Your Mom sends a funny cat video link on YouTube. Your department head sends a link for the training schedule. There’s an email in your Inbox from Amazon for a laptop sale.
Always think twice before clicking on any of those links. Is that email really from Mom or the department head or Amazon? Even if it was really from Mom’s account, is that link really for a cat video on YouTube? Her account, could have been compromised, and the email sent with an obfuscated link.
Phishing campaigns are effective; estimates range from 60 to 90% of all email is a phishing message. MicroSolved’s social engineering exercises have yielded from 11 to 43% success – success meaning recipients have clicked on the benign links in our phishing exercises for clients with their employees. Estimates average 30% of phishing links are clicked.
Obfuscated URL in an Email
So, never click on a link in an email. OK, that may be a little absolute. Only be certain that the link is what you expect it to be. Hover over the link and either a popup or in the status bar of your email client/browser will display the URL. Verify the domain in the link is valid. Simple link obfuscation techniques such as registering a domain named yuotube.com (note the spelling) is an easy phishing and effective trick.
Another trick is hiding the URL behind friendly text, for example, click here. This technique could easily have been used to create a link = stateofsecurity.com – but the the link actually browses to MicroSolved’s home page.
Image links are not immune. That Amazon logo in the email – does that really link to amazon.com? Hover over the link to verify the URL before you click on it. Or better yet, open your browser, type amazon.com in the address bar, then search for and browse to the laptop sale. By the way, don’t browse to yuotube.com, just take my word for it.
Similarly, while browsing or surfing the web, it is always good practice to verify links before you actually click on them. Hover and verify.
Check that browser address bar
So, now that you’ve clicked on that link and landed on the destination web page, are you sure that’s chase.com’s login page? Before you enter your bank account login credentials, check out the URL in the address bar. Make sure it’s https. Any URL that requires you to enter some identification should be over the encrypted protocol, https.
Next, just because the URL has chase.com within it, does not make it a valid chase.com page. Check out the two images below; phishers often trick their victims by obfuscating a URL with a string of an expected valid domain name in the URL:
Note that chase.com is part of the URL, but the login.html page is actually in the badbaddomain.com. The attackers are counting on users to notice the “chase.com” in the URL and click on their link. Once clicked, the user is to taken to a rogue web server with a login page that mimics the real login page for the bank. If the user continues with typing in their authentication credentials, the trap has sprung – the rogue server has saved the user’s credentials, and the bank account will soon be drained of its funds. Often, after the user enters the credentials, they may be redirected to a valid 404 error page in the user’s bank server, and the user imay be a little confused but unaware that they’ve just given away their credentials.
Current browsers have a feature to help users pick out the actual domain name from the URL – in the top image, the Firefox address bar displays the domain name part of the URL in black font, and everything else in a gray colored font. This is the default behavior; the setting can be changed for the entire URL be the same color format.
Not all browsers display the URL in such a way, Chrome displays the same obfuscated URL as below; the domain and subdomains part of the URL are in black font and the sub-directories and page resource are in grey font:
Shortened URLs have become much more popular because of Twitter – it’s a method of reducing a long (regular) URL into a shortened version of usually 10-20 characters. However, because of the condensed URL, it’s not possible to determine the actual address of the link. In this case, it would be wise to copy the shortened URL and validate it with a URL expander website, such as checkshorturl.com or unfurlr.com or unshorten.it.
It’s a minefield out there. Attackers are constantly phishing for their next victim. Be vigilant, beware of what you click, surf safe.