What is a Whaling Attack? How to Protect Your Business

Managed IT Services

Security breaches and digital attacks are growing at an alarming rate. The number of attacks in the first three quarters of 2021 exceeded the total for the prior year. It is estimated that the cost of ransomware attacks alone will reach $265 billion by 2031. Some of the common types of cyberattacks include:

  • Ransomware
  • Phishing
  • DDoS attacks
  • Defacements
  • SQL injections
  • Cross-site scripting
  • Malware &Viruses
  • Redirects
  • Spamming

While the severity of these attacks ranges, none of them are harmless. A newer type of attack that is growing in popularity is ‘whaling.’ The term whaling is used for a type of phishing attack where a very important person is singled out and targeted. There is a notable distinction between phishing and whaling. In phishing attacks, the cybercriminal will send out a massive amount of messages hoping that they will get someone to click on a malicious link by sheer numbers. Whaling focuses on one large target, which is why it is called whaling.

The premise behind whaling attacks is that the cybercriminal will pretend to be a senior official within the organization and gain the target’s trust. Once trust is gained, the attacker can then use social engineering strategies to gain information that can help them access sensitive information, accounts, or passwords.

This type of attack is not as simple as demanding money from the target. Instead, the cybercriminal will get them to click a malicious link, divulge sensitive details, or transfer funds. Whaling attacks commonly target the financial sector. However, they are branching out to include e-commerce companies, cloud storage sites, and other online services.

The threat of whaling is in its simplicity. It doesn’t rely on advanced hacking skills. Rather, an individual only has to communicate well enough to fool the intended target. And while it seems like a ruse nobody would fall for, even tech giants like Snapchat have been the prey of successful whaling attacks.

How to Protect Your Business from Whaling Attacks

Whaling should be a concern to many businesses and leaders. And as it becomes more popular, the odds increase that you may be the victim of a whaling attack. Therefore, safeguarding your company from whaling attacks is vital, and even simple actions can provide a level of protection. These include:

  • Provide security awareness training for all employees, including senior management. Understanding how to spot the signs in a whaling attack is one of the best ways to prevent one. And while companies tend to focus heavily on helping employees understand the signs of phishing attacks, they often neglect this training for higher levels of management. And whalers exploit this weakness. But this training can help everyone understand how to spot a potential attack.
  • Boost your email security measures. Whaling attacks often rely on email spoofing. Investment in the proper SPF, DKIM, DMARC, and DNSSEC settings can help you catch external emails that may be whaling attacks. And if you can catch them before they are delivered, the attack will prove unsuccessful.
  • Implement data protection software. You will definitely want to invest in antivirus and anti malware software. Additionally, you can implement software that automatically detects data and credential leaks. This method can prevent the data from reaching cybercriminals.
  • Monitor vendor communications. Whaling attacks don’t always come from inside a company’s domain. Sometimes, it can come from a partner or vendor that handles sensitive information for your company. It’s vital that you select vendors with great security measures. But you should still be on the lookout for signs of a whaling attack in all communications.
  • Review your fiscal controls. Often, whaling attacks try to get a senior leader to initiate a transfer of funds. But if you have the proper fiscal controls, such as requiring a secondary approval no matter what, you can reduce the risk. The second set of eyes on the request increases the chances of questioning the transaction.
  • Do not overshare information on social media sites. Targets of whaling attacks are often identified through their social media sites. And by gleaning information from these sites, the attacker can often fake a familiarity that is harder to spot. It’s best to review your privacy settings and carefully consider what you share.

While these strategies can help reduce the chances that you will fall victim to a whaling attack, these attacks are hard to predict. More importantly, they are often more difficult to spot than one would think. To boost your overall security and reduce your chances of suffering a whaling attack, consider managed IT services. The professional team at Sagacent Technologies can help you tighten up security and reduce the risk of a whaling attack.

Sagacent Technologies offers technology management and support, including proactive/preventative maintenance, onsite and offsite data back-ups, network and security audits, mobility solutions, disaster planning, and emergency business resumption services. The company serves clients of 10 to 150 employees within the Silicon Valley region.