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  • Writer's pictureAline Silva | PhishX

Whaling: The Great Risk to Organizational Security

Phishing attacks are very common in organizations around the world and there are several scams that use the same principle, to deceive people so that they are hooked by criminals.


In addition to the most common attacks where people can identify criminal actions, there is whaling, which is a very specific type of phishing used by cybercriminals to target high-ranking employees of an organization.


This scam is very dangerous, as several mechanisms are used to make the messages seem as real as possible and manage to deceive their victims.


This threat grows continuously, and several renowned companies have already been victims of these actions, such as Snapchat, Mattel and Ubiquiti Networks.


Thus, it is important that organizations around the world pay attention to this scam, keep reading the text and learn how to protect yourself from these actions.

What is a Whaling attack?

Whaling is a kind of phishing, which is also known as CEO fraud, this is a targeted attack that uses social engineering techniques with the aim of tricking high-level employees into providing sensitive information.


So, while conventional phishing scams target non-specific individuals and often send generic messages, whaling knows exactly who they want to target.


In this way, they create communications that seem to come from someone very experienced or influential to acquire even more conviction to their messages.


Whaling derives from the word “whales”, because this scam targets people we can call “big fish”, such as CEOs or financial managers.


Just like any other phishing, the emails contain urgent requests for bank transfers or instructions that require immediate action, such as transferring funds or requesting sensitive data.

How do Whaling attacks happen?

We can say that whaling is different from spear-phishing, because the communication sent in whaling attacks seems to have been sent by someone experienced or that the person knows.

But what they have in common is that criminals do research on their victims on:


·        Social networks;

·        Seekers;

·        Dark Web;

·        Company websites.


To create personalized approaches for your targets, after all, with this information it is easier to convince people and carry out their attacks.


Attacks come in a variety of forms, such as an email that appears to be from a senior manager, which contains a sender from a trusted source, with corporate logos, or even links to a fake website.


Since victims of this type of attack are valuable to criminals, they dedicate time and energy to making this scam as efficient as possible, which is why it is so dangerous.


If a whaling attack is successful, criminals can gain access to highly sensitive information such as strategic plans, sensitive financial data.


In addition, they may have access to information about mergers and acquisitions, or intellectual property. Not only does this compromise the company's security, but it can also result in significant financial losses and reputational damage.

Why is this attack so dangerous?

Waling is a very effective attack for a few reasons, one of which is that its actions are directed at people who have the authority to approve financial transactions or who have sensitive information.


In this way, if victims fall for these scams, the damage is immense, compared to a simple employee who takes care of customer service, for example, because the responsibilities that both have are very different.


Another point that deserves attention is that these attacks are based on exploiting the trust and authority associated with high-level executives.


That is, when a message appears to belong to a CEO or CFO, people tend to assume it as something legitimate and comply with requests without even questioning its authenticity.


Authority and urgency are a risk factor for the security of organizations, where people often act quickly without verifying the authenticity of communication.


This attack is also usually effective because it includes a small number of people, and unlike regular phishing, they can go undetected by spam filters.


In addition, executives usually receive less training than other employees, making them more vulnerable to this type of attack.


Whaling attacks are often aimed at obtaining financial gain or accessing sensitive business information, by targeting executives with financial decision-making authority, criminals exploit their access to funds and resources, potentially resulting in substantial financial losses.

How to protect yourself from whaling?

Whaling attacks further highlight the importance that cybersecurity plays in an organization and how important it is for all people, regardless of their position or experience.


This is because, as much as high-ranking employees are more experienced, criminals find mechanisms to deceive them and thus enter systems and steal information.


Thus, defending against these attacks starts with cybersecurity awareness for all people, employees need to know the risks, to be able to protect themselves.


In order for organizations to specifically protect themselves from whaling attacks, it is necessary that the most important members of the teams pay attention to all contacts and especially those that were not requested.


It is necessary to observe all messages, whether they are about everyday matters or those that refer to important information and financial transactions. People need to ask themselves about the sender and whether they were waiting for that attachment or link.


In addition, people need to be trained so that they know how to identify the signs of an attack, such as email addresses, fake names, or fraudulent websites. Phishing simulations are great mechanisms to help with this identification.


This is because they put people in real and controlled scenarios that help emphasize the importance of paying attention to all the details that an email has so that sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands.


Another very important factor to protect themselves from these attacks is that executives need to be careful when publishing and sharing personal information on social networks, such as:


·        Birthdays;

·        Hobbies;

·        Vacation;

·        Positions;

·        Promotions;

·        Relationships.


It is necessary to deprive this information, as it can be used to create whaling attacks, after all, it is specific data that further personalizes the criminals' messages.


Another method that can help identify whaling emails is to ask the IT department to automatically flag messages received outside the network, because these emails pretend to be from the organization, but are sent by third parties.


With this, it is easier to know which email is actually from the organization and which came from outside the network, helping employees to identify fraud attempts.


Defense mechanisms combined with awareness actions are essential to protect organizations and help people so that they do not fall for scams and know how to protect themselves from these and other attacks.

PhisX as protection against whaling attacks

Whaling attacks are harmful to companies, as they are capable of deceiving executives and thereby stealing a considerable amount of value.


In 2018, Pathé, which is a film company from Europe, lost about $21.5 million in a whaling attack. In the scam, the criminals posed as high-level executives and sent an email to the CEO and CFO, asking for a money transfer. 


This transfer was just the beginning of the loss and until the attack was noticed, the organization was already at a huge loss.


Therefore, it is essential that organizations invest in awareness actions, so that attacks like this do not happen in their organizations.


PhishX can help your company combat risks related to cyberattacks. Our ecosystem strengthens the cybersecurity of organizations, mitigating increasingly sophisticated attacks such as whaling.


With an integrated approach that combines technology and awareness strategies, PhishX empowers organizations to protect their sensitive data and operations from cyber threats.

To assist organizations, we offer several solutions.

Phishing Simulations and Training

PhishX enables the creation and execution of targeted phishing simulation campaigns, helping to identify which people may be susceptible to whaling attacks. This is combined with tailored trainings to improve everyone's awareness and response.

Data Analysis

Through PhishX Analytics, it is possible to monitor performance indicators related to digital security, including specific metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-whaling campaigns.


With our solution, organizations can use gamification and thus encourage a culture of digital security among people, encouraging safe practices and healthy competitiveness in identifying possible whaling attacks.

Digital Assistant

With PhishX Assistant, institutions are able to provide a secure environment for analyzing suspicious links and messages, reducing operational risk by quickly detecting and mitigating potential whaling threats.

These actions strengthen companies' security posture against whaling and promote a proactive and responsible cybersecurity culture among all people in the organization.

The image shows two businessmen of different ethnicities in a meeting. They are seated around a table in an office setting with large windows in the background.
Whaling attacks pose a significant risk to organizational security.



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