What Is Clone Phishing? A Business Protection Guide

clone phishing

Imagine running a business that had no trouble reaching its target customers, hitting your performance metrics, and keeping its employees happy.

Out of the blue one day, you experience a major data breach that brings your operations to a halt.

Even a single incident like this can be catastrophic. In 2023, the average data breach cost companies over $4.5 million. This is impossible for many businesses to overcome, and you also risk damage to your reputation.

Clone phishing is one of the most prominent attacks modern hackers are leveraging to acquire sensitive business information, but how does a company handle phishing attacks?

Let’s explore the key information you should know so you can bolster your network security.

What Is Clone Phishing?

As the name implies, this is a phishing technique that copies the feel, appearance, and content of legitimate messages. The main goal is to gain the victim’s trust and have them take the desired action.

For example, a hacker might send a false email to their victim that appears to be from the victim’s bank.

It declares there’s a problem that needs their immediate attention and offers them a link to the bank’s login page. However, the link is to a false website that the hacker can use to record the victim’s keyboard inputs.

This allows them to steal the victim’s personal information. It’s not uncommon for false emails to be identical to legitimate ones. This makes them exceedingly difficult to recognize without the proper training.

Clone Phishing Signs to Look For

Fortunately, not all cybercriminals are experts at their jobs. They often overlook minor nuances that you can use to determine an email’s legitimacy. Let’s explore some of the most notable.

Illegitimate Sender Domain

This is one of the most obvious signs you’re dealing with a false email. It involves receiving a message from a domain that’s different from the organization it claims to be from. Using the aforementioned example, let’s assume you got an email from Bank of America.

However, the address the message was sent from is listed as “[email protected]” instead. Keep an eye out for situations like these so you can protect yourself in the future.

Content That Invokes Urgency

More often than not, false emails will aim to invoke a sense of urgency. In some cases, they’ll give you a deadline to take action.

These deadlines are often brief and come with serious proposed consequences if they aren’t met. A hacker might claim you can lose access to your bank account if you don’t log in within the next 12 hours, for instance.

Warnings from Your Email Client

Modern email clients have built-in security functionality that allows them to identify suspicious messages. These warnings typically appear if you receive a message with a link from an address you never communicated with before. Your webmail provider could also warn you if you get a message from an email address that’s previously been reported for spam.

Mismatched Hyperlinks

Always double-check the links you receive through emails. If the link doesn’t point to the destination you expect, avoid clicking it at all costs. Sometimes, all it takes is visiting a harmful website to infect your computer with malware.

This is possible because websites can be configured to automatically download and open software on the user’s computer. Keep in mind that there’s no guarantee any of the signs on this list will appear. However, you can use them to increase your chances of identifying a false email.

How Clone Phishing Attacks Work

To better protect yourself, it’s crucial to understand how attacks work in context. This will help you recognize situations before it’s too late. Let’s explore the details further.

Legitimate Email Cloning

This is one of the most dangerous scenarios to find yourself in. Legitimate email cloning involves copying all of a sender’s identifying attributes.

The email’s content will also correspond with what you would expect from that sender. Copied attributes often include the visible “from:” address, the HTML formatting, and the email account profile picture. It’s possible for hackers to directly forge email domains.

However many of these have enough security protocols in place to redirect fraudulent messages to spam folders. An alternative method hackers use is purchasing a domain that looks highly similar to the target domain.

So, they might use “Bank of America.com” instead of “bankofamerica.com” when conducting clone phishing attacks. It’s fairly easy for hackers to spoof email content, as they often copy/paste it directly from a legitimate email.

Someone could open a support ticket, for example, and use the response email’s content in their attack. A clone email won’t do anything on its own other than mislead the victim. The hacker will need to insert malicious content to leverage the victim’s trust.

Injecting Malicious Content

More often than not, clone phishing attacks use fraudulent links as their primary form of malicious content. They typically hide the link behind anchor text and hope the victim will click it without thinking.

More often than not, people don’t check links before they click them as long as they receive the email from a trusted source. Once victims click the link, hackers typically redirect them to false web pages.

As previously mentioned, these exist solely to procure information. When users interact with them, they’ll often receive some sort of error message. Consider a scenario where a victim is asked to log into their social media account to review a “warning” they received for a recent post.

They try multiple times to log in with their username and password, but they receive a message that says “an error has occurred” each time. Frustrated, they use Google to navigate to the social media platform’s homepage.

They then log in normally only to find no alert that needs their attention. Confused, they leave the website and assume they must have received the email in error since it looked so convincing. Later that evening, the cybercriminal compiles sensitive information from their private messages and uses it to blackmail the victim.

The Victim’s Point of View

Understanding how the attack will look will help ensure you stay prepared. A major red flag to consider is receiving an unprompted email from an institution.

To clarify, let’s assume you never submitted a support ticket request yet received a confirmation email from the organization. This is a sign something’s out of the ordinary. Checking the link before you click it is also a great way to discern a clone phishing attack.

You can do so by hovering over the hyperlink to the text or highlighting the text and using the ctrl + K shortcut (cmd + K on MacOS). Read the sender’s domain carefully. If it doesn’t display exactly as it should, the email is fraudulent.

How Does a Business Establish Phishing Protection?

Knowing how to protect yourself goes a long way in preventing situations like these. The good news is these tips are easy to implement. Here are some of the most important to consider.

Train Your Team

To keep your company as safe as possible, it’s imperative to install a phishing email training program for your team. They should fully understand how to recognize phishing attacks and know what course of action to take if they receive phishing emails.

It’s recommended to hold multiple training sessions per year to ensure your workers have the proper knowledge. Otherwise, you put your company’s sensitive information at risk.

Holding multiple trainings will also allow you to accommodate new threats that arise. The last thing you want is to fall victim to an attack due to outdated info.

Establish an open dialogue between your company and its workers. If they have questions, they should have no trouble getting the answers they need. They should also have access to informative resources.

Multi-Factor Authentication

This is one of the most useful safeguards you can implement. Multi-factor or two factor authentication requires numerous forms of identification before logging in. In context, let’s assume an employee needed to log into your company’s server.

Enormous security risks would be present if they only needed to provide their work email and account password. Instead, you should require them to provide information like their employee badge number. Many platforms will send an automated text or email with a temporary code before access is granted.

While this might seem inconvenient at first, it can drastically improve your company’s overall security. Implementing a zero-trust policy is also a great way to protect your company’s sensitive data. As the name suggests, this involves requiring authentication no matter how many times someone has accessed data in the past.

Whether you’ve logged into an account once or 100 times, you’ll still need to provide the required info. Hackers might be able to procure login credentials, but they often can’t provide multiple forms of authentication.

Specialized Software

Anti-phishing software allows you to safeguard sensitive information effectively. This involves using automated solutions to check for suspicious activity. For instance, the software you use could quickly discern if links are legitimate.

It could also compare the sender’s domain against a list of blacklisted demands. Features like these give me the difference between whether your company suffers from a clone phishing attack.

Work With a Professional IT Support Team

Hiring a professional managed IT services team is one of the best ways to keep your company safe. They have the tools and resources to create a robust security protocol. However, it’s important to understand how to find the right one to work with.

Keep an eye out for the following attributes.

The Outsourced IT Support Team’s Reputation

Do they have a strong reputation online? See what other people have to say about the experiences they have. There should be no shortage of positive feedback. You should also look out for fake reviews.

These are often posted in bashes and contain many of the same keywords. Look for feedback that mentions timeliness, professionalism, and overall results. With enough due diligence, you’ll find the ideal choice for your needs.

The IT Support Company’s Experience

Do they have experience working with companies like yours? No matter what services they offer, it’s imperative to understand the industry’s nuances. While working with someone inexperienced won’t guarantee poor results, it can make achieving your goals much more difficult.

In general, it’s best when hiring local IT support services to find a company that’s been in the industry for at least a decade. This essentially guarantees they can handle the issues they encounter.

Their Pricing

Not all companies are created equal, and you often get what you pay for. Avoid the cheapest option to encounter during your search. Rock-bottom prices often indicate that a company can’t meet your needs.

They might use outdated tools, or they might outsource to low-quality workers. However, some people make the mistake of spending as much money as possible.

This is another situation you should avoid. There’s a point of diminishing returns regarding what you budget for managed services. Somewhere in the middle of the price range can help you meet your goals without stretching your budget.

Stay wary of miscellaneous fees, though. Some companies charge more money for additional services. They should be fully transparent about what you can expect to pay.

Their Enthusiasm

Learn what you need to know about an outsourced technical support provider and find one who’s enthusiastic about your project. You can assess their level of enthusiasm by seeing how many questions they ask about your needs. Ideally, they’ll want to learn as much as possible.

If they aren’t interested in helping you meet your goals, you could encounter a large number of issues. For example, they might not provide the level of ongoing support you require.

This could leave you in the dark when you encounter problems. Overcoming these on your own can be difficult or impossible in many cases.

Protect Yourself ASAP

It’s imperative to keep your company as safe as possible from clone phishing. There’s no shortage of hackers looking to procure sensitive information. The tips in this guide will help ensure you get started on the right track.

At Be Structured Technology Group, we believe technology should work for you and not against you. We’ve proudly served our clients since 2007 and strive to deliver timely results without sacrificing quality.

To learn more about how we can help when get in touch with us today.

About Chad Lauterbach

CEO at Be Structured Technology Group, Inc. a Los Angeles based provider of Managed IT Services for small business. I desire to help small businesses better utilize technology by assisting in high level planning to make sure that new systems will benefit them both operationally and financially. I am careful to implement and support systems using industry best practices.