Financial institutions endeavor to make their service offering more accessible and convenient for customers. Using online technologies, these companies improve their end-user applications and promote digital transformation. Although the reasoning behind this development has pure intentions, cybercriminals are abusing it for their benefit. Ever since the finance industry joined the digital transformation bandwagon, the number of phishing attacks has increased. Most phishing attacks can be prevented within the finance industry if organizations better understand what they are up against.

Why is the finance industry prone to phishing attacks?

Phishing is a social engineering threat that makes up one of the most common attacks against financial institutions. The reason behind this is simple – there is a lot of money in the finance industry. Instead of targeting other sectors with lower chances of profitability, cybercriminals find it easier to target the industry with guaranteed profits. 

The finance industry is also very large and diverse, which diversifies the target options for cybercriminals. For example, there are digital wallets and mobile phone payment apps developed by non-banking financial institutions. Additionally, there are online investment platforms that can also be targeted by attackers. 

Apart from stealing money, financial institutions also have a wealth of personal information on their databases. Identity thieves can go on a phishing spree for the purpose of stealing other people’s identities. This attracts more risk and makes learning how to prevent phishing very important.

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How attackers leverage human error

The bread and butter for social engineering attackers is human error. These cybercriminals do not focus on brutally penetrating company systems. Instead, they subtly rely on human error. 

Attackers conduct reconnaissance on their targets and wait on the perfect opportunity to attack. The attackers time their exploit accurately to get the targets when their guard is down. This could take weeks or months, but for a successful phishing attack, the timing has to be right. 

Given the number of users that utilize tech tools within the financial industry, there are plenty of opportunities that attackers have. Depending on their target, attackers can leverage human error to deceitfully gain access to company systems. Alternatively, they can access personal banking accounts or digital wallets and steal money directly from these digital platforms.

HTTPS phishing

HTTPS domains with the icon of a locked padlock next to the URL are known for being used by good business websites that a safe and secure for users. Social engineering targets are more prone to clicking on a link with an HTTPS domain since it symbolizes its security. 

Recently, social engineering attackers can use an HTTPS domain to execute their phishing attacks. Social engineering attackers have turned to HTTPS because of the spread of safety tips regarding their common techniques. Most people recommend the use of HTTPS websites to others, intending to prevent them from falling victim. 

To make phishing attacks less obvious, attackers have turned to using seemingly secure domains. If an attacker uses an HTTPS domain, the exploit might pass some email scanning software which renders it undetectable by basic security tools.

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Convincing pretexting

Attackers also use convincing pretexting that is personalized for each target. Pretexting is the common phishing characteristic used to execute other forms of attacks. For example, pretexting contributes to successful smishing and Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks

During the reconnaissance, attackers determine what would be the best way to trick their targets. For some, it could be a threatening pretext. One example of this is when an attacker poses as a law enforcement representative to get personal details from targeted individuals. 

Others might pose as a financial institution that wants to confirm personal details. Once the target shares his details, they are captured by the attackers and used to roll out their phishing attack. Some of the emails could have a link that redirects users to a very similar page to a banking website’s online log-in portal.

Phishing kits

To make phishing even easier, some social engineering attackers have designed kits that are ready to use. These phishing kits include domains for trustworthy companies. The domains are created to be very convincing to gain the trust of potential targets. 

Unfortunately, phishing kits are not expensive, fueling the implementation of this social engineering attack. For example, there are 14 different kits for PayPal. Additionally, the kits have more than 1600 domains that can be used for phishing campaigns. 

Without a comprehensive tool that scans all correspondence, phishing tactics like this one could be more successful. As time goes on, the available phishing kits get more convincing by the day. Therefore, being more vigilant when using FinTech platforms can prevent major financial losses.

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Tools for preventing phishing attacks

There is a wide variety of tools that claim to prevent phishing attacks. Most of them scan the attachments of each email before downloading it. Although this is an effective measure of preventing some phishing attacks, it is not comprehensive enough. You can prevent phishing attacks to a greater degree with an AI-powered tool that comprehensively scans all correspondence. 

AI-powered security tools use machine learning tactics to inspect all sender domains and attachments. Before an email reflects on your inbox, the tool does a deep scan and either qualifies it as legitimate or suspicious. 

Using that information, you can proceed with caution when opening suspicious emails. Using several ranking factors, a wide range of phishing attacks can be prevented from materializing.

Focusing on end-user training

Another measure financial institutions can take to prevent phishing attacks is providing end-user training on these tactics. Most successful social engineering attacks are caused by unassuming targets. 

If the target does not know the hallmarks of a phishing attack, he will most likely suffer from financial loss. Even worse, he could be the reason for a widespread attack on the company’s network. Regardless of who the end-user is, financial institutions should train each to protect themselves against social engineering. 

If the end-users are employees within the company, it will be easier to arrange cybersecurity training. If the end-users are customers, it will be a little trickier to ensure that they are well-trained. However, you can play your role by providing newsletters and brochures that warn against social engineering tactics like phishing.

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