient way of preventing phishing attacks, you shouldn’t use this method alone.
  • Have your employees make their media profiles private – If your employees have their LinkedIn and Instagram accounts private, scammers will have a harder time finding them and getting their personal information. Although it may seem like a small measure to take against whaling, cyber attacks often use social media to get information from executives and other top-ranking positions.
  • Partner up with an MSP – Partnering up with an MSP (Managed Service Provider) will ensure you have constant remote IT support, and your systems will be under 24/7/365 supervision. Companies that provide these services, can react proactively and prevent whaling phishing attempts in advance by setting up proper security habits and security systems.

Closing Word

Even though whaling phishing attempts are getting more popular and common, you shouldn’t worry about them if you take the right actions to prevent them. There are more ways you can go about this problem, but if you still aren’t sure how to tackle it, feel free to contact one of our experts. We’ll tell you everything you need to know to ensure your company doesn’t fall victim to a whaling phishing attack and save your company from a potential catastrophe.

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About the author

Slobodan Krsmanovic, the CEO of TechProComp, brings over 25 years of deep-rooted experience in the IT industry. As the author driving our insightful posts, Slobodan embodies a steadfast commitment to client-centric service, fostering respectful and secure collaborations across all business scales.

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