Email services that failed to block spear phishing message revealed

Following a spear phishing experiment that saw smartphones fall victim to an email claiming to be from Bill Gates, the creator of the experiment has revealed the email services that failed to block the message.

Writing on the Dark Reading website, PacketFocus CEO Joshua Perrymon said that he was able to get his spoofed message through to the likes of Microsoft Outlook 2007, Microsoft Exchange, Outlook Express and Cisco IronPort.

Perrymon said that he got a 100 per cent degree of success with sending the email. He also hit those using GoDaddy's hosted email, Voltage, RackSpace/MailTrust hosted email, Webroot SaaS Email Security, Verizon Email Cloud Filtering with MessageLabs, a Linux and SpamAssassin configuration, SonicWall's Email Security appliance, LinuxMail with greylisting, Opera Mail and Mozilla Thunderbird.

Perrymon said: “Email-based attacks are probably one of the most effective in today's hacker bag of tricks. The email security industry gets by with stopping most spam and known phishing attacks.

“The problem lies in a directed, under-the-radar, spear phishing attack - the type where the attacker spends time to understand the target, create an effective spoofed email and phishing site, [and] then attacks.”

Perrymon's experiment saw him send a spoofed LinkedIn email, which claimed to be an invitation from the Microsoft chairman and chief software architect. He said in October that he had tested ten different combinations of email security appliances, services and open-source and commercial products; four major client email products; and the three major smartphone brands – the Apple iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry and Palm's Palm Pre.

In a report, Perrymon said that the research shows that even the most current email security appliances, services and clients cannot detect spear phishing messages. He said that the underlying problem is that email security products and services rely on blacklists.

He said: “For now, the user must make the decision to identify and properly respond to directed email attacks. The phishing sites are being brought up instantly on a ‘new' server that has not seen internet traffic and is not on any blacklist.”

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