What is Harpooning? (How it Works, How to Prevent)

Harpooning is the act of a hacker gathering information from social media sites in order to mimic executives and target employees in their company for the purpose of obtaining sensitive personal data. The security specialists from Mimecast had polled hundreds of IT professionals and determined that a new wave of "whaling" − a type of phishing assault that especially targets C to top-level executives − had impacted firms.

Difference between Phishing and Cyberwhaling

The difference between phishing and cyberwhaling is almost identical to the difference between real-world fishing and whaling: A "harpoon" instead of a fishnet, targets an enormous target instead of a potentially vast number of smaller ones, and so on.

Typically, phishing letters are sent out in the hopes of at least a few potential victims becoming real victims. It is a precisely targeted, skilfully constructed spear-phishing letter meant to seem credible and trustworthy to the victim in an instance of cyberwhaling. Of course, conjuring such a letter requires some effort. The likelihood of uncertainties and concerns on the part of the victim should be kept to a minimum. So, in the "whaling" e-mail, both the sender's and receiver's regalia − title, position, etc. − as well as other, likely personal, facts must be accurately given.

How Does Harpooning Work?

Cybercriminals have a plethora of catching tools at their disposal. These can range from hardware attacks to phishing tactics, and they can happen in the background or rely on a human mistake to some extent.

There's no way to describe every sort of attack, but some of the most prevalent vectors − which the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) explains in further detail here − fall into the following four categories −

Phishing with a Broad Scope

We've already discussed phishing efforts, which are spam emails that masquerade as legitimate communication in order to trick the receiver into clicking a harmful link hidden in the email. These are the most prevalent sort of assault, and despite being criticized as "simple" or "obvious," they continue to deceive victims on a daily basis.

Vulnerabilities in Hardware and Software

Back-end infrastructure flaws, such as firewalls, servers, switches, and operating systems, are examples. These flaws may be exploited at scale with some easy research, assaulting thousands of internet-facing devices that fulfill particular requirements, depending on the tool (the recent Microsoft Exchange vulnerability is a perfect example of this type of attack). Because these assaults target back-end systems, no end-user involvement is required, and they can happen without you even realizing it, until the attackers spring the trap.

Infections with Malware

These are dangerous apps that download themselves onto your device while you are surfing the web legitimately. These are the types of programs that lead to the advice "don't click popup advertising," but some of the smarter ones don't even require a click; simply loading the webpage they're on might be enough to start them. Again, they can occur without any specific end-user action; while they are more frequent on dodgy websites, they can also occur on famous and well-respected sites.

Attacks from Third Parties and MSPs

Rather of targeting individual companies, these assaults target business-to-business suppliers who supply services to those companies. Bad actors can take advantage of the trust these suppliers have built up by piggybacking on their access to breach their clients. The recent Kaseya breach is an excellent illustration of this type of attack: bad actors obtained access to a large number of Managed Services Providers (MSPs) and exploited their security connections to encrypt the data of thousands of businesses. It didn't matter how robust the locks were because the maintenance worker had been robbed for his copy of the key.

Harpoon Security

Harpoon Security is a very tiny agent that was created with the express purpose of living inside apps. This allows Harpoon to operate without the usage of signatures, which are nearly useless in today's world of polymorphic attacks. Harpoon Security cannot cause a false-positive or false-negative once it is configured in a regular application build. If it warns or prevents you from doing something, it's either hazardous behavior that needs to be documented or malware or ransomware.

Harpoon Security is an essential component of any current anti-virus, next-generation antivirus, EDR, or SIEM system. It is the only solution designed specifically to protect ongoing processes and memory on Windows PCs and servers without the need for an external database or updates, and without making any unnecessary noise.

Harpoon Security protects against all of these threats because it learns about apps by integrating with them in real-time. This is the only proven method of safeguarding organizations that are otherwise vulnerable. Harpoon improves an organization's security posture by preventing assaults used by adversarial state actors and commercial malware makers.

What are the Ways to Prevent Harpooning?

You may have noticed a trend: many of these attack routes are difficult, if not impossible, to protect properly. And that is the unpleasant fact of modern cybersecurity: no one can forecast or avoid every danger. No security company can promise that you will be safe from all types of attacks. This implies that we plan as though a breach is inevitable and put in place measures to limit the scope of the harm and allow you to recover from it.

Reduce the Risk of Harm

The days of relying only on your firewall and antivirus software are long gone. New tools to address risks arise as threats change, and many of these are becoming industry standards. Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication is a powerful enhancement you can make to your IT security. In a nutshell, this security forces you to access your device and accounts using two "keys" (a password and, in most cases, a mobile phone app) rather than just one. Text passwords are very easy to obtain on their own, but compromising a second device presents a far greater barrier to entry.

Get Ready for the Eventual Comeback

Of course, none of this may be sufficient to thwart a sophisticated ransomware assault. That's why having dependable backups is so important for your data security: if your network is hacked, you can usually restore to an earlier backup with confidence.

Backups aren't "one size fits all," so spend some time studying and picking a backup that suits your individual requirements, ensuring that you safeguard both on-premise and cloud data, such as Microsoft 365 accounts (which aren't immune to catastrophe or ransomware!). The peace of mind afforded by a competent backup solution, on the other hand, is well worth the work.

Other Security Measures

Other security measures include network segmentation (which acts as a quarantine checkpoint, preventing an attack from spreading to other devices), endpoint DNS (which identifies and filters web traffic from suspicious sources), and security awareness training (which educates your team members on IT security rules and psychology). These are among CISA's top recommendations, and while these precautions can't always avoid a breach, they can frequently lessen its bad consequences.

Choosing a Backup Solution Is Not Enough

You must also ensure that it covers all of your bases, is correctly set up, and can truly restore you in a crisis. Consider losing your data and trying to recover it from the backup you've been saving for years, only to find out that your data will take days to restore, won't recover, or was never there in the first place!

Be Careful When You Receive Unusual Requests

Keep an eye out for unusual requests, links that don't make sense in the context of daily conversations, and attachments that the alleged sender doesn't often provide. Remember that some of the most typical whaling tactics use emails apparently sent from one top management team member to another. Always be wary of unsolicited email in general. "Unless you started the email discussion, never click-through links in an email message from someone you don't know. When an email message sender knows too much about you, you should be skeptical."

Perform Your Own Social Engineering and Penetration Testing

Some of the firm's clients have an "inoculation procedure," in which administrators send out emails to chosen individuals with features of known whaling assaults to see how they react. If they react to the message, they will receive a response informing them of their failure to follow the training sessions' directions.

People in the organization can socially engineer them into disclosing information they shouldn't be sharing at any time. Inside assaults have a way of getting the message across. You can perform individual counseling with persons who are serial offenders of security policy in addition to periodic testing.

Accepting this sad fact and "presuming breach" allows you to focus your efforts on something more productive: preparing for the day when it does happen. Although no solution is flawless, effective cybersecurity measures plus a comprehensive backup solution that meets your demands may significantly improve your organization's security and limit the extent of possible assaults.