As the cyber-world of the internet grows larger and larger, it takes up more and more of our daily lives. Thus, it is no surprise that hacking has become a much bigger danger than it ever was in the past. What’s worse, hacking attacks are notoriously difficult to prevent, and it is often impossible to identify the perpetrator.
In the end, the only way to deal with this problem is to take responsibility for your safety. You cannot count on anyone else to protect you, as law enforcement is simply unable to do so. To that end, we are here to educate you about one of the most common types of hacking attacks. It’s called spoofing, and some sources say that it infects as many as 30,000 people per day.
What Is Spoofing?
Spoofing is a very simple concept that can be applied in all kinds of ways. In essence, spoofing is just the impersonation of something legitimate, carried out for illegitimate purposes. For instance, someone might masquerade as your boss, sending you an email with specific instructions. If you don’t catch what is happening, you can easily be tricked into giving up personal information, up to and including usernames and passwords.
For another example, an attacker might create a fake page that resembles your online banking portal. When you enter your username and password in the provided fields, the hacker is using a keylogger or a screen recording program to capture that information. Even if it isn’t displayed on the screen as you type (passwords usually aren’t), the hacker can still get your information and use it to rob you blind.
Types Of Spoofing Attacks
As we said, spoofing is one of those simple concepts that can be applied in a near-infinite number of ways. Technically, any kind of impersonation would fall under this heading. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of spoofing attacks so that we can explain how they work. For a more detailed explanation please download and read “A Comprehensive Analysis of Spoofing“.
This is probably the most common type of spoofing attack, as many people tend to read and answer their emails in a semi-automatic fashion. Once you login to your email account, it is natural to assume that you are in a safe place. It’s kind of like walking into your house and locking the door behind you. Unfortunately, locks have never been a complete deterrent against intrusion, whether those locks are physical or virtual.
Just as a dedicated home invader can break down the door (or find another way inside), so too can the virtual invader. There is more than one way that they can use a spoofed email, as well. Most of the time, they are relying on their ability to manipulate you into making a mistake. This mistake might include clicking on a provided link, inputting a set of credentials, or any number of other things.
If a hacker is unable to trick you into making a mistake, they can skip most of the social engineering and use a malware attack. This will most often take the form of an attachment that contains some kind of hidden malware. When you open the attachment, thinking it to be legitimate and trustworthy, you are prompted to give some kind of permission. By spoofing a notification box, they can trick you into giving the malware permission to install.
This is simply the act of replacing one’s IP (internet protocol) address with a fake one. Technically, the use of a VPN or a proxy server falls under the category of IP spoofing. However, this type of IP spoofing is not illegal or immoral because its’ purpose is a defensive one. While VPNs and similar services are meant to protect people’s privacy, they represent only one half of the picture.
Malevolent IP spoofing, which is the dark side of this practice, can be utilized in many ways. Some of these methods are highly devious and very hard to prevent. The first thing you need to understand is this: All the information that flows back and forth over the internet comes in the form of network packets.
These packets are constantly flying all over the internet, and are essential for its proper functioning. Each of these packets contains a header, and this header contains the IP address for both the sender and the receiver of that packet. Indeed, the internet cannot function without this information. If it were not there, the internet would have no idea where to direct the information.
Very often, hackers will modify the headers of their network packets. By doing this, they create a level of spoofing that goes well beyond that of a simple VPN service. VPN services will not protect you against DNS-level attacks, nor will they prevent your site from suffering DDOS attacks. By making large-scale use of bots, they can send so many packets that a site is overwhelmed, causing it to glitch up and shut down.
This is an area of internet security that is often neglected, as most people don’t even understand how a domain name server works. Domain name servers, more commonly known as DNS servers, are basically nothing more than translators. To be more specific, they translate internet URLs into IP addresses. Without a DNS server, you would only be able to access websites by inputting the correct and complete IP address. So, which is easier: Memorizing a URL or memorizing an IP address? That question is a no-brainer, and that’s why DNS servers are necessary.
If someone cannot access your computer or your network directly, they can access these things indirectly by hacking your DNS. This kind of hack is usually referred to as “cache poisoning,” because it’s a lot like poisoning a common well. DNS servers are usually shared by many people who have the same service provider, so this gives hackers a way to infect many computers at once. The scary thing is that DNS hacking can bypass most of the standard protections that most computers have.
This is perhaps the simplest type of spoofing attack, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Essentially, the hacker just changes the name of a file so that it looks like something other than malware. They might disguise it as a .pdf from a trusted business associate. They might disguise the malware as an email attachment, as in the example given earlier, or they might disguise it as a .zip file containing legitimate software. The only limit is the imagination of the attacker.
How To Protect Yourself From Spoofing Attacks
There are a number of ways to protect yourself from this kind of threat, but all of them come down to one thing: Paying close attention to detail. Let’s think about this in real-world terms for a minute. Let’s say you want to disguise yourself as another person (for any reason). Unless you just happen to have professional-tier skills, you will never be able to make yourself look exactly like that other person. You can make a rough approximation, but you cannot create a perfect replica.
In most cases, this is how spoofing works. The hacker is almost never able to create a perfect replica, so these mistakes are the red flags that can tell you when to steer clear. For instance, let’s say you get an email from Paypal. They’re telling you to click on a link (or open an attachment) to verify your bank account or some other innocent-sounding purpose. At this point, a smart person would be highly suspicious.
So, what can you do in such a situation? Well, for starters, you can open up your Paypal account (IMPORTANT: Do that on a separate device in case your main device is compromised) and see if there are any notifications that match the content of the email. In this case, you know that Paypal would give you a notification if you needed to validate your bank account, so you know that the email is a fake. This method of spoof detection might be summarized as “check with the person being impersonated.”
In addition to that, you might pull up an older email from Paypal, one that you know is legit. Compare every detail of the email to the suspicious one that you just received, and you will almost certainly see some small discrepancies. There might be a different font, a different header, or maybe just a different color scheme. Any of those things are red flags. If you open up an email that has any of these suspicious signs, you should immediately close it and leave it closed until you can verify or disprove its authenticity.
Some people might be thinking that encryption is the answer to this problem, but that’s not really the case. Encryption really is one of the best ways to protect yourself online, but it doesn’t do much good in this case. As we said earlier, spoofing attacks usually rely on the ability of the hacker to trick the user. If they don’t do that, they will probably skip your computer and hack your DNS directly. It is possible to encrypt a DNS, but most internet service providers don’t bother with this. There are some encrypted DNS servers, but these tend to be kind of slow.
There is another problem with encryption, at least when it comes to spoofing attacks. In most cases, a spoofing attack will depend on tricking the user into giving permissions. Once a hacker has access, they might be able to get your encryption keys. Basically, an encryption key is a cipher, which is used to decode the encrypted data so that it can be read. This key is usually generated from a password using a specific algorithm, so they might even be able to extrapolate your passwords from this key.
Some people might make the mistake of thinking that their antivirus software can stop these sorts of attacks, but that isn’t necessarily true either. If you are tricked into giving access, your antivirus program may not recognize hostile action as such. However, an antivirus program can at least be helpful in one way. Anytime you are suspicious of a link or a file, your antivirus software should be used to scan that link or file. Unless they are using completely unknown malware, your antivirus will flag the item as dangerous or infected.
As you can see, these types of attacks are not so easy to prevent. Their effectiveness comes from the fact that they utilize human weaknesses as a way to get around the security measures of a device or network. In the end, there is no surefire defense against spoofing except for your intelligence and good observational skills.
This might sound hard, but it’s a good idea to cultivate the art of being observant, and this is not the only reason to do so. Being more observant will pretty much always make you safer. Our goal with this article has been to make you a little bit safer, and we hope that we have succeeded. If so, please fill out the contact form below to learn more.