Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Cybercrime is increasingly targeting mobile devices and is constantly evolving. On social networks and through our personal contacts we increasingly receive scam attempts disguised as simple invitations. From the reports and press releases of the postal police we can see how in recent years the cases of Smishing have been increasing , which every year cause substantial economic damage to companies and individuals for hundreds of thousands of euros.
What is Smishing
With the term “ Phishing “, we refer to all those fraudulent activities carried out by hackers with the purpose of deceiving an individual. Other purposes may be to steal sensitive information and use it to commit tax crimes.
Smishing differs from Phishing due to the use of SMS as a contact tool. The name comes from SMS and phishing .
This type of attack usually takes place by exploiting the naivety of the victim , inducing him to download self-installing malware or inviting him to fill out forms with his personal information. These malware disguise themselves as common applications, so as not to make the victim suspicious. In the event that the user releases information within these applications, the data entered will be automatically sent to the hacker, who can use them at will.
Similarities to phishing
Other types of Smishing, however, involve sending text messages apparently coming from our bank , from a credit organization, from a company or from an individual we know, which we trust. Usually these messages contain reports of suspected suspicious movements or problems with accessing banking services. By exploiting the trust that an individual places in a bank, the hacker leads his victim to a site bogus web.
In fact, the text of the message, in addition to containing an alarming message for the victim, also contains at least one link that redirects the victim to a fraudulent site.
We have also seen this type of site in phishing attacks , and they are specially created by the hacker with the hope that the request for sensitive data is completed. This can be in the form of a bank login form, very similar to the original one.
Then, various things can be done with the collected data. They could be resold, used to blackmail the victim or to steal other accounts that use the same username and password combination. The latter is why passwords should be unique and not shared with various services.
How to defend yourself
To defend against smishing attacks, it is not necessary to adopt sophisticated defense techniques.
Since these are scams, they could easily be avoided by ignoring the content of the fraudulent messages. In fact, this type of attack, in order to work, requires interaction from the victim . Without user interaction, it is impossible to implement this type of cyber attack.
Detect Smishing Attempts.
Here are some types of suspicious messages or situations to watch out for and to assess where they come from:
– Urgent Safety Alerts , messages promising free money or prizes, offers or gifts. These are all alarm bells. Most likely it is an attempted scam. Leveraging a sense of urgency is typical of these attacks. A similar technique is used in marketing to rush the customer into buying.
– Financial institutions or merchants never use SMS to ask their customers to update their personal account information . Most importantly, they never ask for sensitive information, such as credit card numbers.
An SMS that contains this kind of request is probably a Smishing attempt. Furthermore, in case of doubts, you can contact your bank for explanations regarding the request, in order to ascertain whether it is actually a Smishing attempt or not.
– Avoid clicking on links in a message if you are not sure that the SMS really comes from a trusted source.
– Pay particular attention to telephone numbers that seem suspicious. These numbers are often linked to tools that have the functionality of sending SMS directly from a mailbox. Scammers use this system to avoid providing their phone number.
– Never store login credentials, bank details, or sensitive personal information on your smartphone . If this foresight is used, it will be impossible for a hacker to obtain this data, even if he were to use malware.
Never save anything on a device, it is always advisable to use traditional storage systems, such as pen and paper or our dear and old memory. Alternatively, use a password management service like Bitwarden .
– Always stay calm , even if the message text contains threats or deadlines. Never take the bait.
– Report smishing attack attempts to the Postal Police. By reporting these scams you can prevent other people from falling into the same scam.
As we have seen in this article, scam attempts are constantly growing. Fortunately, however, in our support there are institutions that constantly investigate, blocking those responsible for these scams. We always remember to always be careful whenever you provide personal information. We must always check that the source to which we are entrusting our data is reliable.
When it comes to a business, however, we recommend that you consider a service to provide the right tools for employees to fight smishing or phishing. Our ethical phishing service can help pinpoint what corporate vulnerabilities are. In addition, we organize ad hoc training based on test results to help employees recognize phishing and smishing attempts.
To find out more about how our ethical phishing service could help your business, do not hesitate to contact us, we will be happy to answer any questions.
Tempo di lettura stimato: 9 minutes
There was a dramatic 1160% increase in malicious PDF files in 2019-2020. It went from 411,800 malicious files to 5,224,056. PDF files are an enticing vector of phishing as they are cross-platform and allow attackers to engage more users, making their scam schemes more credible than a text email with a simple link.
To lure users to click on links and buttons embedded in phishing PDF files, there are five main schemes used by attackers: Fake Captcha, Coupon, Play Button, File Sharing and E-commerce.
Data collected from the platform WildFire by Palo Alto Networks was used to analyze the trends . A subset of phishing PDF samples were collected throughout 2020 on a weekly basis. Over 5 million cases of phishing with PDF were analyzed for 2020 alone and the increase in the incidence compared to the total number of documents sent rose by 1160%.
In particular: in 2019 the total number of files analyzed was 4.5 billion, of which about 411 thousand were found to be malware (0.009%). In 2020, following the analysis of over 6.7 billion documents, 5.2 million were found to be phishing vectors with PDF (0.08%).
Phishing with PDF, the most commonly analyzed methods
Five major phishing schemes have been identified from the dataset and will now briefly analyze them in order of distribution. It is important to keep in mind that files used in PDF phishing attacks often act as a secondary step and work together with their carrier (for example, an email or article containing them).
1. Fake CAPTCHA
PDF files Fake CAPTCHA , as the name suggests, require users to verify themselves through a fake CAPTCHA . CAPTCHAs are challenge-response tests that help determine whether a user is human or not.
However, the observed PDF phishing cases do not use a real CAPTCHA, but an image depicting a CAPTCHA test . As soon as users try to “verify” by clicking the continue button, they are taken to a website controlled by the attacker.
The figure below shows an example of a PDF file with a fake CAPTCHA embedded, which is just a clickable image.
The second category identified are coupon themed phishing PDF files and often used the logo of a major oil company .
A significant amount of these files were in Russian with notes like “ПОЛУЧИТЬ 50% СКИДКУ” and “ЖМИТЕ НА КАРТИНКУ” which translate to “get 50% off” and “click on the picture” respectively. The figure below shows an example of these types of phishing PDF files:
Similar to other campaigns seen in the past, these PDF phishers have also taken advantage of traffic redirection for the reasons mentioned above . Analyzing several of them, it was found that they use two traffic redirectors. The figure below shows the chain of a sample:
The entry website took us to another website (
track [.] backtoblack.xyz ), on which another redirect was set.
Eventually, you are directed to an adult dating site through a GET request with some parameters filled in such as
click_id , which can be used for page monetization. All these redirects occurred through HTTP 302 redirect messages. Research showed that the
offer_id parameter of
backtoblack [.] Xyz controls which site the user ends up on .
3. Static image with a play button
These PDF phishing scams don’t necessarily carry a specific message, as they are mostly static images with a video play button superimposed, so they look like videos you need to start.
Although different categories of images were observed, a significant part of them used nudity or specific economic / monetary themes as the subject such as Bitcoin, stock charts and the like to lure users to click on the play button.
The image below shows a PDF file with a Bitcoin logo and a clickable play button.
By clicking the play button, as you can guess, you are redirected to another website. In most of the tests carried out, the redirect pointed to
https: // gerl-s [.] online /? s1 = ptt1 .
From the domain name, one could assume that the site is also in the realm of online dating. However, at the time of this writing, the site has been removed. Unlike the previous campaign, there was only one redirect involved , and it was noted that all redirects had the following format:
id-6-alphanumeric-characters [dot] sed followed by a main domain, similar to those listed below:
http://pn9yozq[.]sed.notifyafriend.com/ http://l8cag6n[.]sed.theangeltones.com/ http://9ltnsan[.]sed.roxannearian.com/ http://wnj0e4l[.]sed.ventasdirectas.com/ http://x6pd3rd[.]sed.ojjdp.com/ http://ik92b69[.]sed.chingandchang.com/
4. Sharing files
This category of PDF phishing uses popular online file sharing services to grab the user’s attention . They often inform the user that someone has shared a document with them. However, for reasons that may vary from one PDF file to another, the user cannot see the content and apparently has to click on an embedded button or link . The image above shows a PDF with a Dropbox logo asking the user to click on the button to request access.
Below, similarly, an image of a PDF file with a OneDrive logo, prompts the user to click on “Access Document” to view the contents of the file.
As the number of cloud-based file sharing services grows, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this theme grow and continue to be among the most popular approaches.
Clicking the “ Access Document ” button takes you to a login page with an Atlassian logo, as shown below. There are two options to use for logging in: Microsoft email or other email services.
Atlassian Stack is geared towards business, so we assume this campaign was aimed at business users. Each of these links has been designed to resemble a legitimate email login page.
For example, “ Continue with Microsoft ” takes you to a page that looks somewhat similar to the one you come across upon entering the legitimate https://login.live.com , as shown below:
After entering an email address, we proceed to another page that asks us to enter our password.
It was observed that the stolen credentials were sent to the attacker’s server through parameters in a GET request.
After entering your credentials, you are returned to the first login page.
We would like to point out that, when we visited this site, it was already reported as phishing by major browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
However, during the research, we proceeded to test the whole path with fake credentials to further investigate and investigate the method of phishing with PDF.
Embedding e-commerce themes in emails and phishing documents with PDF is not a new trend. However, there has been an upward trend in the number of fraudulent PDF files that have used brands of international e-commerce to induce users to click on embedded links.
The image below shows an example of a PDF phishing scam that notifies the user that their credit card is no longer valid and that they must “ update their payment information ” in order not to interrupt. the benefits of Amazon Prime .
Similarly, another image below shows a document that informs the user that their Apple ID account will be suspended if they do not click on the link to update their information.
At the time of analyzing the data for the purposes of this article, all websites in this specific PDF phishing campaign have been deleted. It is worth noting that most of these e-commerce themed files used
https: //t.umblr [.] Com / for redirection purposes.
We’ve covered the most common PDF phishing campaigns of 2020 along with their distribution and general functioning. Data from recent years shows that the amount of phishing attacks continues to increase and social engineering is the main vector for attackers to take advantage of users.
Previous research has shown that large-scale phishing can have a click-through rate of up to 8% . Therefore, it is important to double-check and double-check files that you receive unexpectedly, even if they come from an organization you know and trust.
For example, why was your account blocked out of thin air, or why did someone share a file with you when you least expected it?
It is with a critical eye and thinking before acting that you are best protected against phishing campaigns of any kind. We have seen several times how damaging phishing attacks can be that hit , so we recommend that you evaluate our ethical phishing service for your company’s employees.
Through ethical phishing campaigns we will be able to test employees and retrieve important data that will then be used to design and carry out specific training tailored to the people involved.
To find out more, contact us, we will be happy to answer any questions.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Successful phishing attacks are increasing rapidly and so is the variety of forms they come in. Today I want to bring a couple of examples of phishing reported in the last period on the Italian territory by the CSIRT ( Computer Security Incident Response Team ).
Millions of users around the world are put at risk every day, statistically, one every 30 seconds. Cybercriminals are evolving and so are their techniques.
But it’s not just the traditional phishing scam that is catching on, but spear phishing and CEO fraud now also offer a much more damaging reach to the enterprise. For businesses, a successful attack could mean millions of dollars in damage.
Since it is known that users, even corporate users, tend to be lazy and do not manage their passwords effectively, even a phishing campaign aimed at individuals could provide useful credentials to later target corporate accounts. For this reason, one of the most effective defenses is the training of users, who, knowing the danger, can avoid it altogether.
Why does phishing work?
Before giving concrete examples of phishing that took place in Italy, it is interesting to understand why it is a technique that works so well. According to a white paper from Ostermann Research in 2017, phishing is the main concern of security teams.
There are 5 main reasons, identified by Ostermann Research, why phishing is still a real danger.
1. Lack of awareness
Undoubtedly, the predominant reason is the lack of “ security awareness “. More specifically, the lack of training on issues such as phishing and ransomware are the main reasons for the success of these attacks.
2. Need for more information
The use and notoriety of the Dark Web have lowered the commercial value of stolen data. The price of a credit card record dropped from $ 25 in 2011 to $ 6 in 2016 , which means that cybercriminals have had to adapt their attention to new ways to earn the amount of money they did in the past.
3. Lack of adequate protection
Companies are not doing enough to reduce the risks associated with phishing. There is a lack of proper backup processes, as well as an inability to identify weaker users who need further training.
In addition, there is a lack of strong control processes, such as double confirmation for every bank transfer request. Neglecting these protocols means putting yourself directly in the hands of some of the most common fraudulent techniques.
4. Ease of finding tools
The availability of phishing kits and the rise of ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) gave would-be hackers an easy opportunity to enter the market and compete with sophisticated criminal organizations.
The most troubling part of this growing trend is that even people with little or no computer experience are reaping the benefits of these easy-to-obtain tools.
5. Attacks leverage people’s weak points
As we have seen with social engineering , leveraging some factors can lower people’s guards . Alternatively, you aim for a sense of urgency to ensure that the necessary checks are not carried out before taking action. At other times it is guilt or shame that are used as a weapon to request money directly, as in the case of ransomware .
Among the examples of phishing that we will see shortly, I believe that the main factors for which they succeed are ignorance of IT (security) and feelings of guilt or urgency transmitted in the messages used in attacks.
Examples of 2021 phishing on Italian territory
“Eni gas and electricity reimbursement”
This campaign, reported in March 2021 , uses as a pretext a fake reimbursement from ENI Gas e Luce in order to steal personal data and banking information from the victims. The promise of a refund and seemingly legitimate web pages are key elements of the attack.
The following personal data are requested: name, surname, date of birth, social security number and telephone number. In addition, the following are also required: credit card type, number, expiration date and security code.
The victim reaches the phishing page by following a link to
After entering the credentials in the form, two screens appear. A summary and a confirmation. Note that the SMS / OTP confirmation method is mentioned in the summary screen but is not required of the victim. Finally, you are directed to the real ENI website.
To defend yourself, always pay attention to the URLs of the pages you visit. These often contain elements of obvious wrongdoing. For example the
ru extension of the pages.
Bank Account Phishing Example (N26)
At the end of March 2021, a campaign affecting the customers of the N26 online bank was reported. Through SMS and email, users are asked for personal data, personal information (telephone number and social security number ) and the OTP code and the unique access token of the credit card.
Through a landing page very similar to that of N26, you are asked to log in to the service. The user enters the login credentials, the card code and then personal information is also requested. The excuse is to check the user’s data.
After entering the data, the victim is informed that the entered OTP code is incorrect and a new one is requested. This happens 3 times, until a server error page is shown.
The data has now been entered and sent to the attacker, who can access the victim’s account thanks to the information collected.
The phishing examples listed in this article are just two of all those regularly reported on the CSIRT site. Scams are often completely avoidable, if only you knew the basics of detecting a fraudulent web page.
Always valid advice: before following a link received, go to email, it is better to visit the site from your browser, without using the URLs provided in the message. Email communications are often notifications that must also be reflected on the account page on the site.
Those who fall victim to a phishing attack are likely not able to recognize threats in general. This can become a risk for the whole company.
The best defense is to invest in your employees. This can be done through ethical phishing campaigns followed by targeted training consolidate the problems found. At SOD, we can help your company recognize weaknesses and then provide employees with the information they need to raise the bar.
Contact us to find out how we can specifically help your company to raise the defenses against phishing and make the infrastructure more secure.
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