Even Google? Even the Biggest Budgets and the Best Spam Filters Can’t Stop Phishing Attacks

Today, the best way to steal information and money online is to walk in through the front door and ask for it. These frontal assaults bypass security measures like bulk spam filters and work at an alarming rate. Once hackers have started a conversation, it’s just a matter of socially engineering the right message to get an employee to send company money into the ether.

Case in point is the recent news that Google and Facebook both fell for a targeted phishing attack that cost them a combined $100 million. This news should be a wakeup call for companies of all sizes.

A typical phishing attack tricks a target into sending confidential information or wiring money somewhere. Unlike some forms of phishing, BEC emails are usually disarmingly personal, and often an attacker doesn’t spring his or her trap until after a lengthy back and forth. How long do you keep up your guard after a half a dozen emails with a purported customer, partner, or coworker on the same topic?

In this case, the hacker tailored emails to Google and Facebook employees to look like corporate correspondence and referenced legitimate services. Shortly thereafter, the employees unlucky enough to have received these emails did what they thought was their job. They transferred the money.

It’s tempting to blame the employees here, but an enormous amount of persistence, knowledge, and creativity went into this attack. Calling it a “scam” underestimates the intricacies behind this heist. Two Silicon Valley giants with nearly limitless security budgets and the best security solutions in their arsenals would not be fooled by a mere “scam.” The fact that the victims were sophisticated, well-defended tech companies underscores that these attacks can truly happen to anyone.

Most people click on links and respond to requests via email all day long. It’s their job. As long as we are letting these emails end up inboxes, we are, in turn, expecting every employee to be a part-time cybersecurity professional. Let’s leave securing organizations to actual cybersecurity professionals, and better yet, to technology. Not only do employees have more important things to do than worry about clicking on rogue links, but they are also human. Humans are curious and trusting — links will be clicked and attachments will be opened as long as links and attachments exist.

As we speak, a phishing attack disguised as a shared Google Doc is proliferating across the internet. This campaign is routing invitations to shared Google Docs through Google’s own system, making it nearly impossible to spot. We can’t expect users to distinguish “real” versus “phishing” when the two are actually identical.

Events like these beg the question — if the most sophisticated and well-defended technology companies in the world are getting hacked, are these attacks inevitable?

We don’t think so. Hackers are thriving off of one single method: phishing. So why not eliminate that method all together?

The irony of Google getting hit is that a lot of organizations rely on them for security. Yes, email services such as Google Suite have native security measures in place, and they are incredibly effective at spam filtering, malware detection, and data loss prevention. But while these functions are vital, dangerous and targeted phishing emails are still getting through.

Area 1’s email protection service augments G-Suite’s built-in security measures, catching those phish that Google misses. With both, you are fully covered.

The best defense from targeted attacks keeps phishing messages out of user inboxes to begin with. Phishing — in all its forms — is a problem for small companies and tech giants, alike. And Area 1 Security has a solution for everyone.

“This case should serve as a wake-up call to all companies — even the most sophisticated — that they too can be victims of phishing attacks by cyber criminals,” the Department of Justice pleads in the indictment.

We couldn’t agree more.

Read more about BEC phishing attacks.

Learn how Area 1 Security stops them and try the service for free.

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