Email Phishing

The Metamorphosis of Deception: Tracing the History of Phishing Attacks

DMARC Report
The Metamorphosis of Deception: Tracing the History of Phishing Attacks

There’s so much talk in the industry about phishing attacks, but do you know how this classic technique of cyber deception came into being and evolved into the malicious force that we know today? 

There is no doubt that phishing attacks are one of the most nefarious and sophisticated cybersecurity threats, where the hacker tricks individuals into divulging sensitive information by pretending to be a trusted entity. The situation is so bad that in 2023, the number of phishing attacks in the US shot up to over 298,000 from around 26 thousand in 2018.  

Let us trace the journey from their humble beginnings to the advanced methods employed by cybercriminals today.

What’s in the Name?

As you might have already guessed, the term “phishing” derives its name from the sport of fishing. Just as a fisher uses bait to catch a fish, the attacker leverages a seemingly legitimate website, domain, or email to lure their targets and hook them. Once the perpetrator has caught hold of their target, they proceed to exploit them to gain unauthorized access to financial accounts, steal identities, or install malware on the victim’s device. Speaking of “ph,” the “ph” in phishing is a reference to “phreaking,” a term coined by John Draper, which is a hacking technique targeted at telecommunication systems.

How Did Phishing Begin?

While it is difficult to pinpoint when the first phishing message was sent, it can be traced back to the 1990s when the popularity of ​​AOL (America Online) skyrocketed. This surge captured hackers’ attention and provided them with fertile ground to lay the bait and exploit unsuspecting users. 

Initially, these hackers relied on fake screen names to steal sensitive information like login credentials, passwords, card details, and other personal information. As the internet garnered more attention from its users and emails became a thing, the hackers revamped their tactics, using spoofed emails from trusted entities to lure victims into providing personal information. Over time, these tactics became more sophisticated and evolved into more targeted attacks that we know today, such as, spear phishing, vishing, angler phishing, social engineering, and whaling

How Did Phishing Evolve into a Cybersecurity Menace? 

The Love Bug of 2000

The world of cybersecurity was overturned on  May 4, 2000, when mailboxes of people across the globe received messages titled “ILOVEYOU.” The message read, “Kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me.” Since the message sounded so personal and enticing there were many who gave into their temptation and opened the .txt file, which they thought was harmless. Little did they know this seemingly benign attachment would cause significant damage to their local machines. The worm in the attachment replaced image files and sent a copy of itself to all the contacts in the user’s Outlook address book.

This infamous ‘LoveBug’ proved to be a disruption in the world of cyberattacks by demonstrating that this type of malware could leverage both human psychology and technical vulnerabilities to spread rapidly and cause widespread damage. 

Phishing Attacks Today 

It’s safe to say that back in the day, phishing was not an ominous hazard that it is today. While the tactics of the attackers remain more or less the same, the stakes are now much higher. These attacks are no longer about minor operational disruptions but about severe consequences like overthrowing the world economy

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As we make this claim, we cannot look away from the fact that the attackers also became smarter in their approach; perhaps this is why phishing still remains one of the most lucrative techniques for them to achieve their nefarious goals. 

There are many factors that have led us to where we are today. The first one is the widespread use of the Internet and digital communication, which expanded the reach of these attacks, allowing phishers to target a global audience with ease. Add to this the advent of automated tools and AI, which has taken the art of deception to the next level. 

How Can You Protect Yourself From the Wrath of Phishing Attacks? 

Phishing attacks are grave, frequent, and everywhere, so running away from them is not possible (even if you go off the grid). So, how do you safeguard your organization’s digital assets? The answer is to follow a robust approach that values cyber resilience instead of merely relying on reactive measures

This involves implementing comprehensive security solutions, patching vulnerabilities, developing a well-defined incident response to tackle phishing attacks, etc. 

At DMARCReport, we understand that email security is not just about the implementation of authentication protocols but also about gaining visibility and control over your email domain. This is why we offer comprehensive DMARC reports that provide valuable insights into who is sending emails on your behalf and help identify unauthorized use of your domain. You can leverage this information to take swift corrective actions against potential phishing attempts and spoofing activities.

Want to know more about DMARC reporting? Book a demo with us today! 

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