Whaling is a cyber security attack that targets high-level executives with the objective of stealing sensitive information. It’s named after the large type of whale known as “Greater” and is also known as “executive targeting” or “vishing,” which refers to phone phishing. Whaling attacks are essentially social engineering attacks with a focus on an executive or other high-ranking employee. In this article, you will learn what is whaling in cyber security, how it works, and how to prevent it.
What Is the Purpose of Whaling in Cyber Security?
Whaling, like other types of cyber attacks, is used to steal information from victims, disrupt computer networks and services, or gain access to confidential company information. While any company could be a target of whaling, high-level executives, such as CEOs and CFOs, are often the focus of these types of cyber security attacks.
Executives and high-level staff, who often have access to sensitive company information, are attractive targets for cybercriminals. Whaling is used to trick these employees into handing over sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and financial account details, which could be used for malicious purposes.
For example, stolen information could be used for identity theft, insider trading, ransomware attacks, or other types of cyber attacks.
How Does Whaling Work?
Whaling attacks usually start with an email or phone call from a person who claims to work for the company that the executive works for. The goal of whaling is to trick the executive into giving away confidential information such as login credentials, bank account details, or other sensitive data.
One way to do this is by impersonating someone in the organization, such as the CEO or CFO, to gain access to privileged information. This might involve sending an email to a lower-level employee with instructions to transfer funds to another bank account or provide login credentials to a confidential system.
How to Recognize a Whaling Attack?
There are several red flags that can help you recognize a whaling attack, including:
- The communication is usually urgent and requires an immediate response - If you receive an email or phone call from a high-level executive that doesn’t sound like them, you should be suspicious. If the communication is urgent and requires an immediate response, but it doesn’t make sense based on what you know about the person, it could be a whaling attack.
- There is an unusual amount of detail - If someone is impersonating a high-level executive, they probably can’t provide an excessive amount of detail about the executive and the company. But if someone is pretending to be the CEO and they know the name of the person’s spouse, their favorite sports team, and where they went to school, you should be suspicious.
- There are spelling and grammatical errors - Executives are human, but they likely wouldn’t make significant spelling or grammatical errors in an email or while talking on the phone. If the communication from an executive has a significant number of errors, particularly if the person isn’t known for making these types of mistakes, you should be suspicious.
3 Steps to Defend Against Whaling in Cyber Security
There are some steps you can take to defend against whaling in cyber security. These include:
- Educate employees about whaling - The best way to defend against whaling attacks is to educate employees about what these types of attacks look like and how to recognize them. Companies can hold meetings, send emails, and provide resources to educate employees about whaling attacks.
- Use security tools to monitor activity - Companies can use security tools to monitor network activity and block unusual login attempts. This could help identify whaling attacks and prevent hackers from stealing confidential information.
- Be suspicious of emails and phone calls - If you receive urgent communication from a high-level executive in your organization, be suspicious. If the communication doesn’t make sense or seems out of character for the executive, it could be a whaling attack.
Whaling is a social engineering attack that targets high-level executives with the objective of stealing sensitive information. It’s named after the large type of whale known as “Greater” and is also known as “executive targeting” or “vishing,” which refers to phone phishing. Whaling attacks are essentially social engineering attacks with a focus on an executive or other high-ranking employee.
These types of cyber security attacks are used by hackers to gain access to confidential company information such as social security numbers, bank account details, and other personal information which can be used for financial gain. There are several red flags that can help you recognize a whaling attack, including the communication being urgent and requiring an immediate response, an unusual amount of detail, and spelling and grammatical errors. There are steps you can take to defend against whaling in cyber security, such as using security tools to monitor activity and being suspicious of emails and phone calls.