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According to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), more than 90% of all cyber attacks begin with phishing.

“Phishing is an attempt by an individual or group to solicit personal information from unsuspecting users by employing social engineering techniques,” explains CISA. “Phishing emails are crafted to appear as if they have been sent from a legitimate organization or known individual. These emails often attempt to entice users to click on a link that will take the user to a fraudulent website that appears legitimate. The user then may be asked to provide personal information, such as account usernames and passwords, that can further expose them to future compromises. Additionally, these fraudulent websites may contain malicious code.”

Thus phishing attacks seek to steal data or inject malware—adware, bots, keyloggers, ransomware, spyware, trojans, worms, etc.—that cause damage at a later time.

Phishing Attacks

In phishing attacks, “scammers use email or text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information. They may try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts,” warns the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “Scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks like these every day—and they’re often successful. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that people lost $57 million to phishing schemes in one year.”

“What really distinguishes phishing is the form the message takes,” notes a recent CSO online article. “The attackers masquerade as a trusted entity of some kind, often a real or plausibly real person, or a company the victim might do business with.”

This credibility is paired with a sense of urgency to inspire victims to respond quickly to the message: Clicking a link or downloading a file that starts the attack. For example, Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity company, found that Amazon and Apple were the two most impersonated organizations for phishing scams in 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic moves more people to work-from-home and out of traditional workplace settings, phishing scams increase to take advantage of anxiety and remote communications.

“Criminals rely on deception and creating a sense of urgency to achieve success with their phishing campaigns,” adds the CSO online article. “During a crisis, people are on edge. They want information and are looking for direction from their employers, the government, and other relevant authorities. An email that appears to be from one of these entities and promises new information or instructs recipients to complete a task quickly will likely receive less scrutiny than prior to the crisis. An impulsive click later, and the victim’s device is infected or account is compromised.”

“Phishing and social engineering attacks are now experienced by 85 percent of organizations,” reports Accenture. And the number of phishing attacks has been increasing in the United States, “with a growth of 65% in the last year,” adds Crowdstrike.

Blockchain Cybersecurity Against Phishing

“Traditionally, businesses sought to prevent phishing attacks through employee training,” writes Cloudphish, a blockchain cybersecurity company. “While this method did provide some success, it was overly reliant on human judgment.” As an alternative to such an approach of relying upon employees and staff to determine what emails or attachments they can safely open, blockchain offers a chance to secure the system access attackers ultimately seek.

Blockchain’s architecture, originally built for zero-trust environments and further secured in private, permissioned blockchain configurations, gives organizations a compelling alternative to centralized databases and a strong protection against phishing attacks.

  • In phishing attacks that seek to steal data, blockchain presents a data architecture where no single endpoint node controls the data set. Even if an individual endpoint is hacked through phishing or other social engineering, the data set is distributed across many nodes. This decentralization of data and access means even successful phishing attacks that penetrate a blockchain endpoint only gain a small piece of system access.

    Whereas centralized databases can be stolen by one endpoint breach—such as the infamous attacks on Yahoo in 2013 and 2014, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2015, Equifax in 2017, Marriott/Starwood Hotels in 2019, and countless others—the distributed ledgers of blockchains minimize the potential damage of any phishing attack on individual endpoints. At ZorroSign, for example, we use a private permissioned blockchain, Hyperledger Fabric. Hence, even during a successful phishing attack, the adversary would not gain access to the blockchain data because the adversary would not have access to the blockchain certificates.  With Hyperledger Fabric, blockchain certificates are maintained in a secured certificate authority.
  • In phishing attacks that seek to inject malware such as ransomware, the distributed nature of blockchain defeats those seeking to breach a system then holistically ransom the data files stored therein. Again, a single endpoint node might be breached, but the larger data set cannot be controlled by any one endpoint (or central authority) and so phishing attackers cannot capture the full data set for encryption, ransom, and shutting down the network.

    Further, with private, permissioned blockchains, each endpoint node (or user) has a unique encryption key to access and write to the distributed ledger. If any one of those endpoints is successfully hacked (compromising their access key), the private blockchain can simply remove distributed ledger access for that compromised key, issue the endpoint a new key, and allow that endpoint to quickly regain distributed ledger access (effectively as a new endpoint). This quick recovery process effectively maroons any ransomware on the endpoint it attacked—ending its access and threat—while allowing the endpoint to re-engage the larger data set with a new key and without needing to pay any ransom to the attackers for restored access.

To learn more about blockchain as cybersecurity and how ZorroSign employs private, permissioned Hyperledger Fabric blockchain, visit https://www.zorrosign.com/z-forensics/secure-blockchain-technology/