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The Evolution Of Phishing: How It Is Hooking The Unwary By Targeting Our Desire For Information

Cybersecurity experts recently discovered a targeted phishing email campaign that spreads malware by promising "Game of Thrones" spoilers.

The phishing email's subject line read: "Wanna see the Game of Thrones in advance?" The email, which contained general information about upcoming episodes, also included a Microsoft Word attachment that claimed to be a "Game of Thrones" preview. In reality, the attachment contained malware. If an unsuspecting user downloaded the attachment, it would attempt to install a "9002" remote access Trojan (RAT).

Cybersecurity experts say the Chinese government could be behind this malware attack.

HBO experienced a data breach in July in which hackers stole 1.5 terabytes of data, including unaired episodes. Experts do not know if these two attacks are related, but they do believe hackers are trying to capitalize on the HBO data theft to make victims think that the attachment contains the stolen unaired footage. Andrew Liptak "Hackers are using the promise of Game of Thrones spoilers to spread malware," www.theverge.com (Aug. 26, 2017).


Gone are the days when phishing emails were easily identifiable by absurd requests for money or numerous grammatical errors. Now, cybercriminals will often send emails claiming to be from a legitimate agency, such as a financial institution or government agency. They will even include the organization’s logo in the email.

In this instance, cybercriminals were taking advantage of a popular HBO series and the curiosity of email recipients, which led to the spread of more malware, most likely from a foreign government actor.

Although malware distributors are becoming more sophisticated, the best practices for avoiding malware through phishing remain tried and true. The first rule to avoid malware is to never select links or open attachments from unsolicited or suspicious emails.

If you are in doubt, open a new email and write the source, selecting an address you know is good for the source, and ask them about the email. If you want to avoid cyber communication altogether, call them.

Do not reply to the suspected email. If it is a scam, you are making the criminal aware that your email is valid, and the criminal will answer affirmatively. Do an Internet search describing the email and see if it is reported as a scam.

If you are still in doubt, don’t select the link or the attachment. Always select caution over the need for information.

Overall, you should establish a heightened sense of suspicion about email, especially spam. The Anti-Phishing Working Group advises individuals to be suspicious of any email with urgent demands for personal financial information or upsetting or exciting statements designed to get you to react immediately.

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