What is a Spoofing Attack and How Can You Prevent Them?

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At the heart of almost every business interaction lies trust. Whether logging in to a website, providing information over the phone, or interacting via email, trust is essential when the communication involves money, sensitive data, or both.

To win a victim’s trust, gain access to a secure system, receive sensitive data, or insert malicious software, cybercriminals use various tools and tactics to mask their identity or disguise their devices. These tactics are the foundation of a spoofing attack. While the approaches vary according to who is perpetrating the attack, an attacker’s goal is to win the confidence of individuals and/or systems.

How Does Spoofing Work?

Spoofing succeeds when a recipient of some form of business communication fails to exercise proper skepticism or is otherwise unable to unmask the identity of the individual or device making contact.

Here’s an example of one approach:

A caller says they work with your bank’s fraud department and ask you to verify information regarding a recent transaction to stop potential fraud. This caller, however, is a bad actor. To gain your trust, they have disguised their phone number to match or closely resemble your bank’s fraud department.

After they win your confidence, they use the information you provided to engage in fraud.

There are several kinds of spoofing attacks. While some spoofing schemes are relatively easy to detect, many of the more sophisticated schemes often go undetected and prove highly lucrative for the perpetrators.

What Are the Types of Spoofing?

Caller ID Spoofing

When scammers use this approach, your phone’s caller ID displays your bank’s phone number or a number that varies by only one or two digits. The cybercriminal caller then pretends to be from your bank and uses the call to extract personal information you would only disclose to your bank.

Text Message Spoofing

A variation of the caller ID attack is text message spoofing. In this type of attack, the criminals mask their identity when they send you a text, masquerading as your bank or other entity you would routinely trust.

The attacker will then ask for personal information, such as your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, or some other form of personally identifiable information.

Email Spoofing

Cybercriminals also pretend to be someone else when they send you a spoofed email. They  spoof emails, for example, to trick you into installing malware, adware, and ransomware. Email spoofing is also used in phishing and spear-phishing attacks.

Email spoofing can be particularly difficult to detect, as most users open emails without pausing to assess their legitimacy.

Email spoofing schemes often also go to great lengths to look legitimate and may, for example, incorporate a company’s logo and follow the format it typically uses in email communications to create the illusion the email was sent by the company itself.

Closeup of someone typing on their cellphone, laptop in the background.

IP Spoofing

IP spoofing attempts to change the location where a user’s device is connecting to a network. For example, if an attacker compromises your login credentials and attempts to log in overseas, your company may flag that activity as an exception worth investigating further.

However, if the attacker spoofs their IP address, they can appear to be in the United States and therefore seem to be connected via a routine login.

IP spoofing is also used when a company is blocking all login activity from devices overseas during a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. To avoid being blocked, an attacker may use IP spoofing to make the devices involved in the attack appear to originate from the United States.

Website Spoofing

When criminals spoof a website, their goal is to convince visitors that the site is legitimate, so that visitors feel they can interact and take in the online experience with confidence.

If the fake site doesn’t trigger warning bells, a visitor may end up providing a username, passwords, and other sensitive data, such as a company ID number or a one-time password. With this data in hand, criminals can log in to your existing account and assume control of it.

Simultaneously, cybercriminals might also deploy malicious software on your device to increase the depth and severity of their attack. This may allow them, for example, to record logins and passwords for additional accounts, such as your company’s bank or credit card accounts.

How Can You Defend Against Spoofing?

Given the diversity of spoofing attacks, anti-spoofing efforts should cover a broad range of tools and technology. Your multi-pronged approach to combating spoofing campaigns should also include user education in the form of security awareness training so employees learn to detect and avoid interacting with spoofed communications in whatever form they appear.

One example of anti-spoofing technology is packet filtering, which makes it possible to analyze the header and content of IP packets. If headers do not correspond to their origin, the packet is rejected. And instead of relying exclusively on IP addresses to authenticate a user, which an attacker can spoof, additional layers of authentication at the user or device level can help combat attacks. Dedicated, spoofing-detection software can examine the data elements that attackers manipulate in spoofing attacks, such as address resolution protocols, to convince your network to grant access to a device.

How to Combat Spoofing

  • Educate and test users regularly on the characteristics of a spoofing scheme and how they should respond. Examples should include spoofed emails, phone calls, text messages, and websites.
  • Install antivirus software, firewalls, and a spoof detection tool.
  • Virtual private networks(VPNs) are another tool you should consider for thwarting spoofing attacks.
  • Deploy additional authentication layers to validate the device and user independently of their IP address. That way, you’re not relying exclusively on IP addresses to authenticate users and devices.
  • Encrypt data at rest and in transit to prevent attackers from stealing and monetizing data.
  • Use an access control list to manage incoming and outgoing network traffic more securely.

Whether a spoofing attack involves people, technology, or a combination of factors, once an attacker establishes trust, they can leverage that trust to engage in all manner of schemes. Spoofing enables an attacker to develop trust and win their intended victim’s confidence.

Since spoofing comes in many forms, so too do the countermeasures. Anti-spoofing countermeasures can help ensure that trust is never given when it is not deserved.

How Arctic Wolf Can Help

Arctic Wolf offers effective security awareness training programs for your employees. With microlearning, instant follow-up lessons, and security experts who guide you through the security awareness training process, your employees can make continuous improvements in understanding what threats are out there and how to respond.

The experts on our Concierge Security® Team also offer coaching and strategic advice on how to improve your company’s overall security culture to raise your security posture.

Learn how Arctic Wolf Managed Security Awareness® keeps security top of mind for your employees, so they’ll remember more, retain information longer, and react more quickly and carefully when encountering spoofing threats.

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf provides your team with 24x7 coverage, security operations expertise, and strategically tailored security recommendations to continuously improve your overall posture.
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