When the internet went live for the first time in August 1991, it didn't make a lot of sense to most people. It was seen as a network of static pages and was associated with "geeks" like Steve Jobs.
Fast forward to today, it's now an integral part of everything we do. Thanks to it, life is simpler as we can make transactions, book flights and even shop groceries without moving an inch.
While there's no denying it opened a floodgate of convenience, it also brought a wave of cyber crimes such as spear phishing. Unfortunately, the more we advance into the future, the more sophisticated and prevalent crimes such as spear phishing become, and the easier it becomes for one to fall, victim.
But, what exactly is spear phishing, and why should you worry? Find out below.
What is Spear Phishing?
Spear phishing is one of the most rampant forms of cyber-attacks. It accounts for 90% of all data breaches. It refers to the act of sending emails to specific or well-researched targets to steal sensitive information or to install malware on the target's computer.
To achieve this, the hacker normally poses as a trusted individual, sends a spoofed email, and tricks the target into clicking a malicious link. Once they do, the target automatically allows the perpetrator access to their system, enabling them to commit their heinous acts.
It's vital to note that there's a difference between phishing and spear phishing. Phishing is when the perpetrator sends a batch of emails to different people with hopes of tricking any individuals who fall for the bait. Spear phishing, on the other hand, involves well-researched targets. This means that before the hacker sends the email, they take time to research the target.
In other words, a spear-phishing attack is more personalized as it involves the perpetrator finding a suitable target, and then doing a thorough background check on them before they initiate the attack.
When the target is an individual, perpetrators will often use social media sites such as twitter and Facebook. They'll look for details of who they interact with more frequently and any other information that might deem relevant to their goal.
If the target is a company or organization, they often use the company's website and social media sites such as LinkedIn to gain first-hand info on the entity's technology and insight on other essential details.
Why Small Business, Particularly, Law Firms are a Spear Phishing Haven for Hackers
As noted, spear phishing is a highly targeted form of cyber-crime, which makes the perpetrators behind them the champions of cybercrime. In the past, spear-phishing attacks were mainly associated with large companies and high-profile executives.
However, the script is slowly changing, and they are now targeting small businesses more. When you consider the reasons, it's not hard to see why.
For instance, frequent attacks on high profile corporations mean that big businesses are now careful when it comes to data protection and are using more sophisticated measures. Hence making it hard for hackers to penetrate their systems.
Additionally, most small business owners tend to associate spear phishing with larger businesses. Therefore, they are often complacent about data security and rarely implement the proper measures to protect themselves. This, coupled with the fact that the bigger corporations are a tough nut to crack, makes small organizations the ideal targets for spear phishing criminals.
In recent years, for instance, small and medium-sized law firms have been frequent victims of spear phishing for several reasons. First, it's because cyber criminals understand that, much like other small to medium-sized businesses, most law firms don't have the necessary infrastructure to protect them from attacks. Additionally, they receive hundreds of emails every day from new clients. Thereby, it's relatively easy for a hacker to pose as a new client and send a phishing email.
Another reason law firms are a target for cyber criminals is because lawyers handle a lot of sensitive data. Law firms are a gem for hackers. Why? They hold a lot of sensitive legal information on their clients, which, if leaked, will tarnish both the reputation of the client and the firm. Therefore, hackers take advantage of this by threatening to leak the information to the public. In most cases, they threaten both the client and the law firm, which means even more money for them.
How to Protect Your Small or Medium-Sized Law Firm from Spear Phishing
By now, you know that spear phishing is not the regular underwater hunt and that even startups are not safe. Law firms, as mentioned, are at an even higher risk of becoming victims. It's therefore vital you take the right measures to protect yourself such as the ones highlighted below.
Most of the time, spear-phishing attacks happen because employees don't have a good understanding that something as simple, and as routine, as opening an email and clicking a link could welcome trouble. Therefore, you must educate and train your employees on how to recognize such emails.
Look For Phishing Warning Signs
While these cyber criminals are sophisticated and research their targets carefully, they aren't immune to mistakes. These mistakes can be key warning signs and signals to the attorney that the email should not be trusted. Be alert to signs of fraud in electronic communications such as: grammatical errors, unfamiliar writing style or tone, unusual timing of such requests, unwarranted sense of urgency, suspicious attachments or links, asking for personal information including passwords.
Hover, Don't Click
The goal of a phishing attack is to entice the recipient to click on a malicious link or download an attachment. It is a good rule of thumb to never download an attachment or click on a link by an email address you don't recognize. But, what if you are on the fence about the validity of the email you received? When in doubt, hover over the url. At the bottom left hand corner of your screen, you should be able to view the complete url and determine if the URL is safe or not.
Invest in Threat Intelligence Solutions
While awareness training is essential, it's not enough to protect your firm. Hackers come up with new ways to trick targets every day. In spear phishing, to be precise, they go the extra mile to find out more information about you or your business. This means they send highly personalized emails that even the most trained employee would fall prey to easily. Therefore, you must deploy solutions that will help your employees, partners, and even you, recognize a spear-phishing email.
Understanding what spear phishing is and how to protect your law firm is the first major step in keeping your firm safe from cyber criminals. While knowing the basics is important, being able to recognize phishing in action is crucial. Can you spot the key warning signs of a spear phishing scheme?